Lewis Hamilton concedes he’ll take caution when fighting against Charles Leclerc on track as he’s unsure how the 21-year-old behaves in battle having never truly faced up against the new Ferrari driver.

While both Hamilton and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff expect Leclerc to be a title threat in his maiden year at Ferrari, the reigning Formula 1 world champion says he needs to understand how the youngster both attacks and defends on track but anticipates a balanced challenger having watched him against other drivers.

Since Leclerc’s promotion to Ferrari the pair are yet to go head-to-head on track but Leclerc did pull off eye-catching moves on both Valtteri Bottas and his own teammate Sebastian Vettel during the Bahrain Grand Prix where a late engine issue cruelly denied him a maiden F1 win.

“I think every time you come across a new driver that you’ve had very little experience with of course you approach it with caution,” Hamilton said. “You don’t know how they behave, you don’t know if they’re erratic, super aggressive, more relaxed, or prone to mistake.

“I’ve not had any time on track with him to assess, he looks very stable, very fair but a balanced driver as far as I can tell. Through the season you’ll see. He didn’t make any mistakes this weekend so I approach it currently the same as I approach Sebastian.

“Each driver’s a little bit different, give some more space than others, but at the moment I’ve not had a wheel-to-wheel battle with him. I will discover that at some stage I’m sure, hopefully we get some wheel-to-wheel battles through the year.”

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Hamilton also feels developing his Mercedes F1 car to the perceived performance level of Ferrari is a bigger priority at the start of the 2019 campaign having felt thoroughly outperformed by both the Italian squad and Leclerc in Bahrain.

“We can’t be jumping around in excitement because we know, and I know, that Charles did the job this weekend and should have won,” he said. “Unfortunately reliability got in the way for him.

“We all worked so hard through the weekend, as we do every weekend, but we underperformed. Naturally you have lucky weekends and this is one of those.”

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