BAKU, Azerbaijan — Lewis Hamilton sympathises with the situation Charles Leclerc finds himself in this year, saying he sees similarities to what he dealt with in his infamous rookie season alongside Fernando Alonso in 2007.
Leclerc has been issued a team order at all three races this year — he obeyed two of them but ignored a request to stay behind Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel for two laps at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Prior to the last race, Ferrari said it will continue to favour the four-time world champion over Leclerc in any 50/50 situations which arise for the rest of the year.
Ahead of the season many were already predicting that the Vettel-Leclerc partnership could turn into a carbon copy of Hamilton-Alonso in 2007 — on that occasion, Hamilton was the highly-rated young driver and Alonso was a reigning two-time world champion. The pair’s bitter rivalry cost McLaren the chance to win the championship and remains one of the best examples of how not to manage two equally competitive teammates.
Hamilton has already spoken highly of Leclerc, most notably after he was cruelly denied a win in Bahrain, and he believes such comparisons to his own experience in 2007 are valid.
“For sure, I think he’s a bit younger than I was by a year or two. But absolutely,” he said. “I remember wanting to get to Formula One as soon as possible and then when I got there I wanted to win as soon as possible and I wanted to beat the champion that I was racing against.
“So it’s very, very similar, I see much of myself in Charles. He’s doing a great job so far with really high expectations at a huge team like Ferrari, but he’s driving so well so he just has to keep doing what he’s doing… it will come to him.”
While Hamilton has benefitted from team orders in recent seasons, the Englishman has never demanded priority treatment from his team like other world champions are known to have done. The five-time world champion went on to elaborate how frustrating such a situation can be when a young driver feels like he is being held back by such orders from the pit-wall.
“My philosophy as a racing driver has always been I want equal opportunity with whoever I’m racing, so I can truly show my ability. I got to Formula One and how these teams are often set up, when you have a couple of scenarios where you’ve had multiple world champions who demand number one positions and therefore you become a number two and a supporting role.
“While that’s a privileged position to be in it goes against your core values, because you’re a racing driver at heart — that’s why I can understand how Charles feels. Because in his heart he believes he’s the best, or has the potential to be the best… it’s almost like having your light dimmed. So as a competitor, as a racer, you naturally kind of rebel, they say to do one thing but the fight in your wants to go the other way.”