Very rarely do Formula One teams throw caution to the wind with their driver choices. The road to motor racing Valhalla is a patient one that can take years of grafting in the lower formulas so when Ferrari announced that veteran and former world champion Kimi Raikkonen would be exiting the Scuderia in a swap deal with Charles Leclerc, the Sauber driver in his debut F1 season, a few eyebrows were raised.
History shows that Ferrari opt for experienced, established drivers. The Scuderia’s last three drivers, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, and Sebastian Vettel, all had Formula One world titles under their belt before settling into the Ferrari cockpit. But Ferrari are also in the midst of a severe drought; a Ferrari driver hasn’t won the drivers’ championship since 2007. So the acquisition of Leclerc might seem like a gamble to upset this funk they’ve found themselves in, but the 20-year-old Monegasque has already proven that he is one of the most exciting young talents in motor racing.
Leclerc has shown a winner’s instinct having won the F2 title last season in convincing fashion, winning seven races and finishing on the podium ten times in 22 races. And commendably so, he has carried this form into his rookie F1 season, scoring points in five races including a 6th place finish in Azerbaijan. Leclerc has also shown an astonishing dominance over his teammate, Marcus Ericsson who has already completed three seasons in F1. Not only does Leclerc have more than double the points that Ericsson has accrued, he’s out qualified him 11-3 this season.
Off the track, Leclerc has demonstrated great maturity and emotional control. He lost his godfather, Jules Bianchi, in 2015 after he died from injuries sustained at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014. He too was tipped to take up the reigns of the Prancing Horse. Leclerc then lost his father his last year, handling both tragedies with great poise.
Leclerc has faced great tests on track this season as well. The Sauber team debuted an ambitious, but unpredictable new car design for the 2018 season. A big part of a driver’s partnership with the team is relaying information on the car’s performance and how it can be improved. Besides his performances, his proven penchant for analysis on the fly will stand him in good position for the testing conditions of the Ferrari next season and the inevitable challenges from Mercedes and Red Bull.
Compare Leclerc to another outstanding young driver, Max Verstappen, and this season already suggests that Leclerc possesses a more mature approach to racing than the Red Bull driver. Surrounded by the quick, competitive Ferrari chassis and with a whole season’s experience behind him, Leclerc looks supremely positioned to make a meaningful mark on the 2019 season.