Opinion: Charles Leclerc can learn from Hamilton & Ricciardo to succeed at Ferrari

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There's no doubt one of the most eagerly anticipated stories of the 2019 Formula 1 season is how Charles Leclerc will fair against Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari.

The Monegasque lived up to expectations set when he joined the grid last year at Sauber, scoring 39 points and leading the Swiss team to results they had not achieved since 2015.

His quality wasn't linked to one area either, as he proved his single lap ability with a number of Q3 appearances most notably in Brazil, he produced a remarkable lap to make the top 10 after it appeared rain had made the track too wet to improve.

Then in the races, Leclerc showed his racecraft with several impressive overtakes including on Kevin Magnussen around the outside of Turn 3 in Sochi and on Daniel Ricciardo on the opening lap in Abu Dhabi.

All that combined means there is a genuine belief the 21-year-old can step up to the Scuderia and cause a rumble when it comes to Vettel's position as the clear number one at Maranello.

As F1 fans know, however, causing a stir in the midfield is one thing, but doing it against the very best is another, yet there have been a few examples in recent years of drivers making that transition successfully.

One is Lewis Hamilton, who had to adapt immediately upon arriving in F1 with McLaren in 2007, and another is Daniel Ricciardo after he stepped up from Toro Rosso to partner Vettel at Red Bull in 2014.

To achieve their success, both drivers showed a similar trait: a lack of fear and trust in their own ability.

Hamilton famously drove around the outside of teammate Fernando Alonso at Turn 1 in Australia to lay down a marker, and his consistency would see him go on and produce one of the greatest rookie seasons for a driver in history, narrowly missing out the championship.

As for Ricciardo, he was more of an unknown quantity when he joined Red Bull but also stamped his authority on the team with a brilliant debut performance in Melbourne, particularly in qualifying.

 

It was then his overtaking which he became famous for as he had the edge on an admittedly deflated Vettel throughout 2014.

Of course, it would be foolish for Leclerc to take unnecessary risks to achieve a similar effect, but by performing on a similar level to his teammate and scoring successes like a first podium or a key overtake on a rival will all build confidence.

For his 2019 aspirations, it is also important that he shows Ferrari and Vettel that he won't be a pushover. Otherwise, the fear some have that he could become essentially a number two may be realised.

It's all part of establishing himself at the front of the grid, which won't be an easy task, but his soon-to-be competitors are already aware of the threat he possesses, with Hamilton calling him out on several occasions.

Other crucial factors will be if Leclerc can avoid pitfalls like the temptation to overdrive, which Max Verstappen addressed last year, and address his own areas for improvement, such as the cutting out of mistakes from last year which came mostly in practice, but at a leading team can be the difference between victory and fifth or sixth.

Should he achieve that in addition to showing the attributes mentioned prior, then there's no doubt he will start fulfilling his massive potential and that is when the results will come.

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Certainly, until now, Charles has said the right things, set reasonable targets and would appear more than ready for the challenge of racing for F1's most famous team.

The awe of his new surroundings should have passed after his test appearance in Abu Dhabi and the upcoming pre-season will be crucial for laying the foundation.

From mid-March in Albert Park, however, the results will start to come in and then we'll start to know for sure if all the Leclerc anticipation has been worth it.

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