Charles the eighth: Sauber driver impresses at French GP

Water performance! Sauber driver Charles Leclerc in action at the Paul Ricard circuit on Saturday

Le Castellet (France) (AFP) – Rising star Charles Leclerc added substantially to his fan club on Saturday when he qualified eighth in his Sauber for Sunday’s French Grand Prix.

The highly-rated Monegasque driver stirred up widespread admiration for his efforts with four-time champions Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel both heaping praise on him.

Hamilton, who took pole position, said it was “very impressive, very, very impressive” to see Leclerc, a Ferrari academy protege, reach the top-ten shootout.

“There’s a lot of pressure for him, being here in the south of France, so it’s really, really good,” said Hamilton. “I’m happy for him, particularly in that car.

“He’s done a great job with what he has –- probably even more, which is what you hope from a good driver.”

Leclerc has been widely tipped to move to Ferrari next season as a replacement for Kimi Raikkonen, who started his career at Sauber, alongside Vettel.

The championship-leading German said: “Eighth is an impressive result. They are still quite a long way behind with the car.

“For him, he’s doing the job. It’s good for him, and for Sauber as well, to be up there and have a chance to score points.”

Leclerc has scored points in three out of the last four Grands Prix.

He said: “It is just unbelievable, the best recovery I did from my career from one day to the other.

“Yesterday was a disaster. We changed the car completely. I have just had a smile since I passed Q3 and we all have to be very proud.

“I worked a lot with the engineers to see what the issues were last night. We did all the right things and I’m extremely happy.”

Sauber team boss Frederic Vasseur said it was a “huge feeling” for the team to reach Q3 for the first time since the 2015 Chinese Grand Prix.

“For Charles, it’s a special test because it’s the first Q3 and P8 and in France. I think it’s a great feeling for him.”