Formula 1 with Sauber
In addition to his successful F2 campaign, Leclerc was Sauber-Ferrari’s Friday test driver at four GP weekends during 2017 and he graduated with the Swiss team for an impressive rookie campaign in 2018. Sauber’s alliance with Ferrari resulted in an improved chassis and Leclerc showed remarkable race craft in the tight midfield. Sixth in Baku, he was a regular points scorer by the end of the campaign. He was thankful for the new “Halo” head protection system when Fernando Alonso’s McLaren crashed over the Sauber.
Grand Prix winner for Ferrari
That form earned promotion to Ferrari as Kimi Räikkönen’s replacement in 2019. The Italian team suffered another inconsistent season, but the chaos could not hide Leclerc’s promise. He regularly outpaced Vettel and qualified on pole position on seven occasions, more than any other driver. A dominant victory second time out in Bahrain was lost when his Ferrari lost power and he was eased off the road and out of the lead by Verstappen during the closing laps in Austria. But Leclerc showed increasing maturity and scored back-to-back victories in Belgium and in front of the Tifosi at Monza where he robustly held off Lewis Hamilton. There were rookie errors such as his qualifying crash in Baku but Leclerc outscored Vettel to finish fourth overall.
His 2019 performance earned him the team leader role and Ferrari placed all of its faith in the Monégasque driver as the Scuderia replaced Vettel for 2021 before a wheel could even be turned in the delayed 2020 season. Leclerc couldn’t build on an impressive opening offering at Ferrari after the team was forced to rebuild its power unit after a private settlement was reached with the FIA over the legality of its old engine. The result was Ferrari’s worst season for 40 years as it slumped to sixth in the championship. Despite this, Leclerc had some highlights including a podium at the season-opening race in Austria. He did attract criticism though from rivals for his opening-lap antics, often involved in too many incidents. Vettel and Max Verstappen highlighted Leclerc’s role in their Styrian and Sakhir crashes respectively.