Mercedes chief Toto Wolff says he always expected Charles Leclerc to be a Formula 1 world title threat in his promotion to Ferrari over the winter and is certain he is already “a young champion in the making”.

Leclerc was cruelly denied his maiden F1 Grand Prix victory when an engine issue saw him lose a cylinder in his Ferrari engine with 11 laps to go. The 21-year-old had been leading comfortably after dominating all race weekend in Bahrain but limped home in third place following his engine heartache.

Despite Mercedes’ fortune in sealing a 1-2 at the Bahrain Grand Prix, Wolff acknowledged where the winners’ trophy should be gone and anticipates the young Ferrari driver to remain a strong force throughout his maiden year at the Scuderia.

“I think we have always expected him to be a threat,” Wolff said. “He is in a great car and has the skills and the character to be very successful.

“It’s a challenge that we really enjoy. And I’m sure Valtteri and Lewis will enjoy. We want to fight against the best ones in the best machines.

“When you see Lewis fighting Sebastian in a car and engine that wasn’t on Sebastian’s level, that motivates them even more.”

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Wolff also feels Leclerc has all the attributes to become F1 world champion and his reaction to the disappointment of missing out on victory in Bahrain further cemented that belief.

“In Leclerc, I think we’re seeing a young champion in the making who was the emotional winner,” he explained. “Fastest man and fastest machine. He has gotten all the cruel side of motor racing and it was our fortune.

“Very, very impressive. He has a good personality. He is a humble young man and he’s very fast. The combination between the speed, personality and being able to temper your emotions in both directions is a great ingredient.

“I know that many other drivers who have the lion in them, like he certainly has, would have reacted in a much more controversial way about the third place and would have been angry and would have displayed that. None of that you see with Charles.”

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