Can Leclerc save Ferrari?

It has been over 10 years since Ferrari won a drivers title with Kimi Raikkonen; the teams last drivers title to date but have come close so many times with Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso and now Sebastian Vettel but none of them were able to achieve it.

For a second year in a row now Vettel and Ferrari will have to play second best to Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes but it feels like this season among many in recent years have been lost unnecessarily. Mistakes by Vettel last season coupled with inferior reliability compared to rivals Mercedes meant that Hamilton could claim his 4th world title with a couple rounds to spare when the title should have gone to the wire. This year is no different with poor strategy decisions and a scruffy Vettel have meant too many precious championship points have been thrown away when their opponents have extracted the most out of a weekend.

A lot of pressure has been put on Ferrari and Vettel to perform not helped by the comparisons to the golden era of Schumacher, Brawn and Todt, Ferrari are cracking under the pressure and Vettel is showing this on track, he is desperate to emulate his hero but he feels the need to compensate every time the team has an issue.

A slow Kimi Raikkonen also harms the teams development, although he is regarded as one of the best in terms of technical feedback he does nothing to push his teammate or motivate the team. A lot of talk has been of Raikkonen’s motivation which he obviously  has otherwise he wouldn’t have signed a contract to remain in the sport for another 2 years but he no longer has that belief or hunger to fight for world titles which won’t help the team make that final push to succeed. Ferrari do have an answer to solve some of these problems and his name is Charles Leclerc.

Charles Leclerc finally lived up to his hype by finishing P6 in Baku. Copyright: Sauber

Charles Leclerc is only in his first season of Formula One but is already regarded as a future world champion. An impressive junior career which saw him win the GP3 and F2 titles in his first attempts in the past two years with the latter being rather dominant securing 8 poles out of 11 rounds and wrapping up the title early beating more experienced drivers.

Leclerc has already proven he has what it takes to mount a championship challenge and has the consistency and speed to pull it off. He has even struggled with personal anguish with the loss of his father and mentor Jules Bianchi. He showed just how strong his mental strength was after the passing of his father last year in the build up to the Azerbajian rounds in the F2 championship, he managed to turn it around and claim wins in both the feature and sprint race that weekend; something not many have achieved in the championship.

Leclerc did struggle in the first few races of the season owing it to overdriving Leclerc was very critical on himself but quickly adapted and secured his best result of the season to date in Azerbajian with 6th in a crazy race. His ability to reflect and learn and do so quickly is something not many can do and is a good sign for the monegasque.

He proved even more impressive in Canada and Spain and showed qualities you’d expect of an experienced world champion, in both races he battled with Fernando Alonso all race and managed to get the best of him which is not easy at all. He showed maturity and did not crack under the pressure of keeping ahead of a relentless Fernando Alonso who is probably one of the greatest drivers in the sports history.

Charles Leclerc has shown not only speed but a calm head in his debut season. Copyright: Sauber

Leclerc has destroyed his experienced teammate Marcus Ericsson, he is leading him 14-3 in the qualifying head to head and has 21 points to Ericsson’s 6 and would be even more if it weren’t for the poor reliability Leclerc has suffered. Ericsson is no future champion but he is now in his 5th season and well embedded into the team so he cannot be disregarded as a benchmark.

With all of this it makes perfect sense that Ferrari have signed him for 2019, he is quick, mature and has youth and hunger that makes him perfect for Ferrari’s future. He will first of all be the wake up call Vettel definitely needs, Vettel has enjoyed an easy ride the past few years with Raikkonen and will surely find another gear when Leclerc becomes his teammate.

His arrival is also a fresh start for Ferrari, teams can be complacent and lose motivation when the challenge is the same but with young blood in the team; something that Ferrari historically aren’t used to it will provide another challenge for the team and a new motivation. Leclerc wants to be world champion and has the speed to back it up the team may feel more confident after it’s most recent failed attempts with Vettel, Leclerc’s arrival should mean that both drivers raise their game in order to fight for the title and both will learn from each-other and pull the team forward.

Lelcerc’s proven race craft also gives the paddock confidence that he won’t make the same mistakes Vettel has made this season in combat, Leclerc is a lot more patient and has already shown he can make some fantastic overtakes with his move on Magnussen in Russia being a prime example.

@Sauber 2.jpg
Copyright: Sauber

We have seen a lot of young and inexperienced drivers thrive in a top team with Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton being prime examples of this with the latter being the most comparable. Hamilton joined McLaren in 2007 as a rookie and had the reigning two-time wold champion as his teammate, Fernando Alonso but still managed to take the title to the last race and missed out on his maiden title by 1 point, he would later claim this the following year.

Next season will only be his second in the sport but he will already be racing for the most famous team in the sport and teammates with a four time world champion. Leclerc will make mistakes but he has what it takes so succeed in this sport and is without a doubt a future world champion.

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