F1 returns to Ferrari's homeland this weekend with Imola playing host to a third race in Italy this season. Despite...
Although Ferrari are known for choosing experience over talent, this came to an end in 2018. Charles Leclerc impressed in his debut season for Ferrari in 2019 and has signed right up to 2024. At 22, the young Monegasque driver is the man for the future at Ferrari.
Goldilocks of Ferrari
Without being a member of one of the junior programs in Formula 1, Charles Leclerc already has quite a few successes to his name. In 2015, the young Monegasque appeared well on the radar for the first time after finishing fourth in his debut season in Formula 3 (at Van Amersfoort Racing). The Macau race puts Leclerc in second place, then after the Monegasque driver was signed to have a place in the Ferrari Driver Academy.
Test drivers for Ferrari and Haas, in addition to participating in the GP3 series. Leclerc had his hands full in 2016, but shone again. Sitting next to Nyck de Vries (and Alexander Albon) at ART Grand Prix, the Monegasque achieved by far the best results and became champion.
Albon came second, De Vries sixth. The entire ART line-up (with the exception of Japanese driver Nirei Fukuzumi) made the switch to Formula 2, where once again it would be Charles Leclerc who impressed.
Formula 2 and throughput
For the 2017 season in Formula 2, Leclerc was placed next to fellow Ferrari Driver Academy member Antonio Fuoco at Prema. Despite an extremely difficult start (and not taking points during his home race in Monaco), Leclerc managed to turn the tide and won the title.
Just a week before his twentieth birthday, Leclerc won the Formula 2 championship and became the youngest winner of that class ever. Towards the end of that same year it was announced that the series of excellent results would give him a place at Sauber, then just renamed Alfa Romeo-Sauber.
The turnaround of Sauber
With Frederic Vasseur at the helm, Sauber was making big changes. Carrying the name Alfa Romeo is one of them, working more closely with Ferrari a second. Leclerc only needed three races to get used to Formula 1, after which the Monegasque immediately managed to tie up points finishes. His more experienced team mate Marcus Ericsson was clearly struggling to match the results, which made Leclerc look all the better.
Once again the home race of young Monegasque turned out to be more bad luck than good luck, after the Sauber brakes failed and Leclerc went fully in the back of Brendon Hartley. Throughout the season Charles managed to collect 39 points (P6 in Baku as best finish) and finish thirteenth in the championship. For Ferrari, they had seen more than enough to have a good feeling about the switch to the Italian side in 2019.
In 2019 the choice for Leclerc turned out to be justified. The Monegasque was fast in qualifying and knew how to impress in several races. It was not the four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel who took the first pole or victory of the team, but the newcomer from Monaco. In fact, after his pole and victory in Belgium, Leclerc managed to put down a series of four consecutive poles.
Therefore, it was not crazy that Ferrari announced at the end of the season that the contract of the young Monegasque would be extended. A five-year deal would be offered to Leclerc and thus the plan for the future of Ferrari seems clear. Leclerc had to do it, but first he has to take the next step.
Charles Leclerc in 2020
That step should follow in 2020, when Leclerc will again take on Sebastian Vettel, but this time with an extra year of experience in his pocket. In addition, a lot more is now expected from Leclerc, who was still able to ride a little free in 2019. In 2019 there were still several mistakes to be found, which must disappear in 2020 if the Ferrari driver wants to compete against Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton for the world title.
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