Charles Leclerc denies he has been in talks to replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, as the spotlight brightens on the Briton’s future in Formula 1, with apparent movement on an extension to his contract which expires at the end of this season.
Both Hamilton, 38, and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has said a deal will be struck, but a report in Italy this week claimed it was an open secret that Ferrari’s 25-year-old ace Leclerc was already in dialogue with the Silver Arrows about a future move.
Leclerc’s bid to win his maiden F1 world championship this year has been derailed by two mechanical retirements from the opening three rounds.
And although the Monegasque, who is under contract with the Maranello team until the end of next year, insisted ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix that he has not spoken to Wolff about a transfer to the Silver Arrows, he admitted that could change in the future.
“No, there have not been any conversations,” said Leclerc before adding: “Not yet, not for the moment. It has always been my dream to be in this team and my main priority is to win a F1 world championship here [with Ferrari] so it [Mercedes] is not on my mind
“For now, I am fully focused on the project I am in today – and that is Ferrari. For the future we will see, but I am fully confident in the Ferrari project. It has always been my dream to be in this team and my main priority is to win a world championship here so it (a move to Mercedes) is not in my mind,” Insisted Leclerc.
Asked whether he had directly spoken to Wolff, Leclerc replied: “No. Zero. Really zero. You all smile because you don’t believe me, but I promise.”
The Mercedes veteran has not won in a year and a half, the longest winless spell in his illustrious career in the top flight; Hamilton finished second last time out in Australia, but he is already 31 points behind 2023 F1 World Championship leader and reigning champ Max Verstappen. It was put to him in Baku whether the speculation surrounding Leclerc’s future had any impact on his own.
“No, not really,” said seven-time F1 world champion Hamilton. “Maybe some of the drivers have relationships with different bosses. I like where I am. I love my team. I am grateful for the journey we have been on and what we are working on moving forwards, so it doesn’t have any impact, no.”
The season fires up again on the streets of Baku following an enforced break after the round in China was scrubbed from the calendar.
F1 bosses have introduced a change to the format here, with the introduction of two qualifying sessions – one to decide the order for Sunday’s grand prix and the other determining the starting grid for Saturday’s sprint race, the first of six sprint events this season. Qualifying for Sunday’s main event takes place in Baku on Friday evening.
World champion Verstappen recently said that he could quit F1 if the sport’s chiefs pressed ahead with plans to extend the number of sprint races: “One thing you do question is whether it is worth it.
“I do like racing. I do like winning. I know that with the salary and everything, you have a good life. But is it actually a good life? I do feel that if it’s getting at one point too much, then it’s time for a change,” said Verstappen on Thursday.