‘This has got to be the year HE fights for the championship’: Jenson Button lays down the gauntlet to Ferrari star Charles Leclerc as he urges 22-year-old to seriously threaten Lewis Hamilton’s hold on the drivers’ title
- Jenson Button wants to see Charles Leclerc threaten Lewis Hamilton’s title grip
- The Mercedes driver was largely untroubled in competition with Ferrari in 2019
- Leclerc was in his first season with the team but that ‘honeymoon’ is now over
- Button, who will cover races as a pundit, thinks Leclerc is capable of a title win
Jenson Button has warned Charles Leclerc that his honeymoon at Ferrari is over and he must now put up a serious fight with Lewis Hamilton for the Formula One title.
Ferrari endured a miserable 2019 season which saw Hamilton coast to his sixth drivers’ championship title and Button, who became world champion in 2009, is convinced this season will see Leclerc provide consistent competition for supremacy on the grid.
‘Charles has gone through that honeymoon period at Ferrari and now it is about knuckling down and this year has got to be the year he fights for the championship,’ Button, returning to cover the season as a pundit for Sky Sports, said.
Charles Leclerc must take the championship fight to Lewis Hamilton, says Jenson Button
Leclerc had a mixed debut season with Ferrari and will be expected to challenge in 2020
Button, who will cover the season as a pundit for Sky, is convinced Leclerc has figured it out
‘I can’t wait to be watching what unfolds at Ferrari,’ he added. ‘I really think they will pull it together and take it to Mercedes.’
Leclerc, 22, wasted no time in dismissing his No 2 driver tag last season, regularly outperforming team-mate and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
While Hamilton runs the show at Mercedes, Vettel and Leclerc have clashed over team orders and it was Leclerc who swiftly established himself as the team’s best hope of dethroning the Briton last season.
Early on in the 2019 season, Leclerc made a number of mistakes but also showed real promise
He has shown pace and managed more wins, more poles and more points than his team-mate
2019 SEASON FINAL DRIVER STANDINGS
1 – Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes GP (413 points)
2 – Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes GP (326 points)
3 – Max Verstappen – Red Bull Racing (278 points)
4 – Charles Leclerc – Ferrari (264 points)
5 – Sebastian Vettel – Ferrari (240 points)
Leclerc went on to score more wins, more poles and more points than Vettel and yet could only finish fourth in the end of season standings behind Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen – 149 points behind the eventual winner and for Button, that is nowhere near good enough for a Ferrari driver.
‘There were some races where Charles was making quite a few mistakes at the start of the year,’ Button added.
‘He had massive speed but even he said, “oh sorry guys, that was my fault”. It’s like, maybe back off saying it is your fault every time. Sebastian, I think, found it a little tricky having a younger team-mate who was so quick.
‘I think the dynamic was just wrong within the team. I think now they have a much better understanding of each other and I really feel they are going to be a strong team in 2020.
‘As soon as they realise they have to be fighting Lewis, rather than each other, they will have a great chance of being at the front of the fight, and fighting for the championship.’
It was a testy relationship between Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel (right) due to team orders
Prior to pre-season testing getting underway in Barcelona last week, there were still rumblings of Ferrari’s interest in Hamilton and that fans could see a Leclerc-Hamilton tandem in 2021.
But talk of an extension for Vettel, who is out of contract at the end of 2020, has grown louder and Button believes it is ultimately in the hands of the German as to his future with the Italian constructor.
‘I can imagine, it would have been horrifically tough (last season),’ the Sky F1 pundit said.
‘Being a four-time world champion and this young kid coming in and outscoring him and getting more pole positions than him. That’s tough, really tough, and it is how you handle that.
‘I don’t think at times he handled it great but now looking back he has got the experience of working with him and everyone looks at how Charles is as good as Sebastian already so it is a little bit easier.
Four-time world champion Vettel struggled and Button admits it will have been ‘tough’ for him
Button wants Hamilton to win his seventh title but also accepted he wants to see a Ferrari fight
‘Now he goes out and if he is a bit quicker then it’s “oh, he’s a bit quicker, I’ll work here and outperform him in the next race” and I think that’s a good place to be for Sebastian. It’s a much stronger position to be in I do feel.
‘When you are beaten by a young kid in your team it hurts, a lot. How many hours he has put into working with Ferrari, four world championships with Red Bull, that really does hurt.
‘I think he will be a much more confident driver and will make less mistakes in 2020. If he doesn’t… he probably won’t be at Ferrari in 2021.’
The 2020 season gets underway with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on January 15 with Ferrari keen to make an early statement to rivals Mercedes that after a year to forget, they are back and ready to challenge for the top gongs.
Jenson Button will be part of the Sky Sports F1 team throughout the 2020 season, watch every race exclusively live on Sky Sports F1
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