Charles Leclerc shows why he’s hot prospect in F1

Sauber driver Charles Leclerc of Monaco drives his car in the rain during the third free practice at the Paul Ricard racetrack, in Le Castellet, southern France, Saturday, June 23, 2018. The Formula one race will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

LE CASTELLET, France (AP) Charles Leclerc became the sensation of the French Grand Prix when he steered his Sauber to the eighth fastest time in qualifying on Saturday.

That was impressive from a 20-year-old driver who was competing in only his eighth qualifying session since making his debut in Formula One four months ago.

”I can’t believe it,” Leclerc said. ”It’s incredible. Yesterday was a very difficult day and today we really bounced back.”

The rookie managed only the 13th- and 14th-best times in Friday’s practice sessions at Paul Ricard Circuit.

Leclerc has finished in the points in three of the seven races this season, including a sixth place in Baku.

Motorsport media reports had already been speculating that Ferrari was interested in signing Leclerc, apparently to replace the 38-year-old Kimi Raikkonen and partner with four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

His qualifying run that bettered 12 other drivers, including experienced pilots Fernando Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg, and Sergio Perez as well as Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson, turned even more heads.

Even Vettel’s.

”Eighth is an impressive result. They are still quite a long way behind with the car so I think for him, he’s doing the job,” Vettel said. ”It’s good for him and good for Sauber as well, to be up there.”

Pole winner Lewis Hamilton also praised Leclerc, saying ”he’s doing a great job with what he has and probably delivering more, which is what you would hope from a good driver.”

Leclerc, who is from the tiny principality of Monaco famous for its F1 street race, was the F2 champion in 2017. He was also part of Ferrari’s driver academy and was a test driver for the Italian powerhouse.