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"A really talented kid": Charles Leclerc shocked by F1 champions' praise at home GP

Future world champion.

"A really talented kid": Charles Leclerc shocked by F1 champions' praise at home GP

Future world champion.

How many times have we heard that expression used about talented drivers coming into Formula 1?

Hype has always powered F1 as much as gasoline. When a special talent comes into F1, there is usually a turning point race where they get onto the radar and then it grows from there.

I've sat in dozens of press conferences where drivers are asked about another driver who is also sitting there; asked what advice they'd give him, asked what kind of future they think he has.

We saw it with Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen.

But I've never seen two multiple world champions talk up a young driver five races into his F1 career like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel did with Charles Leclerc in Monaco.

Ironically, they didn't use the term "future world champion". But they said much more than that.

The youngster is racing in his home town this weekend and was surprised to find himself being feted by two of the current greats.

Leclerc came into F1 with a brilliant junior career, capped with a dominant campaign in F2 winning the title as a rookie. Elevated to Alfa Sauber this season, in a phased programme towards a works Ferrari seat, he struggled for the first few Grands Prix. But in Baku he drove an outstanding race to finish sixth and followed that up by scoring a point in Spain, no mean feat in a Sauber which is not the best aerodynamically. It was the first time for three years that Sauber had scored points in back to back races.

"I think the hype is absolutely justified," said Vettel in the official FIA conference in Monaco. "If there's no hype around him, then I don't understand who should be hyped because you walk through all the categories like that, then you belong here.

"I think the races he's had so far, he used his opportunities, he scored points with a car that doesn't belong in the points so he's doing everything he can at the moment."

Lewis Hamilton was equally effusive and his reply was reminiscent of they way his progress to F1 was watched carefully by many in F1. It's interesting because although the age gap is significant, if Leclerc gets into a Ferrari as soon as next season, he is likely to have at least a couple of seasons racing against Hamilton at the front of F1.

"He really has the potential to do great things here and you can't say that about every kid that's come through in the past years," said Hamilton.

"I've been watching him coming through and what he's done in the last couple of years has been great to see. I sit with the team bosses and engineers and we watch the lower categories and always looking out for that shining talent to come through and ultimately Formula One is supposed to be the pinnacle of the sport, which it is, but it's supposed to have the best drivers from around the world.

"In all honesty, you couldn't say that there's the best drivers - the 100 per cent best drivers - from all the nations around the world, so it's just really great to see a really talented kid come through, that's really just earned his way."

Leclerc has already tested for Ferrari and is part of the junior driver programme. His path to a Ferrari seat in 2019 is in his hands to some extent; if the team thinks he's ready they may decide to move him up. It would be out of character for Ferrari that is normally more conservative and obliges young drivers to take more time.

But they have Kimi Raikkonen in the seat and he is driving well this year, so they are in the comfortable position of being able to wait and see what the rest of the season brings.

Speaking this weekend to Gazetta hello Sport, the Sauber physiology Josef Leberer, who worked closely with Ayrton Senna at McLaren, 30 years ago when he set one of the all time great pole position laps in Monaco, made this observation on Leclerc:

"He's a promising youngster. But he needs protecting from people who keep going on about him being a future world champion. Our team principal Fred Vasseur is doing a great job of that."

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