But 10 laps to go there was no reason to take risks. His Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas duly obliged on Sunday, turning in the drive of his career to kick off the most important year of his career in style.
"Valtteri drove an incredible race so he truly deserved it and we just have some work to do", he said.
Leclerc, who has replaced Kimi Raikkonen, was told to stay behind fourth-placed Vettel in the closing stages of the Australian Grand Prix.
"For us as a team, we have such a strong package going forwards and then, for myself, after quite a tricky previous year, to have started the season like this".
His teammate, Lewis Hamilton, says Mercedes is in a title fight with Red Bull-Honda and Ferrari. "That's pay back from previous year Valtteri".
"I think we were surprised that we had such a good pace, and we were surprised that they [Ferrari] didn't have any pace at all".
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LeBron James , who sat out the Pistons game in Detroit, came back to action and paced the Lakers with 33 points and eight assists. James was asked what his message would be to players considering joining him with the Lakers. "We didn't close the game out.
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel asked the question everyone wanted an answer for when he spoke to his Ferrari crew over the radio and said: "Why are so slow?"
"These things don't just happen - both the team and I have worked hard for this and it seems like the hard work paid off today". I wasn't entirely happy with the balance I had but it wasn't the end of the world.
In the race, the two men narrowly avoided a collision at the start as Leclerc tried to pass Vettel around the outside of the first corner, and Leclerc had a trip across the grass later during his first stint.
Ferrari was unable to even muster a podium finish, with 2017 and 2018 victor Sebastian Vettel passed by Red Bull's Max Verstappen, leaving the German fourth. "Because I think the engineers were keen and the drivers were keen!"
Whiting died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism in Melbourne on the eve of the season-opener, and his presence and influence will be widely missed as the sport's global governing body tries to find a permanent replacement.
In his role as race director and safety delegate, as well as his involvement in various commissions, Whiting was well established as the first point of contact for drivers for a wide range of issues.