Amid much talk that Ferrari are looking to replace Kimi Raikkonen for next year with their 20-year-old protege Charles Leclerc, Sauber chief Frederic Vasseur has played down the rumours and vowed to protect the Monegasque rookie at all costs.
The rumour-based Silly Season is in full gear with Raikkonen central to the more absurd ones including a return to McLaren for the Finn.
Now the latest incredible jaw-dropper is that after the summer break Ferrari will demote veteran Raikkonen and promote Charles Leclerc, apparently at the behest of big boss Sergio Marchionne…
But no-nonsense Vasseur did not mince his words when confronted with the latest ‘development’ by media in Spielberg, “I can understand we have some rumours in the press but it’s nothing to do with the reality.”
“We have a contract until the end of the season and we didn’t speak so far about the future. We are focused on our job, Charles is focused on the Sauber project, and the future will be discussed later on. It didn’t come to the table so far.”
Regarding a possible Leclerc-Raikkonen switch Vasseur responded somewhat cryptically, “I think it’s better to finish the season and to have a normal approach and speed of the process. It’s not easy.”
A Motorsport Network reporter persisted with the Leclerc-to-Ferrari line of questioning until Vasseur took him on, “You came back to me [after the Chinese Grand Prix where Leclerc spun in the race] with: Charles is not performing, how can you explain the situation? He is in deep shit….”
“And the week after he is world champion! We have to take it calm. He’s doing a good job for sure, he’s improving, but he’s not world champion. If he has some issues over the next races, and he will have because you can’t have a clean sheet on the season, I don’t want to have Charles destroyed by everybody.
“He has a very good learning curve and it’s ramping up. I’m very happy, I’m very proud of the job he has done, but he’s not world champion.”
“Six months ago he was in the Formula 2 paddock and more or less nobody knew him. There is a huge difference between the end of November in Abu Dhabi and today when he’s in the middle of every single discussion.”
“I am impressed by the calm he has,” added Vasseur of his young driver.