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Charles Leclerc: Meet Ferrari’s 20-year-old F1 driver

By Cameron Kirby, 12 Sep 2018 Motorsport

Charles Leclerc: Meet Ferrari’s 20-year-old F1 driver

Kimi is out, and there’s a new Ferrari driver in town. Here’s why he’s kind of a big deal

FERRARI has a new Formula 1 driver. His name is Charles Leclerc, and he has some rather big shoes to fill when he joins the factory team in 2019.

The 20-year-old from Monaco is locked in to swap seats with F1 statesman Kimi Raikkonen, who has signed on to race for the Ferrari-supplied Sauber team for two seasons starting next year.

If you haven’t been paying close attention to Formula 1 or its feeder series for a little while, you might not be aware of young Leclerc and his career thus far, so here’s a bit of background.

Ferrari’s signing of such a youthful driver eschews the Maranello factory team’s long-running tradition of hiring older, more experienced racers. Leclerc is the youngest Scuderia driver since Ricardo Rodriguez in 1962, who was 19.

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Leclerc is the first graduate of Ferrari’s Driver Academy (established in 2009) to make it through every tier and reach the flagship Italian team as a racer, something many expected Jules Bianchi to achieve had he not tragically passed away following a crash at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014.

Although he has only been racing single seaters since 2014, Leclerc has earned a strong reputation for his calculated overtaking prowess, and ability to adapt quickly to new cars and conditions.

The current season is his first in Formula 1, and the 20-year-old has exceeded expectations, with a best result of sixth at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and 13 points to his name putting him a respectable 15th in the World Drivers’ Championship standings – trouncing his much more experienced teammate, Marcus Ericsson.

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Leclerc won back-to-back championships in GP3 and Formula 2 in order to graduate to Formula 1, with a highlight being his brilliantly brazen performance during the F2 race at Bahrain last year. Traditionally there are no pit stops during an F2 sprint race, however after starting sixth, Leclerc charged his way into first before stopping for fresh tyres, dropping him to 14th with eight laps remaining.

What was called “impossible” by the commentators was just another day in the office for Leclerc, who put on an overtaking masterclass to win the race, making two overtakes on the final lap.

Autosport reported Leclerc’s graduation to the factory Ferrari squad as greenlighted by none other than late former chairman Sergio Marchionne.

The process was complicated following Marchionne’s death in July, with replacement Ferrari CEO Louis Camilleri reportedly supportive of the incumbent Raikkonen staying on.

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However, Ferrari’s new leadership team followed through with Marchionne’s wishes, and Leclerc was promoted to race alongside Sebastian Vettel next year.

Tipped as a future champion, and now given the full support of F1’s most successful team, the weight of expectation will be heavy on Leclerc’s shoulders for 2019, and the youngster will be eager to please.