Charles Leclerc – Ferrari’s Top Driver?
By Drew F. April 4 2019
According to Mercedes chief Toto Wolf, Ferrari driver; Charles Leclerc is already showing signs of a Formula One World Champion. That is high praise coming from the man who has overseen Mercedes’ last five world titles. But Wolff is correct in his analysis as Leclerc is displaying performances well ahead of his age of 21.
The Monegasque has started the 2019 Formula One season well as Leclerc has picked up where he left off in his rookie campaign. Now, with two races completed and one podium achieved, questions are being asked whether Leclerc is Ferrari’s best chance to win the title?
Sauber rookie campaign
Leclerc made his Formula One debut in 2018 with Sauber, and it didn’t take him long before he was winning points and turning heads. Although he retired from five of the 21 races, Leclerc managed a 13th place finish after gaining 39 points.
Perhaps after seeing enormous potential in the young driver, Ferrari snatched up Leclerc to partner Sebastian Vettel in the 2019 season. They probably didn’t expect Leclerc to be ready for a championship challenge as he is only in his second season of Formula One. However, the younger driver’s early performances have shown his rookie campaign was no fluke.
Leclerc is already halfway to the same points total he accumulated in 2018 after two races. His driving ability has been complemented by a faster, more powerful car courtesy of Ferrari.
From Sauber slow to Ferrari fast
The switch from Sauber to Ferrari must have given Leclerc a confidence boost. He went from driving for a team that couldn’t contend with Formula One’s big boys to driving for the fastest team in preseason. Ferrari was dominant during Formula One’s preseason, but Vettel got most of the headlines for Ferrari’s speed at the time.
It didn’t take long for Leclerc to get into the act for Ferrari, however, as he posted the quickest time on day two of pre-season testing during the morning session. Due to both Vettel and Leclerc starting well, speculation grew like wildfire that the season would be dominated by the red cars. But that is the ugly truth about preseasons. No matter how good someone looks or performs, it doesn’t mean they can carry that form over into races.
After two races, just one podium has been achieved between Vettel and Leclerc, and it wasn’t a win.
The fight for No.1
Ferrari chiefs stated both Vettel and Leclerc were free to fight for the title before the Formula One season started. However, what was said in public may not be the same thing expressed behind closed doors.
It was later explained that Vettel would get the nod to win in close circumstances due to his past championships. That explanation shed light on which driver would be top dog.
Leclerc has already received team orders not to overtake Vettel. In Melbourne, Ferrari chiefs told the driver not to pass his teammate despite Leclerc having an advantage over his teammate.
Ferrari’s cars were inexplicably slow, and Vettel was struggling on worn tires at the end. Leclerc listened to Ferrari’s orders and remained behind his teammate holding off any challengers. The move allowed Vettel to finish fourth with Leclerc right behind him in fifth.
The Ferrari cars didn’t show the preseason form, but Ferrari limited the damage by getting both drivers into the top six. In qualifying, Bahrain was much better, as the red cars locked up the front row. Vettel finished fifth after spinning his car in an attempt to defend his position against Lewis Hamilton.
After starting the race in pole position, Leclerc dropped to third early on. However, he wasn’t about to hang his head thinking about what could have been. He fought back and ultimately regained the lead after an entertaining wheel to wheel battle with his teammate the likes that have now become rare in Formula 1. He maintained a comfortable lead for most of the race until he ran into engine trouble with his car. This left him as a sitting duck as the Mercedes cars drove past his hobbled car one after another. Had it not been for the incidents that led to the deployment of a safety car during the closing laps of the race, the disastrous car trouble would have led to a much worse outcome for him. It was one of the most heartbreaking things witnessed in recent Formula One history.
Given Lerlec’s performance, Ferrari has a situation on their hands and Vettel will most likely be wondering where he stands with the team. The Chinese Grand Prix will either show everyone that Leclerc is now the man at Ferrari or the team still intends to back Vettel as their top driver.
It seems unlikely that Ferrari would try to corral the best young driver in Formula One now. Leclerc is Formula One’s rising star and perhaps the driver Max Verstappen was hoped to be. While Verstappen’s inconsistencies have prevented him from challenging the established Formula One heavyweights, Leclerc’s tenacity has made him a contender for this year’s championship.
Most Formula One fans are excited about this young driver’s performance so far, but it’s worth noting that there are 19 races to go. We can’t crown him until he earns it.