Ferrari’s youngest driver since 1961 – Charles Leclerc – got his career in red to the best start possible by topping the timing screens at the end of the second day of Formula 1 preseason testing at Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona.
Leclerc is already showing why four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel considers him a “full rival” for being considered Ferrari’s top driver.
The 21-year-old put in the fastest time and clocked a session-high 157 laps on the second day of Formula 1 preseason testing on Tuesday.
Vettel set the pace and put in the most miles on Monday. Leclerc followed that up with strong run of his own, with his best lap time 0.86 of a second slower.
Ferrari took note of Leclerc’s impressive debut campaign in F1 last year when he showed both talent and the poise of a more experienced driver in his underpowered Sauber.
He joined Ferrari to replace veteran Kimi Raikkonen, who despite being an ex-champion himself was clearly number to Vettel.
When asked on Monday about Leclerc, Vettel called him a “nice kid” but didn’t hesitate to also describe him as “a full rival.”
“He’s in the seat for a reason. So you know I’ve got to take it very serious, but I think you always have a close rivalry with your teammate,” Vettel said. “I’m very certain he will be quick enough and put me under pressure. (But) priority No. 1 is for sure trying to bring the team forward.”
In other words, ending Mercedes’ five-year dominance of F1.
Like last year’s preseason, Mercedes seemed content to let Ferrari top the timesheet while it focuses on making sure it has a car that is in tip-top shape by the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on 17 March.
Defending champion Lewis Hamilton had another subdued day behind the wheel of the Mercedes, again splitting the session with Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton settled for the 10th fastest time while putting in 74 laps.
McLaren’s 19-year-old rookie Lando Norris was the day’s second-fastest driver, the youngster living up to the hype with faultless performance, three tenths shy of Leclerc’s best time but nearly two seconds faster than teammate Carlos Sainz managed a day earlier.
Kevin Magnussen spent half a day in the Haas, managing 59 laps and the third best time before handing over to Pietro Fittipaldi for a 13 lap afternoon stint.
The full day session also featured a few near misses.
Daniel Ricciardo did well to keep his Renault out of the barriers when its rear wing popped off coming down a straightaway at high speed, causing him to veer off the track at the next turn. He saved the car but he was limited to 28 laps in the car. Nevertheless, he extracted a full second overnight from his new mount.
Pierre Gasly, who replaced Ricciardo at Red Bull, was also fortunate to not crash heavily when he spun and slid rear-first into the gravel, scraping the wall in the process. Marshals had to load it onto a flatbed and haul it back to the garage, cutting short his drive.
Thai rookie Alexander Albon had an inauspicious start for Toro Rosso, sliding into the gravel minutes into the start of proceedings.
He also survived a 360-degree spin in the middle of the track en route to completing 132 laps and recording the fourth-best time which was better than Gasly could do for the ‘senior’ team. A solid baptism for the Toro Rosso rookie.
Not running for a second consecutive day were Williams, their drivers Robert Kubica and George Russell trackside, suffering from lack of track time as their team fumble towards the new season.
The team revealed that the FW42 is being transported overnight and is expected to arrive at the venue before sunrise, the team severely on the back foot as delays threaten to mar their season before it even starts.
Testing will continue through to Thursday. and then again from 26 February to 1 March. at the home of the Spanish Grand Prix.