Lewis Hamilton says Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc reminds him of himself in his own debut season in Formula 1.
Leclerc is just a point behind team-mate Sebastian Vettel in the title race despite team orders aimed at favouring the German in all three races so far.
Hamilton said: “When I got to Formula 1, I wanted to win as soon as possible and beat the champion I was racing against. So it is very similar.
“I see much of myself in Charles and he is doing a great job so far.”
Championship leader Hamilton added in the build-up to Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix: “With really high expectations at a huge team like Ferrari, he is driving so well, and he just has to keep doing what he is doing, it will come to him.”
The five-time world champion likened Leclerc’s situation to his own when he was alongside two-time champion Fernando Alonso in his debut season with McLaren in 2007.
Hamilton was angered by what he perceived to be the way McLaren manipulated the Monaco Grand Prix to prevent him having a chance to win, but took his first victory at the next race in Canada.
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“There have been a couple of scenarios when there are multiple world champions who demand the number one position and so you become a number two, and while it is a privileged position it goes against your core values,” Hamilton said.
“I understand how Charles feels because in his heart he believes he has the potential be the best and it is almost like having your light dimmed.
“So as a racer and as a fierce competitor, you kind of rebel. They say to do one thing but the fighter in you wants to push against it. I experienced that.”
Leclerc, who was promoted to Ferrari after a stellar debut season for Sauber last year, lost what would have been a dominant maiden victory in the second race of the season in Bahrain when he was hit by an engine problem in the closing stages of the race, handing victory to Hamilton.
In the first race in Australia, he was told to stay behind Vettel in the closing laps after catching him because of a better tyre strategy.
And in the last race in China he was forced to hand third place to the four-time champion in the opening laps after Vettel said he could go faster.
The move ensured Leclerc finished fifth behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, while Vettel took third behind Hamilton and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
In Bahrain, Leclerc was also asked to stay behind Vettel for two laps when he caught him after dropping back because of a poor start. He ignored that order and passed his team-mate a few corners later.