Ferrari has made the bold decision to name Charles Leclerc as their second driver for the 2019 season and beyond, with only one term of experience under his belt. The 21-year-old has replaced Kimi Raikkonen with the Italian outfit as the Finn won only one race in five years. Leclerc put forward a solid effort in his first season at the highest level of the sport, although he will need to raise the level of his game to have a hope of challenging Lewis Hamilton for the Drivers’ Championship.
Sebastian Vettel has struggled to match the speed of Hamilton at the top of the standings for the past two seasons. Ferrari has work ahead of them to ensure that their two drivers are able to challenge the Brit this term. Leclerc could be a surprise option similar to the mould of Hamilton and Vettel in the early stages of their career. Both drivers won the Championship in their early twenties, and the Monegasque is backed in the F1 betting odds at 9/1 to claim the title in his second season.
Video: Getting to know Charles Leclerc ➡️ https://t.co/GZMT2Muxd7 ⬅️ 🏎️🤗💪
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Leclerc has had a bright start to his motorsport career, clinching the GP3 Series crown in 2016 and then the Formula 2 title in the following year. He won both of the Championships by a comfortable margin, proving his quality at a young age. As a result of his success, Sauber offered him a position as one of their two drivers for the 2018 Formula One campaign.
The 21-year-old began with three relatively underwhelming performances in Australia, Bahrain and China. However, Leclerc secured his breakthrough performance with a sixth-place finish in Azerbaijan – aided by the unfortunate puncture suffered by Valtteri Bottas to push him up the standings. Another top-10 finish followed in the Spanish Grand Prix, producing a solid drive to move up four spots after qualifying down in 14th position. Leclerc’s first home Grand Prix in Monaco did not go to plan, failing to finish the contest after colliding with Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley, although he had completed 90% of the race to end in 18th overall.
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The Sauber driver was able to bounce back with three top-10 finishes in a row in Canada, France and Austria, highlighting his ability to get most out of his limited vehicle. Issues with the car derailed the middle stretch of the campaign, forcing retirements in the British and Hungarian Grands Prix. Leclerc was able to end the term on a strong note, reeling off three seventh-place finishes, which caught the eye of Ferrari. Although seventh was a solid position for Sauber, the stakes the 21-year-old will be raised in the 2019 season with Ferrari. Leclerc needs to be finishing in the top five in almost every race in the coming campaign. It’s unlikely that he will be able to dislodge Hamilton and Vettel from the top two spots of the Drivers’ Championship standings.
He should be aiming flat out to produce a better effort than Raikkonen’s last season, where he finished third with 250 points is attainable, albeit he will not be able to place higher than the Finn. Leclerc has to beat out Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo and Bottas to prove that he’s worthy of his place at Ferrari and has the potential to carve out a bright future to end the Italian team’s lengthy drought without a title winner.