Lewis Hamilton has warned Ferrari they may face opposition from Charles Leclerc if they continue to impose team orders on him.
Speaking before this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Hamilton compared his experience in his rookie Formula One year when partnered with Fernando Alonso at McLaren to Leclerc at Ferrari alongside Sebastian Vettel, and suggested the young driver was passionate enough to baulk at further orders.
Ferrari said they would favour Vettel in 50-50 situations this season, given he is more experienced driver and a four-time world champion. They have employed team orders in every race so far and Leclerc was the recipient of them all. He was clearly unhappy after he was moved over for Vettel at the last round in China.
In Hamilton’s first year in 2007 Alonso, then the world champion, was considered the No 1 driver at McLaren and for the early part of the season Hamilton was expected to play a supporting role, which did not come easily.
“It goes against your core values because you are a racing driver at heart,” he said. “That is why I understand how Charles feels because in his heart he believes he is the best, or at least got the potential to be the best. It is like having your light dimmed. As a racer and a fierce competitor, you naturally rebel. They might say to do one thing, but the fight in you wants to push the other way. I have experienced that.”
Leclerc said he would continue to accede to orders in specific situations after speaking with the Ferrari team principal, Mattia Binotto, but acknowledged Hamilton’s viewpoint.
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“It’s frustrating while you are in the car when you are told to let another driver past,” he said. “On the other hand, on my side, I understand them in a way.
“Seb is now in his fifth year in the team and has won four world championships. I am in my second season of Formula One. I’ve got a lot of things to prove. I think I just need to continue doing what I’m doing, trying to improve myself and hopefully it will change soon.”
Twelve years ago after differing fuel loads cost Hamilton what he believed was a potential win in Monaco, he made his dissatisfaction clear to McLaren. “At the next race [in Canada] they gave us equal fuel loads and I won my first grand prix,” he said. “It justified the rebellious side I had and from then on I felt like I had the chance to show my ability.”
Hamilton almost won the title that year and Alonso left McLaren at the end of the season. Leclerc is 21 years old and is one point behind Vettel but Ferrari have struggled for performance and Vettel already trails Hamilton by 31 points. Hamilton acknowledged the potential Leclerc has displayed and how he saw himself in the young driver.
“I wanted to get to Formula One as soon as possible,” he said. “When I was there I wanted to win as soon as possible, and beat the champion that I was racing against. The situation with Charles is very similar. I see much of myself in him. He is doing a great job with huge expectations on him at a huge team like Ferrari. He is driving so well, so he has to keep doing what he is doing. It will come to him.”
Ferrari said after China they were not going to review their team orders policy but Hamilton was unconcerned by their use. “I don’t have to run the team, so it doesn’t make any difference to me. I am fighting both of them,” he said.