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Charles Leclerc speaks for the first time since Lewis Hamilton signed with Ferrari, but insists he wants to win the championship alongside ‘special’ team-mate Carlos Sainz – and take advantage of Red Bull’s internal issues

Charles Leclerc says his aim is to unseat Max Verstappen and Red Bull at the pinnacle of F1 in this coming season with Ferrari – before Lewis Hamilton joins the Scuderia. 

Leclerc claimed his ‘only target’ was to dethrone Red Bull and praised the work of Ferrari’s development team ahead of next week’s car launch. 

Red Bull are in turmoil with team principal Christian Horner under investigation after allegations of ‘incredibly controlling behaviour’, leaving his future up in the air. 

Twenty-six-year-old Leclerc, speaking for the first time since the announcement that Lewis Hamilton will replace Carlos Sainz in 2025, cut a cautiously upbeat figure. 

‘To win the championship, this is the only target I have. I’m only happy when I win, second place is not my target,’ he said.  

Charles Leclerc, right, claimed his ‘only target’ was to win a championship with Ferrari – and that second place isn’t enough 

Leclerc was speaking for the first time time since it emerged that Lewis Hamilton would join Ferrari in 2025

Leclerc was speaking for the first time time since it emerged that Lewis Hamilton would join Ferrari in 2025 

‘You need to give yourself realistic targets as well, as much as we are always optimistic and try to do the best job possible. 

‘We all want to win but looking at where we are starting from from last year, Red Bull had a big advantage. So now we need to close the gap as much as possible.

‘So we will do absolutely everything to try and, and do the step that, that is our goal in order to challenge.’

Ferrari accumulated less than half of Red Bull’s points total last season to finish third among the constructors while Leclerc came fifth in the Drivers’ Championship. 

Lerclerc and Sainz have been team-mates for three seasons and despite moments of competitive friction they have had a fruitful relationship. 

Those campaigns have seen the Prancing Horse return to the upper echelons of the grid after a diabolical 2020 season where Ferrari finished sixth before Sainz arrived. 

Lerclerc said: ‘We have a very special relationship. I mean, we are obviously friends outside the track as well. We are sharing good moments. We spend so much time. I mean, I see Carlos more than my own family because we’ve got 24 races now.’

Ferrari will unveil their next car on February 13 as they hope to end Red Bull’s streak of dominance. 

Hamilton will replace Carlos Sainz, Leclerc's 'friend'' and  'special team-mate' of three years

Hamilton will replace Carlos Sainz, Leclerc’s ‘friend” and  ‘special team-mate’ of three years

Ferrari hope to close the gap on Red Bull, who have been rocked by allegations towards tam principal Christian Horner

Ferrari hope to close the gap on Red Bull, who have been rocked by allegations towards tam principal Christian Horner 

Leclerc added: ‘I’m just super excited because there’s so much work going on at the moment.

‘As I was saying, we started to develop the new car many months ago already, virtually first on the simulator in Maranello, then we see the first part physical parts. 

‘I saw the car yesterday, not fully painted yet, but the first model of it.

‘So already there you start to get excited and then we get to drive the car for the first time around the launch, which will be next week, which again, I’m really looking forward to.

‘There are lots of question marks. Of course, we have driven the car but then all the remains to be seen in reality, whether everything fits what we’ve felt in the virtual world and the simulator, which normally does when everything goes well.

‘From now on, I’m just really excited to be next week and to be trying to the car more.

‘I mean, now with the technology we get, it’s absolutely crazy how close it gets [the simulator], but there can be some mis-correlations that over the years, we always try to do the boundaries and to get as close to reality as possible, but they’ve done a great job of that, so I’m sure it will very similar to what I’ve tried on the simulator.’

Ferrari will hope to steal any advantage they can over Red Bull, who have been rocked by the allegations surrounding Horner. 

Horner, pictured with Red Bull's Formula One champion Max Verstappen, strongly denies the claims of 'incredibly controlling' and 'inappropriate' behaviour

Horner, pictured with Red Bull’s Formula One champion Max Verstappen, strongly denies the claims of ‘incredibly controlling’ and ‘inappropriate’ behaviour 

The father-of-two and husband of singer Geri Halliwell flatly denied the accusations and is expected to remain in the job he has held since 2005 until an internal investigation has concluded. 

A decision over his future is reportedly expected to be made before February 15 with a hearing on Friday as he faces allegations of ‘inappropriate behaviour’, alegedly towards a female colleague. 

The 2024 F1 season starts on March 2 at the Bahrain Grand Prix. 

Peroni and Ferrari have marked the beginning of their new partnership with the release of Tifosi Nastro Azzurro 0.0%, comprising 2,024 bespoke beer bottles. 

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