“In performance, we are favorites, but we had certain problems which mean that today we are no longer outsiders”: after bouncing back in Austria, Charles Leclerc is aiming for another victory in France on Sunday, to believe in “the possibility to catch up” Max Verstappen.
Second to 38 points from the Dutchman mid-season in the F1 world championship, the Ferrari driver evokes for AFP “the battles at the limit of the regulations” with his rival but also the tragic events of his personal life, which have “grown as a person and as a pilot”.
QUESTION: Do you feel like a favorite or an underdog?
ANSWER: “In terms of performance, we are favourites, after that we had certain problems which mean that today we are more outsiders than favourites. But I believe in it, if we do everything perfectly until the end of the season, the performance is there so that we can win the championship, so I will believe in it until the end”.
Q: Despite your excellent start to the season, Ferrari’s reliability and strategy cost you dearly in the title race…
A: “Of course there was an accumulation in five races: Barcelona we were in the lead, we broke the engine, Monaco the strategy, Baku the engine, Montreal the penalty and then Silverstone the strategy… An accumulation like that, it was not easy to manage. But each time we were in a position to win, so the potential was there. I always kept the motivation. It makes me all the more happy that the first normal race since then, we won it in Austria. I’m confident, if we don’t have any other major problems we have the possibility of catching up”.
Q: How is it to fight against Verstappen, considered aggressive on the track?
A: “I’ve always been an aggressive driver too, so I don’t mind those battles. I’ve always enjoyed those edge-of-the-regulations battles, and it’s cool that after all the years in karts together there’s at 10-15 years old, we now find ourselves in F1, fighting for a championship”.
Q: Is being able to stay calm in difficult times your greatest strength?
A: “It’s clearly a strength. However, it was not something natural for me. I had to work a lot, especially when I was young. I talked a lot about this Formula Medicine center in Viareggio when I was younger, from ten to fifteen years old, where we did a lot of mental preparation. In those years, I grew enormously and that helped me a lot for the rest of my career. true that, in complicated situations, I manage to keep my calm and that is important”.
Q: At 24, you went through tragic moments in life, with the deaths of your father and two pilots you were close to, your godfather Jules Bianchi and your friend Anthoine Hubert. Did it make you grow?
A: “Yes, I think so. Although I am still a 24-year-old young man, I have a maturity that is perhaps different from some of my friends, due to my background, not only professional but above all in life, with unfortunately events that are a bit sad. But these are stages that have made me grow as a person and as a pilot, because I have developed a level of maturity that is a little bit different from a normal life”.
Q: As a Monegasque, what relationship do you have with France and Italy?
A: “I am French-speaking already. When I won in Formula 2, they put the French anthem on me (He laughs). My biggest connection with France is that everything started here for me in motorsport. I started in Brignoles, 60 km from Le Castellet. Every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday when I didn’t have school, I came here with my father. But I also spent a good part of my childhood in Italy. After the beginnings in France, I spent ten years in Italy. I grew up with Italians during my adolescence, so yes, I also feel Italian”.
Q: As a quasi-Italian, winning a title with Ferrari is a lifelong dream…
A: “Of course. Already winning a title, but even more so with Ferrari. It’s such a legendary team, there’s also so much pressure that makes it super complicated, but that makes success even more There’s so much passion around the world for Ferrari that yes, I think it’s every driver’s dream on the grid, to win a title with Ferrari.”
Interview at Le Castellet by Olivier LEVRAULT