Monza, Sept. 3: Charles Leclerc believes he is ready to challenge for the Formula One world championship with Ferrari, following his maiden win at the Belgian Grand Prix.
In a race overshadowed by the death of Formula Two driver Anthoine Hubert, Leclerc held off a late challenge from Lewis Hamilton to take the win at Spa.
Leclerc acknowledged afterwards that it was hard to fully enjoy his victory, which he dedicated to childhood friend Hubert.
Hamilton lauded Leclerc's display, as the 21-year-old moved to within 12 points of team-mate and former world champion Sebastien Vettel in the standings, albeit the Ferrari drivers sit fourth and fifth, way off the leading Mercedes duo.
But heading into the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Leclerc insists he is fully prepared to mount a title challenge, even if Hamilton is out of reach this time around.
"I think I've been in better form [than Vettel] in qualifying since six races [ago]," Leclerc told Autosport. "I've changed my approach a little bit.
"In the race, it's been a bit of a different story. I've been struggling a little bit in the two previous races but I've changed and it seemed to pay off [at Spa] so that's great.
"If I feel like I'm ready to be challenging for world titles, at the end I have the car and team for it.
"We obviously need to work because we are struggling a bit compared to Mercedes [and] on my side, yes, I've got a lot to learn, that's for sure, but I feel ready.
"You always need to feel ready, once you are in that position, otherwise I shouldn't be in the seat that I am in today."
Though it has been a frustrating season for Ferrari, Leclerc is anticipating the boisterous support at their home race will boost their chances of victory at Monza.
"Last year, coming to Monza was one of the best experiences in my life," she added. "The support I had, even though I was not a Ferrari driver, was unbelievable so I can't imagine now."
TALK OF THE PADDOCK
McLaren endured a difficult grand prix at Spa, with both Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz suffering car failures, and team principal Andreas Seidl pledged to work alongside engine developers Renault to fix the issues.
"It's disappointing for us to have two DNFs, with one driver not even being able to make the race start," he said.
"At the same time, the situation is on Renault's side as well. Renault is making a huge effort in order to bring power updates throughout the season, so that's encouraging to see.
"But of course, [it is] disappointing to have all these penalties and the DNFs in the races. It is important that we have a transparent and open relationship there, and that we analyse the issues and try to solve them together."
RACEWEEK SCHEDULE (all times local)
Friday FP1 (10:00-11:30) FP2 (14:00-15:30)
Saturday FP3 (11:00-12:00) Qualifying (14:00-15:00)
Sunday Race (12:10-16:10)
Ferrari have won the Italian Grand Prix 18 times, more than any other team. However, their last victory here was recorded by Fernando Alonso back in 2010.
2018: Lewis Hamilton 2017: Lewis Hamilton 2016: Nico Rosberg
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 268 2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 203 (-65) 3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 181 (-187) 4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 169 (-199) 5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 157 (-111)
1. Mercedes 471 2. Ferrari 326 (-145) 3. Red Bull 254 (-217) 4. McLaren 82 (-389) 5. Toro Rosso 51 (-420)