Sir Lewis Hamilton has revealed that he always knew Charles Leclerc was going to be a top racing driver in Formula 1, and affirms that he is a fan of Ferrari.
After winning the 2017 Formula 2 championship, Leclerc signed for Sauber in 2018, and scored points on 10 occasions, earning him a place at Ferrari a year later to replace Kimi Raikkonen.
The Monegasque took pole in his second outing in Bahrain in 2019, but engine issues saw him lose out on the win to Hamilton and then Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
“You’ve got a long, long future ahead of you. I know it sucks in this moment but you’ve got a long, long way to go,” Hamilton told Leclerc after the race.
The 24-year-old out-qualified team-mate and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel 12 times that year, and took two of the Scuderia’s three race wins.
Just eight podiums followed in the two seasons after 2019 between Leclerc, Vettel and Carlos Sainz, who signed last year to replace the German, but the Scuderia finally look ready to compete for titles again.
Leclerc’s two victories this season have landed him second in the Drivers’ Standings behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, but his cruel luck at his home race in Monaco continued last weekend as a series of strategic errors from Ferrari turned pole position into a P4.
Nonetheless, the seven-time champion has always rated the young driver highly, and confirmed that, had he not been racing last weekend, he would have proudly been sporting Ferrari red.
“Leclerc is very strong, you could always see that,” he told Corriere della Sera.
“I would say one thing: if I could sit down with the fans on the bleachers over there, I would support Charles. I am a Ferrari fan.
“Mercedes is my family, I will always be a Mercedes driver, like Stirling Moss was.”
Hamilton’s F1 career began in 2007 for McLaren, and he claimed 21 race wins with the British team, including five in his championship season in 2008.
He signed for Mercedes in 2013, and six more titles as well as another 82 race wins have made him the most decorated driver in the history of the sport.
The direction the seven-time champion’s career has taken him in means that he has never driven, and likely will never drive, for Ferrari.
“[It is] definitely going to be crazy to think that I never drove for Ferrari,” he said last year.
“For everyone that’s a dream position to be in. It was just never really fully on the cards for me.
“I’ll never know fully exactly why, but I wish them all the best and I’m going to spend the next bit of my time stopping them from winning the championship!”
Mercedes’ poor fortunes in 2022 leave them 101 points behind Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship, while Hamilton is in sixth in the drivers’ battle, two positions and 24 points adrift of team-mate George Russell.