Sebastian Vettel says he has to take new Ferrari Formula 1 teammate Charles Leclerc “very seriously” in the 2019 title race and views him as a “full rival”. 

Following an impressive rookie F1 campaign with Sauber, Ferrari Driver Academy graduate Leclerc has been promoted alongside four-time world champion Vettel at the Scuderia for the upcoming season. 

New Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto suggested last week at the team’s launch of its 2019 car that Vettel may be favoured over Leclerc during the early rounds of the season depending on the championship situation. 

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Asked if he viewed Leclerc as a threat, Vettel replied: “Of course - full rival. 

“He got the seat for a reason and I’ve got to take him very seriously. You always have a close rivalry with your teammate but priority number one is trying to bring the team forward.

“Obviously I’ve been around a lot longer compared to him, different things here he will have on his plate in the beginning. But he’s a nice kid. 

“In a positive way, leave him alone, let him do his job. I’m certain he will be quick enough and put me under pressure, so we’ll see how it goes.”

21-year-old Leclerc turned heads with his rapid rise up the junior ranks, storming to back-to-back titles in GP3 and Formula 2 before making his F1 debut in 2018, leading to him being tipped to provide an instant challenge to Vettel this season. 

Vettel insisted he cannot envision Leclerc causing any fractions within the team, even if he ends up proving a match for the German. 

“I don’t know him as a team mate yet and everyone is different,” Vettel said. “I’m taking it quite straightforward. I’m not the one starting any problems. I don’t expect Charles to start any problems. 

“I’m actually looking forward to it. It’s very exciting for him, to be in a position to drive the car of his dreams. I can understand that. Even though I’ve been around longer, I still feel the same.”

Leclerc is currently driving Ferrari's new SF90 on the second day of pre-season testing in Barcelona, after Vettel topped the timesheets on Monday. 

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