Logo

Is Charles Leclerc Wasting his best years?

Jim K 8/10/2023
  • facebook
  • linkedin
  • twitter
  • email
Charles Leclerc's Best Years May be Going to Waste

Image: Scuderia Ferrari

Once one of the hottest young properties in Formula One, Charles Leclerc might wonder where it's all gone wrong in the wake of Max Verstappen and Red Bull's all-conquering 2022 and 2023 seasons. The Monegasque racer's career seemed destined for greatness after Ferrari's gamble to sign him in his rookie season, but Leclerc's rapid ascent has halted with the Scuderia. So, what's the problem?

Rewinding the clocks, Leclerc's dominant 2017 Formula 2 year had so much hype that his F1 promotion came with high expectations. It's no wonder; F2's season-opening Bahrain round had Leclerc emerge as the victor of one of the series' most memorable races, where he closed in on the leaders at an astonishing three seconds per lap. Drives like that turn heads, even those that don't often look below the pinnacle of motorsport, and the Sauber 2018 drive alongside Marcus Ericsson duly followed.

Outscoring Ericsson by 39 points to nine in a debut season cemented the fact that Leclerc wasn't going to be a midfield driver there to make up the numbers. Ferrari's decision to get him into F1's most famous team in just his second season highlighted Leclerc's potential, as did his 2019 tally that had him beat his teammate, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, in the standings. However, there was a problem between Leclerc and the very top: Lewis Hamilton.

Charles Leclerc's Best Years May be Going to Waste

Image: Scuderia Ferrari

Leclerc's rise to F1 coincided with the sport's longest championship-winning streak by a constructor, as Hamilton powered Mercedes to eight consecutive constructors' titles. Hamilton's four titles between 2017 and 2020 also represent the joint second-longest run of successive drivers' championships. Long story short, Leclerc reached Formula 1 at one of the worst times for anyone not driving a Silver Arrow but hoping to find success.

However, Leclerc did net many positive results, driving his Ferrari to two wins and seven pole positions in his first year wearing red. Although no championship crowns have followed, he now boasts five Grand Prix wins, 20 pole positions, 27 podium trips, and nearly 1000 career points at the time of writing. He's a consistent point-scoring finisher and is one of the best at setting a single hot lap on Saturday, no matter the car underneath him. It's impressive, but there doesn't seem to be any championship challenge in his immediate future.

After Hamilton's dominance came Max Verstappen's — something I'm sure you've noticed. By almost all metrics, Verstappen and his Red Bull team's current control of the sport is far more impressive than even Mercedes managed in their eight-year streak. While others knocked on the door during the Mercedes years, occasionally breaking through to claim victory, there is no equal for Red Bull and Verstappen in 2023.

Charles Leclerc's Best Years May be Going to Waste

Image: Scuderia Ferrari

Verstappen's glory must be wholly frustrating for Leclerc to see after the pair regularly went wheel-to-wheel in 2019, battling for the best-of-the-rest positions, and they gave each other no quarter. On pace, the two seemed evenly matched, and there appeared to be signs that the Hamilton-Vettel rivalry had a natural successor. However, the once-bright hopes for Leclerc to fulfill the potential many saw in him when he arrived on the scene now seem faint.

Ferrari must shoulder much of the blame for his lack of imminent prospects after their error-prone strategies, mechanical failures, and underperforming cars. Mercedes' 2022 challenger, the W13, was a disaster, and their misstep opened the door for the chasing pack to close the gap and leap ahead. Yet Red Bull made the longest strides, not Ferrari, and Leclerc will exit 2023 without any world championship titles while Verstappen will likely waltz to his third.

Charles Leclerc's Best Years May be Going to Waste

Image: Scuderia Ferrari

The change in leadership from Matia Binotto to Frederic Vasseur hasn't halted the problems in 2023, with an engine failure kicking off the campaign in Bahrain and friction between the driver and the pit wall starting by the second round in Saudi Arabia. Leclerc's attempts to overdrive the car that's so much behind the RB19 have had him make errors in qualifying, as we saw in Miami, too.

While it's not as simple as pointing at Ferrari for not developing a car as well as Red Bull has for 2023, something clearly isn't the same between the two teams. The winning mentality and desire for perfection at Red Bull don't appear as institutionalized in Maranello as in Milton Keynes. The chopping and changing of management at the top in the Italian constructor's setup is unquestionably one aspect, but there is another, more visible factor at play: Charles Leclerc is not Max Verstappen.

Although the two drivers are similar in many ways, with age, early-career backing from an F1 team, and many looking at them as the future of the sport, their attitudes are not the same. Verstappen commands his team to rally around him and strive for more than they give, leading everyone at Red Bull to step up their game or face Dutch wrath.

Charles Leclerc's Best Years May be Going to Waste

Image: Scuderia Ferrari

Ferrari's early 00s wonder years came from an overhaul of attitude thanks to Michael Schumacher's leadership in pulling the team forward. Unlike Verstappen, Schumacher didn't do this by public altercations — although F1 was hardly the open-radio and social-media video clip sport it is today.

Charles Leclerc's Best Years May be Going to Waste

Image: Scuderia Ferrari

The sport has changed plenty since those days, but any Schumacher-like attitude similarities of yanking a team forward and addressing their failings match Verstappen more than Leclerc. Time will tell how similar Verstappen and Leclerc are on track when they both drive similar-paced cars, but the off-track advantage is firmly on Verstappen's side today. Perhaps Leclerc needs to learn his on-track talent can only get him so far and that Verstappen's off-track approach might be what he needs for a title push.

With Oscar Piastri wowing so many in the paddock in 2023, it's a cruel reminder that being the hot new thing can only last so long for any F1 driver. Leclerc is no longer that shiny fresh prospect that can impress by driving well. There's no doubt the talent is there. It shouldn't be allowed to go to waste

To reach the hallowed land of being a championship-winning driver, he quickly needs to decide whether he can lead his team like Schumacher once did, and how Verstappen does today. The difference, I believe, will dictate whether Leclerc will join Verstappen as a champion or become yet another supremely talented driver who sadly fell short. Hopefully, Charles won’t end up wasting his best years.


MORE FROM FORTLOC


Experience

BENTLEY’S 'EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEYS'

Museum

Mercedes Museum

Resort Town

Punta del Este

Hotel

Luxury hotels in Abu Dhabi

Point of Interest

CHATEAU STE MICHELLE

Hotel

TOP LUXURY HOTELS IN MONACO