(CNN)"It feels amazing," a visibly delighted, and possibly somewhat relieved, Charles Leclerc says.
Since his Formula One debut successful 2019, the young Monegasque prodigy has endured a hard clip with Ferrari. Two wins astatine the precise commencement of his vocation raised hopes and expectations that the iconic squad successful reddish was possibly not excessively acold distant from winning a archetypal drivers' title rubric since Kimi Räikkönen successful 2007.
However, aft a frustrating remainder of 2019 and an adjacent worse 2020 -- which saw Leclerc decorativeness a lowly eighth successful the drivers' standings and Ferrari sixth successful the constructors' title -- doubts began to creep successful astir whether Ferrari could supply their young prima with a car worthy of his abilities.
But this season, each that has changed.
Leclerc is present driving a car that is bully capable to earnestly situation astatine each contention and, though it is inactive aboriginal successful the season, possibly adjacent the satellite championship.
The 24-year-old Leclerc's talents, of course, are besides bully capable -- but they were ne'er successful question.
Despite a disappointing sixth spot decorativeness astatine the astir caller Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Leclerc leads the operator standings connected 86 points aft 4 races, 27 points wide of defending F1 champion Max Verstappen successful second.
"The past 2 years person been very, precise hard due to the fact that erstwhile I arrived successful Ferrari successful 2019, we had a car that was susceptible of winning races connected immoderate occasions and I did triumph my archetypal 2 races successful 2019,"Leclerc tells CNN's Amanda Davies up of the Miami Grand Prix.
"Then you spell successful 2020 and 2021 wherever you find yourself with a car that is struggling overmuch much and you are warring for sixth to 10th spot whenever you bash the cleanable weekend, which is astir apt not arsenic breathtaking and [it's] hard to accept, but arsenic a squad I deliberation we've accepted it and we've worked successful the champion mode imaginable to get backmost connected apical this year.
"So we had a batch of anticipation for this twelvemonth and we worked to get backmost to the apical and to yet spot that each the enactment that we've done successful the past fewer years successful this hard concern that we were successful is yet paying off, feels adjacent much amazing.
"So it's large to beryllium starring the championship, but we are besides alert that the title is precise agelong and that volition person to enactment highly hard to support that position, but it's a imagination commencement for now. We are each precise blessed and we are moving harder than ever to support that position."
After 2 years of mediocrity -- Leclerc finished seventh past play and Ferrari third, astir 300 points down constructors' champion Mercedes -- it would person been casual to go disillusioned.
Leclerc admits that months of hard enactment ne'er being rewarded with thing amended than a mediate of the battalion decorativeness did instrumentality its toll connected the team, but helium is afloat of praise for however Ferrari managed those hard moments.
"I mean, it's difficult," Leclerc recalls of that time. "Of people you've got times wherever you consciousness down, but anytime I felt down I conscionable thought astir 2019 and however it felt to triumph and that gave maine the other information to conscionable get backmost astatine it and enactment harder than ever, to deliberation astir the bully days that volition beryllium determination aft if we bash a bully job.
"I deliberation everyone successful the squad had that mentality and ne'er mislaid religion and information either, truthful we had the close approach."
'Never constitute them off'
One of the biggest shocks this play has been Mercedes' struggles.
The squad had won a record-breaking 8 consecutive constructors' championships and secured 7 operator titles successful a enactment earlier Verstappen spoiled the enactment successful a frenetic extremity to past season.
Both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell person been incapable to get to grips with Mercedes' caller car this year, with the seven-time satellite champion particularly struggling.
Russell presently sits 4th and Hamilton seventh, with lone 2 third-place finishes betwixt them to amusement for their efforts this season.
Leclerc, however, knows each excessively good what a juggernaut Mercedes has been successful the athletics and, contempt Hamilton already penning this play off, is wary of putting the last nail successful their coffin excessively soon.
"I ne'er constitute them disconnected due to the fact that they are specified a beardown squad and they've showed it successful the past, but it is besides existent that they are struggling since the opening of the season," Leclerc says. "They look to person rather large issues that volition necessitate a spot of clip earlier they hole them.
"So I don't know, possibly not for the title this year, but I'm beauteous definite that they volition beryllium capable to triumph immoderate races astatine immoderate constituent successful the season."
Last season's melodramatic finale, successful which the rubric was decided connected the last thigh of the last race, was a invited alteration for F1 fans, who had been treated to small much than Mercedes' processions successful caller seasons.
The commencement to this twelvemonth has already got fans hoping that they mightiness beryllium witnessing different thrilling two-horse contention -- but Leclerc believes determination are much drivers susceptible of winning the title that conscionable him and Verstappen.
"Checo [Perez] is highly close," says Leclerc, referring to the Red Bull driver. "Carlos [Sainz Jr.] has been been unlucky and possibly he's present getting determination too, but I deliberation it volition beryllium successful betwixt america four," added Leclerc of his Ferrari teammate.
"Both of the teams are precise competitive. All drivers are very, precise competitive, truthful for present I spot a combat betwixt Red Bull and Ferrari and not lone Max and myself."