SPIELBERG, Austria: Charles Leclerc yesterday played down any immediate prospect of a Ferrari revival and admitted his Italian team will struggle against Mercedes at this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.
The 21-year-old Monegasque driver, who finished third and only a second behind Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas at last weekend’s French Grand Prix at Le Castellet, said he felt Ferrari were facing a very difficult task.
“At the moment, I think it’s quite difficult - they seem very quick,” he said. “They were extremely quick at Paul Ricard (Le Castellet), especially in the race-pace, so I think we are focusing on ourselves and trying to do the best job possible, but, to be honest, it’s quite difficult to be at their level.”
He added that his close finish behind Bottas was no indication that he was running with the same pace overall.
“Well, I think he was struggling quite a bit on the second set of tyres with some blistering, while we weren’t and I think we managed quite well our race, so it shows that still everything is possible...
“But it’s very difficult and if they don’t run into issues, it’s struggling for us to challenge them. So we are just trying to do the best with our races every time.
“On my personal side, it’s good to have a good weekend. We have been struggling a bit more so it was nice, but we just need to keep working and doing that.
“We will keep faith, until the end, but of course we are all aware that the gap is quite big - and it’s going to be very difficult to catch up.
“But we won’t give up until its mathematically impossible so we will give it everything.”
After an unprecedented eight successive season-opening wins, Mercedes have a commanding lead ahead of Ferrari in both the constructors’ and drivers’ championships.
Meanwhile, Australian Mark Webber, now-retired former Red Bull team mate, feels Ferari’s Sebastian Vettel still has what it takes but needs better support and more ammunition from the oldest and most glamorous team.
“I think he needs a couple more lieutenants, he needs to have less responsibility in the team and just more reassurance that the Monday to Friday stuff is going to be dealt with,” he told Reuters.
“Seb’s still has got it, but it’s a real challenge to stay ahead against a Mercedes-Lewis Hamilton factor week in and week out.”
Vettel is third overall, and best of the rest behind the Mercedes drivers, with team mate Charles Leclerc fifth and 24 points further adrift.
Formula One’s most successful team have not won any title since 2008.
“I don’t find the challenge now different to last year or the years before,” Vettel said in France last Sunday.
“We are in a better place than maybe 2015 and 2016 so I think 2017 and ‘18 have been a clear step in the right direction.
“It’s true that last year at this point we were more competitive but it is what it is now...what is important is to look back at these races and understand what we need to do better.
“I love racing, nothing has changed about that.”