Leclerc shrugs off Mercedes rumors
Charles Leclerc has been reassured by Ferrari boss Frederic Vasseur that the team’s recovery is still on track despite racing director Laurent Mekies’s impending departure and rumors linking him to Mercedes.
AlphaTauri announced this week that Mekies would replace Franz Tost as team principal at Faenza from next season. It’s the third significant departure from the team in the last six months. Former principal Mattia Binotto left at the end of last season and chassis head David Sanchez will defect to McLaren for 2024 after a period of leave. Several other personnel of lesser profiles have also reportedly left the team since the end of last year’s campaign.
The brain drain has intensified the focus on Ferrari and its poor start to the season, but Leclerc says he’s not concerned after his discussions with team boss Vasseur.
“The team is more than one person and I’m very confident for the future with Fred having what he has in mind,” Leclerc said. “I’m really confident.
“I think he has been open with what he wants to achieve and the way he wants to achieve it, and this gives me the confidence probably more than ever. So as much as obviously it’s moving, I’m confident for the future.”
Leclerc said he understood Mekies’s decision to leave for a team principal role.
“We have a really good relationship with Laurent, but we all understand, I think, in the team that this opportunity is right to take, as it’s a really good opportunity for Laurent,” he said.
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Vasseur was keen to play down the significance of Mekies’ and Sanchez’s departures in the context of the broader team structure and rebuilding process.
“To lose two people in 1,600 is not a drama,” he said. “It is absolutely not against Laurent, but you are speaking about two people in a group of more than 1000 people. For sure these individuals are important, but it is nothing compared to the group. The power of the team is always more important than the individuals.
“We are recruiting massively — we are not communicating, but we are recruiting massively — and we will do it step by step because you can’t put an organization in place in two weeks.”
Leclerc and Vasseur made their comments to the F1 media ahead of this weekend’s Baku Grand Prix, after rumors had circulated in the Italian press that Leclerc is looking for an exit route from Maranello and has opened talks with Mercedes about a potential switch. Leclerc denied he was in conversations with the Brackley, UK-based team, insisting that he wants to see Ferrari’s fortunes turned around.
“No, not yet. Not for the moment,” he said. “For now I am fully focused on the project I am today, which is Ferrari. As I said, I fully trust and I’m confident for the future, then we’ll see.
“I’m fully committed to Ferrari, and I love Ferrari. It’s always been a dream for me to be in this team, and my main priority is to win the world championship with the team. So no, it’s not something in my mind.”
Vasseur said he wanted to prioritize Leclerc as Ferrari’s lead driver for a future championship challenge.
“He’s clearly part of the project,” he said. “He is involved with the development of the team and he’s part of the development because he’s developing himself. He’s a performance contributor on track and out of the track.
“It’s true in every single team that you are always building a team around a driver. If you have a look over the last 20 years, all the success stories in F1 took time, but always a team built around someone — a driver.
“It was true with Lewis (Hamilton) at Mercedes, it was true before with Michael (Schumacher) and Ferrari, it was true with (Fernando) Alonso at Renault — it was true everywhere. You can find lots of examples, and for sure Charles is an important pillar of the performance.
“I’m really convinced that it’s a personal commitment from him.”