MONTMELO, Spain -- Sebastian Vettel has no doubts new Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc can immediately challenge for the Formula One world championship in 2019.
Highly-rated youngster Leclerc has replaced Kimi Raikkonen at the Italian team, which arrives at a new season without two former world champions at the helm for the first time since 2013. One of the most compelling questions going into the new season is how Vettel, who won four titles at the start of the decade, will compete alongside the former Formula 2 champion.
At the launch of Ferrari's 2019 car, new team boss Mattia Binotto said Vettel would get priority treatment over Leclerc in the early races. While Vettel hinted at that being the case, he made it clear he will not be underestimating the man in the No. 16 car.
When asked if he considered Leclerc a threat in the championship fight this year, Vettel replied: "Of course. Full rival. He got the seat for a reason. 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."
Vettel enjoyed a good relationship with Raikkonen in their four years together at the Italian team. The four-time world champion is hoping for similar with Leclerc.
"I don't know him as a teammate yet, so... everyone is different. I don't know. 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."