Horner excited to see how Hamilton handles ‘young wave’

Red Bull principal Christian Horner looks forward to seeing Lewis Hamilton go head-to-head with the “young wave” of F1 talent in the coming years.

The Mercedes man stormed his way to a sixth World Championship in 2019, putting him just one shy of Michael Schumacher’s record seven.

But in 2019 we also saw the emergence of Charles Leclerc at Ferrari, while for the first time Red Bull’s Max Verstappen showed the kind of mentality required for him to become a World Champion one day.

And Horner is really looking forward to the battle to come between these two generations.

“Every now and again, you get a wave coming along and I think we’ve got that at the moment,” he is quoted by Motorsport.com.

“So I think especially exciting is the Max/Leclerc dynamic, how that’s going to play out over future years, how Lewis can still go toe to toe with those guys.

“Because there’s life in him yet as well and I think he’s keen to gauge himself against the young wave that’s coming through.

“I think for Formula 1 it’s fantastic to have the dynamics of the young guys, the challengers, coming through and some of the older guys that are the old dogs that know all the tricks.”

Hamilton’s Mercedes deal is up after 2020, but he is expected to sign fresh terms after Leclerc and Verstappen both extended their deals with Ferrari and Red Bull respectively.

And while Hamilton admits that his ventures outside of F1, such as his fashion brand, are a way of giving himself something to fall back on once he retires from F1, that doesn’t mean he is walking away any time soon.

“The core of what I do is that I love racing, I love the challenge,” he explained.

“I love arriving knowing I have got these incredibly talented youngsters who are trying to beat me and outperform me, outsmart me, and I love that battle that I get into that every single year.

“And I am working with these guys who are so much smarter than me and they make me feel smarter, [and] when I am challenging them and proving them wrong so many times, it is unreal!

“I don’t fear [the day I retire]. It is going to be a sad day, to hang up and stop doing something you’ve loved your whole life and as long as you can remember. But that is why I have all these other things in place that I can fall back on.

“The fashion side, for example, I’ve found another business that I can do for a long time if successful. Currently that is going really, really well but I don’t know how long it will go. But at least I have another interest.

“But there are a lot of different things I can be interested in. I know my life is not going to be over when I retire. And that gives me a lot of comfort but right now I feel physically good enough to continue so I’m going to try to eke that out as long as I can.”

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Ferrari add Charles Leclerc’s brother to Academy

Charles Leclerc’s brother, Arthur, has joined the Ferrari Driver Academy, the team has officially announced.

The 19-year-old is one of two new drivers added to Ferrari’s young driver programme along with 15-year-old Swedish karter Dino Beganovic, who will predominantly take part in the Italian F4 series.

As part of joining Ferrari’s academy, Arthur Leclerc will be driving for Prema in the Formula 3 Regional series this year.

“I am really happy to announce that I will drive in Formula Regional with one of the best teams in junior series,” Arthur Leclerc said.

“I did my very first test in single seaters with Prema two years ago and I have always dreamed to race with them.

“This great opportunity comes with another big chance for me, as I am proud to announce that I am joining the Ferrari Driver Academy.

“I am very grateful for the support and the trust given to me. I cannot wait to be back in the racing seat.”

Team principal Angelo Rosin added: “We are absolutely looking forward to having him in our talent pool.

“In the early stages of his career he made the most out his chances to race, so we are confident about the potential for 2020 especially given how we saw him perform as a contender.

“He is an outstanding addition to the team, and our side we are determined to work as hard as we can to make the difference for our drivers.”

Arthur Leclerc will be joined in the Formula Regional series by 17-year-old Brazilian, Gianluca Petecof, who has retained his place in the Ferrari Driver Academy.

The news comes after Charles Leclerc recently secured his long-term future at Ferrari by signing a new contract with the Scuderia that expires at the end of the 2024 season.

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Berger says 'experienced' Vettel can't be dismissed

Former F1 driver Gerhard Berger won’t write off Sebastian Vettel for the 2020 title fight, insisting the Ferrari driver’s vast experience remains a big asset.

Vettel, who won just single race in 2019, was outscored in the championship by Scuderia teammate and two-time winner Charles Leclerc last season and outpaced in qualifying by the Monegasque.

The 32-year-old’s contract with Ferrari runs out at the end of this year, and many believe that if the German is swept under the carpet by Leclerc, he’ll be heading into retirement after Abu Dhabi.

But Berger refuses to dismiss the four-time world champion as a contender for the 2020 world crown despite Ferrari sending a clear signal about the future when it extended recently Leclerc’s contract until the end of 2024.

“We don’t know if it’ll be a decisive year for him personally, he’ll determine that himself” Berger told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.

“Is he driving his last year and wants a good retirement? Does he want to extend his stay at Ferrari for another three years? Does he want to take Leclerc apart?

“It’s clear that with Leclerc, he has a tough nut to crack. But he can’t do it. Regardless of whether you drive a Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull, you always have a tough nut to crack.

“That used to be the case with the top teams. There are always two alpha animals that go head-to-head until one remains. When I went to McLaren, I had Senna. You can’t run away from it.”

©WRI

While Leclerc ended the season with an upper hand overall on Vettel, Berger believes the German’s form in the latter part of the season proved that he should still be a force to be reckoned with.

“In the last third of the season, Vettel showed that he can do that [go head-to-head with Leclerc] very well,” added the former McLaren and Ferrari stalwart.

“There’s no question that Leclerc has the future ahead of him and Sebastian is in the last stage of his career.

“But he has some insane experience, he has been world champion four times, has been with Ferrari for five years.

“From this he can draw and balance out the boy’s bravery. It will be an interesting duel, but I don’t dare to predict the outcome.”

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Berger: Leclerc ‘more political’ than Verstappen

Ex-F1 driver Gerhard Berger believes Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc are level when it comes to ability, but Leclerc embraces “politics” more.

Both Verstappen and Leclerc regularly make up the conversation when talking about future stars of Formula 1 and are seen as the pair most likely to end the dominant reign of six-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton.

Fans got a taste of the potential future battles to come between Leclerc and Verstappen in 2019, most notably at the Austrian and British GPs, and both are now tied down to long-term deals with Ferrari and Red Bull respectively.

But while both youngsters possess amazing talent, the way they go about racing is different in Berger’s eyes.

While Verstappen in his opinion is the unpredictable one with no filter, Leclerc he feels conducts himself in a more “political” manner, making the pair “fundamentally different”.

“The two are fundamentally different. Verstappen is more aggressive and unpredictable,” he told Auto Motor und Sport.

“He is completely apolitical, says what he thinks, and loud enough for everyone to hear. He drives the same way.

“Leclerc gives the impression that he is the calmer and more considerate driver. I see more calculation, more politics.

“As I said, a completely different approach, but on the same level in terms of ability.”

Verstappen has established himself as the clear number one at Red Bull, and in 2020 he will look to keep his advantage over team-mate Alex Albon as the Anglo-Thai driver begins his first full season with the team.

Leclerc meanwhile will look to continue his progress at Ferrari – he joined the team for 2019 to act as Sebastian Vettel’s understudy while he improved his craft, but would go on to score more points, claim more poles and race wins than the four-time World Champion.

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Ferrari ‘a bit upset’ with Leclerc’s skydive

Charles Leclerc decided to give skydiving a go in the off-season, but his decision not to tell Ferrari about it has left them “a little bit upset”.

Leclerc made himself one of the top talents in F1 last year, collecting more points, wins and poles than his four-time World Champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

The Scuderia quickly tied him down to a new deal after the season ended, committing the Monegasque driver until 2024.

But like everyone else Leclerc has switched his attention away from F1 over the winter, and his activities of choice were skiing and skydiving.

Not that he told Ferrari about the skydive – he said if he told them they would be upset, and it seems he was right.

Asked at Autosport International 2020 if he waited for Ferrari’s permission to go off and do his activities, Leclerc said: “Yes, you normally should do, [and] I do.

“[But] I didn’t for skydiving, because I just told myself that in case it will go wrong I will not be here to be told off. So, yeah, I just went for it, and then they were a little bit upset.

“At the end, I won’t do it a second time. It was amazing. But it was just to do it once.”

Leclerc also looked back to where his inspiration to go racing came from, and it showed where his mischievous side came from.

“I think the first person [that inspired me] was probably obviously my dad,” he said.

“He was in racing too, so he spoke to me of his early races or early years when he started racing and things like this.

“And then I started actually, by coincidence. I didn’t want to go to school [one] day – like many children, I guess.

“I told my dad I was ill just because I didn’t want to [go]. Luckily for me, he believed me and by coincidence, he was going to this karting track. So I went with him.

“Obviously after that he saw that I was not ill when I started to push this to try karting, which I did.”

When F1 drivers do have some down time it’s common for them to try out other forms of racing – Lewis Hamilton recently tested Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP bike, while Valtteri Bottas has given rallying a go.

If you gave Leclerc the choice though he would just want more F1 races over the winter, but he wouldn’t mind giving rallying or MotoGP a go.

“To be completely honest, I am obsessed with Formula 1 so in the off-season I would like to have just a few more races to still race in F1,” he said.

“But if I had to choose, probably rallying is something I would like to experience one day. It is quite different to what I am used to going around in circles from the morning to the afternoon, so rallying is something exciting I would like to try.

“I would love to drive a MotoGP [bike] but I’m not sure Ferrari agrees.

“I need to ask but I love bikes in general. I’m not sure Ferrari agrees for me to drive a MotoGP bike though!”

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Leclerc skydiving stunt did not go down well with Ferrari

Charles Leclerc admits that his recent leap of faith from 13,000 feet led to a reprimand from Ferrari as he had not asked his employer permission for the stunt.

With the F1 season done and dusted over a month ago in Abu Dhabi, Leclerc sought to sustain his adrenalin level, indulging in some high-altitude thrill by skydiving for the very first time.

The Monegasque undertook his initiation in Dubai and jumped in tandem with an instructor, an experience that elated the two-time Grand Prix winner but failed to impress his employer, whose permission he had “forgotten” to seek.

“You normally should do, [and] I do,” explained Leclerc last weekend at the Autosport International Show during a Q&A with fans.

“I didn’t for skydiving, because I just told myself that in case it will go wrong I will not be here to be told off!”

“So, yeah, I just went for it, and then they were a little bit upset. At the end, I won’t do it a second time.

“It was amazing. But it was just to do it once.”

 

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1st skydive today. What an amazing experience, jumping alone is next on the list 😬

A post shared by CHARLES LECLERC (@charles_leclerc) on Dec 2, 2019 at 6:28am PST

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Leclerc: Vettel has stronger race pace than me

Charles Leclerc feels race pace is an area of improvement for him as he believes Sebastian Vettel is better than him in that department.

Leclerc got the better of the Vettel over the course of his first season at Ferrari, outscoring him 264 points to 240 and collecting two wins in Belgium and Italy respectively compared to Vettel’s solo success in Singapore.

However, Leclerc thinks he is still lacking in race pace compared to Vettel and has made it one of his main areas of improvement for the 2020 campaign.

“After the first three, four races, I saw that my weaknesses were more in qualifying than the races,” Leclerc told Autosport.

“So I focused quite a lot on the qualifying, and I did quite a big step from France onwards in qualifying, which was good to see.

“And then in the race, I think I’ve still got quite a bit of work to do.

“Seb has a big experience in the races and he’s stronger than me at the moment.

“So my work this winter is mostly on the races, to try and improve that.”

Leclerc also said he wants to cut down on the errors made over the course of a race weekend and feels that is an area where the whole team can improve as well.

“I hope, or at least I’m working extremely hard, to do fewer mistakes than I’ve done in 2019,” he added.

“I think as a team, we also need to focus on that.

“In terms of performance, it is always very, very difficult to know before the first race.

“Actually I was going to say winter testing, but actually in 2019 winter testing went a lot better than the first race.

“So we will wait for the first race.

“But we’ve been working well, and then to see the performance, we’ll see a bit later on.

“But I feel definitely more ready than at the beginning of 2019. And I hope I’ll be able to prove it on track.”

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Brundle expected Leclerc or Verstappen to join Mercedes

Martin Brundle thought that either Charles Leclerc or Max Verstappen would have joined Mercedes rather commit their futures to Ferrari and Red Bull respectively.

Two of Formula 1’s premier talents in Leclerc and Verstappen have decided to stay put with their current teams beyond 2020 as the sport heads into a new era with a major regulations overhaul.

Leclerc is signed up to Ferrari until at least the end of the 2024, while Verstappen has signed a three-year contract extension with Red Bull that runs until the end of 2023 season.

These recommitments have left Brundle a little surprised as he was expecting one of them to join the Silver Arrows.

“The Verstappen news does makes my mind think ‘what’s going on at Mercedes’ short to medium term?” Brundle told Sky Sports F1.

“I really would have expected one of Verstappen or Leclerc to rock up at Mercedes.

“You’d have to look at it and think that Mercedes have got to be at least the equal-best car for another two or three years with the momentum they’ve got, so why hasn’t one of them signed up there?”

As for where this leaves Lewis Hamilton – his contract still set to expire after 2020 – Brundle thinks the six-time World Champion’s options have narrowed, but he can still dictate where his future ultimately lies.

“It leaves Lewis with reduced options, but he’s still holding a lot of aces,” he added.

“And it doesn’t prevent Lewis from going to either of those two teams at all, really.

“It possibly would at Red Bull, but it doesn’t stop the idea of a Hamilton-Leclerc line-up at Ferrari.

“But it has cut Lewis’ options down, if indeed he hasn’t already signed with Mercedes-Benz longer term. Maybe the music stopped before Christmas, they all sat down and there is some embedded news we haven’t heard yet.

“But these post-2020 deals have certainly happened earlier than I expected. I thought Max would see whether Red Bull could give him a championship-challenging car over the first few races of the year and then take a view.

“So something has crystalised that earlier, which again makes my mind wonder about what is going on elsewhere.”

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Leclerc and Verstappen signed, over to you Lewis…

Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc have secured top seats for the foreseeable future, but what do their renewals tell us about Lewis Hamilton’s plans?

Some expect the 35-year-old to retire in the near future, others envision him donning the red of Ferrari and many can’t see him leaving Mercedes.

While it’s still unclear what he’ll do, some conclusions can be drawn from the deals that the contenders to his throne have made.

He doesn’t fancy being team-mates with Max

The prospect of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen being team-mates at Mercedes had many a fan drooling and dreaming.

With the Dutchman now staying at Red Bull until Hamilton is 38, it looks like it’ll never happen, and we can’t help but think it was the Briton’s decision.

With Verstappen originally being a free agent at the end of 2020, Mercedes surely would have snapped him up to replace Valtteri Bottas, and he’d have almost certainly jumped at the chance.

If that was the case, negotiations would have already begun and he wouldn’t have committed to Red Bull. So, if both team and driver would have been up for it, why didn’t it happen?

Hamilton has a considerable influence at Mercedes and was consulted on whether Valtteri Bottas or Esteban Ocon got the 2020 seat, so it’s safe to assume that he can veto such a move. That’s not to say he’s scared of Verstappen, but more that he’d rather remain as the team’s clear-cut number 1 driver and have a rear-gunner like Valtteri Bottas to help him out.

It’s understandable, but disappointing from a narrative perspective nonetheless.

The retirement plans are on the back-burner

Even if Hamilton prevented Verstappen from joining him at Mercedes, many were confident the Dutchman would replace him when he eventually called it a day in F1. If he was likely to do so soon, Mercedes would surely be aware and would ensure Verstappen was free for when it happens, as would Verstappen himself.

The fact that this hasn’t happened suggests that Hamilton plans to stick around for a good while yet. It’s a near certainty that he’ll want to drive in 2021 to see what the new regulations are like and to potentially go ahead of Michael Schumacher in the World Championship count.

Retiring after that seemed the most likely possibility, but with Verstappen and Leclerc opting not to wait for Mercedes and the German team happy to let them be taken off the market, don’t be surprised if he ends up signing a longer-term contract himself.

Age is just a number, right?

Mercedes or bust

Regardless of when Hamilton leaves the grid for good, it’s looking more and more likely that the remainder of his career will be spent at Mercedes and not Ferrari, as many had hoped.

The rumours of such a move began to swirl at the end of the 2019 season when the Italian team admitted they were pleased he was available for 2021 and it emerged that the two had held talks. The idea of Hamilton ending his career with a new challenge at the sport’s most iconic team seemed more and more likely by the day. And then Leclerc signed a new deal.

Ferrari prefer having clear number one and number two drivers, and haven’t enjoyed having two of the former in their ranks since Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel became team-mates.

With the Monegasque driver committed to leading the team for five seasons at the least, they’re not going to want a driver come him and disrupt things when they could just have someone like Antonio Giovinazzi assist their golden boy instead.

Unless Hamilton is tempted by the romantic idea of ending things where they began at McLaren, it’s hard to imagine him leaving Mercedes before he retired.

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Leclerc and Vettel rang Binotto together after Brazil

Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto has revealed Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel rang him together following their clash at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Their collision at Interlagos, which resulted in both drivers retiring from the race, added another chapter to a rivalry that had developed throughout the 2019 season.

However, looking at the driver dynamic internally, Binotto believes Leclerc and Vettel are part of a united front at Ferrari.

“I am really happy with how the team spirit has grown,” Binotto told Ferrari’s official magazine.

“We are very united, compact, including the drivers, despite what some people insinuate.”

Binotto then said the unity was displayed when both drivers had spoken to each other after the Brazilian Grand Prix before then approaching him together to discuss the way forward.

“On the Tuesday following the incident they were involved in at the Brazil Grand Prix, my phone rang and on the display I saw the names of Seb and Charles, together,” he said.

“They’d been in touch with each other, they’d cleared things up, and they called me together for a three-way call.

“It wasn’t just a gesture, and it really showed an impressive united spirit. And anyway, regarding Brazil, it’s better that such an episode happens now, it will help us to understand each other better for next year.”

Leclerc and Vettel will be partnering up again for a second season at Ferrari, with the latter out of contract at the end of the year.

Leclerc, meanwhile, recently signed a new deal with the Scuderia, tying him down until at least the end of the 2024 season.

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