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Charles Leclerc: Mercedes chief Toto Wolff admits Ferrari driver is on his team's 'radar'

Charles Leclerc is out of contract with Ferrari in 2024; Leclerc said at Azerbaijan GP that he had "not yet" held talks with Mercedes; Toto Wolff still committed to extending Lewis Hamilton's contract; Wolff also seeks to "manage expectations" on Mercedes' Imola upgrade

Charles Leclerc starts on pole in the Azerbaijan GP Sprint
Image: Charles Leclerc's contract with Ferrari expires at the end of 2024

Mercedes chief Toto Wolff has admitted Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc is on his "radar" as uncertainty over Lewis Hamilton's future with the team continues.  

Last week reports in Italy claimed it was an "open secret" that Leclerc had begun talks with Mercedes, but the Ferrari driver insisted on Thursday that there had "not yet" been any discussions with the rival team.

Leclerc has established himself as one of the sport's elite drivers, particularly over one lap in qualifying, but Ferrari have repeatedly failed to provide the 25-year-old with a car capable of winning a championship.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton's Mercedes contract expires at the end of the current season, but despite repeated insistence from team and driver that both sides are keen on an extension, an agreement has not been forthcoming.

Asked whether he had held talks with Leclerc, Wolff said: "The only time I talked with him is when we discussed where the gate is in Melbourne to board the plane.

"Charles is a super guy and for the long-term future someone you have to have on your radar but not for the short and medium term."

After appearing to leave the door open to future talks with Mercedes in his comments on Thursday, Leclerc said he was "fully committed to Ferrari", and Wolff pointed to those comments.

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He added: "Nobody doubts Charles' ability and he is a good guy. He is 100 per cent committed to Ferrari and we are 100 per cent committed to putting pen to paper with Lewis."

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Highlights of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix from Baku

Is Leclerc best qualifier in F1?

Speculation around Leclerc's future came on a weekend where he offered a reminder of his supreme talent, taking pole in both qualifying sessions as Formula 1 debuted its new Sprint format at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Leclerc's pole for Sunday's race was the 19th of his F1 career and the 10th he has taken since the start of last season, one more than reigning world champion Max Verstappen has managed in that time.

He has only converted four of those previous pole positions into victory, but Sky Sports F1 pundit Karun Chandhok believes the 25-year-old now heads the field when it comes to one-lap performance.

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Charles Leclerc joined Karun Chandhok at the SkyPad to look back at his pole lap in Baku

"I genuinely think over one lap he is now the fastest driver we have in Formula 1," Chandhok said in commentary.

"His ability to extract that extra grip out of fresh tyres for one lap is immense.

"I do think he is the best qualifier we have on the grid right now."

Wolff 'managing expectations' with Mercedes upgrade

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Lewis Hamilton says he is 'counting down the days' until Mercedes' upgrade after finishing sixth in the Azerbaijan GP

A likely factor in the delay to Hamilton's contract renewal has been the performance of Mercedes' W14 in 2023 and Sunday's Azerbaijan GP proved to be another struggle as the seven-time world champion came home sixth - 46 seconds behind race winner Sergio Perez - while George Russell finished eighth.

Hamilton admitted afterwards that he was "counting down the days" until Mercedes' big upgrade arrives in Imola - the race after this weekend's Miami GP.

But Wolff says the Imola package - which includes a new front suspension, aero and floor - will not immediately put Hamilton and Russell into race-winning contention.

"The target is Imola, but I need to manage everybody's expectation," Wolff told reporters after the Azerbaijan GP.

"We are talking so much about that upgrade but we are not going to put it down on the track and drive circles around Red Bull."

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Ride onboard as Lewis Hamilton overtook Nico Hulkenberg, Esteban Ocon, George Russell and Lance Stroll in quick succession after the safety car restart at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

He added: "Red Bull were 20 seconds ahead of Leclerc (who was P3 on Sunday) - over 40 racing laps that's half a second a lap. At least we saw that they were pushing so that is their real pace, but half a second is quite a long way to go.

"We either have to do a better job - all of us together - to catch them up, or change the regulations. And I don't think we should be doing the second. We have to win on merit and that means being more clever and having a steeper development slope than Red Bull."

Although Wolff retains hope Mercedes will catch Red Bull if the Imola upgrade offers a solid baseline to build from, he conceded F1's cost cap limits how quickly the Silver Arrows, Ferrari and Aston Martin can reel in the reigning champions.

"We are more stuck than before. If we would be completely free we would bring a different chassis. We have to decide carefully what we want to upgrade," Wolff said.

"If we were free we would bring double the amount of upgrades - but so would the others. It's a relative game, you just have to be clever, taking the right decisions to bring the optimum amount of performance.

"The cost cap gives so many constraints…people who should only be creative and have carte blanche, they can't do it because someone is telling them whether it is feasible in the cost cap or not.

"That's why it is important that everyone adheres to the cost cap. It is taking much longer [to bring upgrades] because of the administration. Our finance department has grown from 15 to 45 (people). But I still think the cost cap was necessary in F1. It is important to make the sport sustainable."

Sky Sports F1's live Miami GP schedule

8pm: Drivers' Press Conference

6.30pm: Miami GP Practice One (session starts 7pm)
8.30pm: The F1 Show: Miami
10.15pm: Miami GP Practice Two (session starts 10.30pm)

5.15pm: Miami GP Practice Three (session starts 5.30pm)
8pm: Miami GP Qualifying build-up
9pm: Miami GP Qualifying
10.45pm: Ted's Qualifying Notebook

7pm: Grand Prix Sunday Miami GP build-up
8.30pm: The Miami Grand Prix
10.30pm: Chequered Flag Miami GP reaction
11.30pm: Ted's Notebook

The Formula 1 season continues with the Miami GP from May 5-7. Watch qualifying at 9pm on Saturday with lights out at 8.30pm on Sunday. Get Sky Sports

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