Charles Leclerc 2022 Ferrari headshot

Charles Leclerc

Charles Leclerc has quickly established himself as one of Formula 1’s premier talents, and is now in possession of a Ferrari capable of winning world titles. 

The F1 front-runner arrived at the Scuderia in 2019 alongside Sebastian Vettel and quickly matched – then outpaced the four-time champion. 

Fast forward to 2022, the Monegasque once again showed tremendous potential, despite a year of frustration and disappointment behind the wheel of an inconstant car handled by a mistake-ridden strategy team. 

But with a new team principal at the helm and a new car supposedly freed of its unreliability, there’s every reason to believe Leclerc will be back for title winning vengeance in 2023.

Charles Leclerc’s dad Hervé, family background and early career

Leclerc started his karting career by racing at the track owned by Jules Bianchi’s father. A title winner in that discipline, he finished as runner-up up in the 2013 CIK-FIA World KZ Championship when beaten by future F1 rival Max Verstappen.

He joined Fortec Motorsports for the following year’s Formula Renault 2.0 ALPS season – scoring a double victory at Monza as he finished second in the final standings. Six outings in that year’s Eurocup included second-place finishes at the Nürburgring and Hungaroring (twice).

Leclerc led the 2015 European F3 Championship thanks to four victories with Van Amersfoort’s Dallara F314-Volkswagen before Lance Stroll crashed into him at Zandvoort. That precipitated a loss of form and Leclerc slumped to fourth overall after not scoring another podium finish. He completed the year by finishing second on his first visit to Macau.

Champion in GP3 and Formula 2 

Now a member of the Ferrari Academy, Leclerc tested GP3 for both ART Grand Prix and Arden International during the winter before choosing the former for his switch to the GP support series in 2016. He won the first race of the opening two weekends (Barcelona and Spielberg) before scoring a third victory at Spa-Francorchamps. He crashed during the three-way title decider in Abu Dhabi but had done enough to beat ART team-mate Alexander Albon and Trident’s Antonio Fuoco to the GP3 crown.

From the archive

He moved to Prema Racing for his Formula 2 (formerly GP2) graduation in 2017 and was the class-of-the-field as he became just the fourth rookie to win the title. Leclerc qualified on pole position for all-bar three race weekends and eased to the title thanks to seven victories. A convincing championship win could have been even more dominant for he lost another pole position in Hungary and the feature race win at Spa-Francorchamps to technicalities.

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.

Ferrari was able to rebound from its dismal 2020 season and the team was fighting for regular points against McLaren as best of the rest on the grid. Leclerc may have taken a win in Monaco but for his car developing a driveshaft fault after a crash in qualifying put him out before the race. He’d qualifying on pole the day before. A podium eventually arrived as he finished second in the British Grand Prix, but he couldn’t match new team-mate Carlos Sainz’s consistency. The Spaniard finished the season fifth in the drivers’ championship with Leclerc seventh. It marked the first time in his career that he’d been beaten by a team-mate in the championship.

2022 championship contender

Ferrari appeared to have the strongest car during preseason testing in 2022, as new regulations required entirely different cars and a fresh approach.

That suggestion was confirmed at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, where Leclerc stormed to victory from pole, claiming a Ferrari 1-2 after Max Verstappen retired. Success followed him to Australia, where another dominant victory secured an early 46-point advantage over Verstappen.

But sadly for the Scuderia, unreliability and driver error plagued the majority of their season, causing to fall out of contention for both the drivers’ and constructors’ world titles. 

After Leclerc’s engine failure in Baku, Ferrari chose to detune its power unit, which turned out to be its most major advantage over the rest of the field. The lack of performance ultimately meant Leclerc fell further and further behind in the title race, and his efforts to catch up caused errors – his most costly occurring at the French Grand Prix. 

As Verstappen continued to dominate, Leclerc was forced into a race for second place against Sergio Perez, from which he emerged the victor after brilliant drives in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

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