Charles
Leclerc

5

At a glance

  • 4th in F1 in debut Ferrari season
  • Most poles of any F1 driver this year (seven)
  • Two wins from 12 races
  • Eight further podiums
Charles Leclerc

Promoted to the pressure-cooker environment of Ferrari in 2019, complicated by an erratic season during which you could never be sure whether the car would be competitive or not on any given weekend, Leclerc came through it having proved he could cut it at the sharp end in F1.

In doing so, he also ruffled the feathers of his four-time world champion team-mate to the point where the Ferrari team must surely see him as its spearhead. Leclerc’s speed was never in question, although there were some question marks about his ability to nail it in qualifying after sometimes failing to string it together in 2018 with Sauber.

But once he’d settled in, he proved beyond doubt he’d got on top of that by comprehensively outperforming Sebastian Vettel on Saturdays during the middle third of the season. His prodigious speed is in no doubt and also proved he could deliver in races as early as the second race of the season where he should have won the Bahrain GP. Lesser drivers might have faded having dropped from pole to third on the first lap, but not Leclerc.

His victories under pressure at Spa and Monza were exemplary, while he showed he could dish it out as well as take it with the way he took on Max Verstappen at Silverstone - two weeks after leaving the door open at the Red Bull Ring and losing the lead with two and a half laps to go. Yes, there were too many mistakes, which would prove costly in a title fight. But this is only Leclerc’s first season in a top team so he’s still on a steep learning curve.

Crashes in qualifying in Monaco and Azerbaijan, shunting at Hockenheim and colliding with Verstappen at Suzuka all proved costly. But for all that, he showed his class and, while he still has some way to go, the peaks confirm that he has the ability and potential to be right up there with Verstappen as the cutting edge of the new generation of grand prix stars.

And he did all that in a team occasionally engulfed in chaos and amid constant friction with Vettel when it came to who wants to be considered Ferrari’s top gun. His self-criticism and relentless desire to improve will stand him in good stead as he attempts to consolidate himself as Ferrari’s leader next season.

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Leclerc’s best race

Third but heartbreak in Bahrain

This dominant, unrewarded performance is significant because it proved Leclerc could cut it at the front under the most intense pressure.

On pole position for the first time in F1, a weaker-willed driver might have wilted after the start. His launch was good, but he struggled for grip in the second phase and in the early corners of the race as the rear tyres weren’t quite up to temperature.

That allowed Sebastian Vettel to pass on the run to the first corner, followed by Lewis Hamilton at Turn 4. Then the fightback began. Leclerc overtook Hamilton, then closed on Vettel. On lap five, he reported he was quicker but was told to hold the position for two laps - he passed Vettel at the end of the main straight on the next lap.

He was just under seven seconds clear of Lewis Hamilton on lap 46 when a short circuit within an injection system control unit meant his engine dropped a cylinder and left him a sitting duck. With fuel problems, caused by spending longer on the straights thanks to a loss of around 25mph top speed, all he could do was manage the situation.

Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas inevitably passed him, but the failures of Nico Hulkenberg’s and Daniel Ricciardo’s Renaults triggered a safety car that saved Leclerc from Max Verstappen and allowed him to salvage his first podium.

Charles Leclerc