Charles Leclerc, Formula Two, Jerez, 2017

It is he, Leclerc: Nine things you should know about Sauber’s new driver

2018 F1 season

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Sauber’s new driver for the 2018 F1 season Charles Leclerc arrives with back-to-back titles in two of the top junior categories under his belt. Here’s the key points from his early career.

He left karting at the same time as Verstappen

Max Verstappen is only 16 days older than Leclerc but the Red Bull star is about to embark on his fourth full season in the top flight. Leclerc took a more conventional – and longer – route to F1 after the pair last faced each other in 2014.

That year the pair finished first and second in the KZ1 karting world championship final. Leclerc (#6) led Verstappen (#1) initially as the pair followed early leader Marco Ardigo. Verstappen passed both to win, while Leclerc eventually took second and finished three seconds behind his rival:

(Ex-F1 driver Jaime Alguersuari followed them home in ninth.)

He had a racing father

Also like Verstappen, Leclerc comes from a motor racing family. However his father Herve did not hit the same heights in his career as Jos Verstappen did. He raced in French Formula Three in the eighties and was a regular competitor in the Monaco F3 Grand Prix.

Herve passed on his love of motor racing to his son, in particular his enthusiasm for Ayrton Senna’s famed qualifying laps around the principality. And through his friend Philippe Bianchi, father of Jules Bianchi, Herve introduced young Charles to motor racing.

He grew up with Jules Bianchi

Start, Baku, F2, 2017
Leclerc triumphed despite tragedy last year
The Bianchis owned the kart track in Brignoles where Leclerc first got behind the wheel shortly before his fifth birthday. This eventually led to Leclerc skipping school so he could practice.

When Leclerc made his racing debut, Jules Bianchi worked as a mechanic on his car. Bianchi, older by seven years, reached Formula One in 2013 and scored his first points in Monaco the following year.

Then tragedy struck. Bianchi suffered serious injuries during the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, while Leclerc was racing in Spain. He died in July 2015.

Despite the loss of his childhood friend Leclerc continued his racing career. Then last year another tragedy struck even closer to home. On the Tuesday before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where Leclerc was racing in F2, his father Herve died.

Showing astonishing fortitude for a 19-year-old, three days after his father’s death Leclerc put his car on pole position by more than half a second. The next day he won the feature race. He almost doubled up on Sunday: he finished first on the road but a 10-second penalty for failing to slow sufficiently for yellow flags relegated him to second place. But the remarkable inner strength he showed, not to mention his obvious speed and racecraft, won him many admirers.

He’s the first back-to-back GP3/’GP2′ champion

Since GP3 was created in 2010, no other driver has won the title and then gone on to take the GP2 – now Formula Two – crown.

Leclerc won the GP3 crown in a competitive season, pushed hard by team mate Alexander Albon. He took the title in unusual circumstances: Albon went out of the final round in a tangle with Jack Aitken while Leclerc also went out in a separate incident with Santino Ferrucci.

He won the F2 title at his first attempt

Charles Leclerc, Prema, F2, 2017
Leclerc won the F2 title in style
Leclerc’s F2 campaign was utterly dominant. He became the first driver since Nico Hulkenberg in 2009 to win the title as a rookie.

But for a minor technical infringement in Hungary he would have taken pole position for all of the first eight races. He did this without the benefit of an experienced driver alongside him – team mate Antonio Fuoco was also in his first year in the category.

Leclerc ended the season 72 points clear of his closest rival and wrapped up the title with three races for spare. But for other misfortunes he could have won the title much sooner and by an even greater margin.

He has a brother called Arthur

Just like the last Charles to race in F1, Charles Pic.

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Massa reckons he’s world champion material

And that’s probably not just because the pair have the same manager, Nicolas Todt. The pair were introduced by Bianchi, and without Todt’s backing Leclerc reckons he might not have made it into racing cars.

He’s the third F1 driver to come from Monaco

Many drivers live in Monaco and 2016 champion Nico Rosberg grew up there. But Leclerc is only the third to come from the home of F1’s most famous race.

His predecessors are Louis Chiron, who stood on the podium at his home race in 1950, and Olivier Beretta, who pedalled the uncompetitive Larrousse to three top 10 finishes in 1994 before being dropped mid-season.

His Twitter game is strong

This says it all:

Read more about Charles Leclerc

Here’s his career history so far:

Show your support

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  • Select Edit My Profile from the top-right menu
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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 37 comments on “It is he, Leclerc: Nine things you should know about Sauber’s new driver”

    1. This guy really impressed me in the races I’ve seen from him, I’m really interested in seeing how he stacks up to the other drivers in the field.

      1. I first saw him race in a one-off wildcard entry in the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup in 2015. He was immediately up among the more experienced regular runners in tricky conditions. Couldn’t help but be impressed by him.

        1. And contrary to Verstappen (which I rate highly nonetheless), Leclerc’s driving ethics are very good. Specially this last year.

        2. @keithcollantine Probably 2014 right? That was when he was driving in FR2.0 (had a full campaign with Fortec in the now-defunct Alps category, as a single-seater rookie). He was up in F3 by 2015.

    2. This may be the best title of any F1 Fanatic article ever. Also, it may be the worst. I’m in two minds :)

      1. You and me both :-) There was much discussion with Mrs F1 Fanatic over whether anyone would get the reference.

        1. I had to congratulate you on the reference even before I read the article @keithcollantine :)

          1. Agreed! Well played sir.

        2. Read this very carefully, I shall write this only once?

      2. So if the car has mechanical issues, will we say it has a dicky ticker?

      3. Ha ha, that’s clever, thanks for pointing out there was more to the title, San and Keith!

      4. But where’s the fallen Madonna?

        1. Don’t forget the Cracked Vase…

    3. Charles won the ROY in 2017, if he performs amazingly during 2018 could he be the first driver to win back to back ROY awards?

    4. I never realised Twitter needed a ‘Like’ button, but if there was one, I’d be using it excessively.

    5. At least with Leclerc, nobody would say that he’s a pay-driver. He’s that good.

    6. Has to be a cert for the Ferrari seat when kimi goes

    7. Showing astonishing fortitude for a 19-year-old, three days after his father’s death Leclerc put his car on pole position by more than half a second. The next day he won the feature race.

      His performance in Baku is what really impressed me about him last season. I lost my father pretty suddenly five and a half years ago and its probably taken that amount of time for me to fully process it and to come to terms with it. The days immediately afterward where a bit of a blur, but I was a total mess and I found the task of having to assist my mother tidying up his affairs to be incredibly taxing. For a 19 year old kid to be able to put all that emotion to one side and focus on his job in the way he did was a superhuman effort, it was truly remarkable. I will be a fan forever because of that performance.

      1. @geemac he also finished the 2017 season with a replica of his father’s helmet design: Pic That’s really awesome.

    8. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
      29th January 2018, 15:10

      Winning a sprint race despite taking a pitstop, and winning a race despite an (apparent) engine blowout where notable beast moments

    9. Lots of unique and interesting facts highlighted here.
      I remember Leclerc suffering from a drop in form in F3, in the latter half of 2015. He went from being championship contender to finishing fourth behind Rosenqvist, Giovinazzi and Jake Dennis (these three had 11 seasons of F3 experience between them, Leclerc was an F3 rookie). He took 13 podiums in the first 18 races, none in the next 15. This drop coincided with the news of Bianchi’s death. Leclerc might have learnt from that and when a similar, if not a more serious tragedy struck the next time, he put in one of the best weekend drives in GP2/F2 history.
      I haven’t been a big fan of any single F1 driver since Bianchi departed. The Frenchman was the first driver whose career I had followed since his F3 days. I think a fellow Francophone, Todt-managed and Ferrari-supported driver to boot, not to mention a friend of Bianchi’s, might be the guy I root for this year. Eager to see what he can achieve in the revamped Sauber team.

    10. Come in London, this is Blue Tit!

      1. Allo Allo, I don’t think Sauber will be blue this season?

    11. Now Ferrari has got a lot to say within the Sauber team, I think we won’t see a lot from Ericsson this year. I wouldn’t be surprised he gets booted during the season if Leclerc outperforms him with Hulk-Palmer differences. I hope Wehrlein or Giovinazzi gets a second chance.

      Not an Ericsson fan here, so I might be a bit biased.

      1. Wehrlein definitely won’t get a second shot at a Ferrari car. Giovinazzi, maybe. I think Ericsson was kept on not because of his speed but because of his experience. Entering into a development phase of a team, having a driver with 80ish races under his belt is better than drivers with a total combined 2 race starts. Ericsson will need to impress a lot of people if he wants to stay for 2019, but I’m all onboard with keeping him this season.

        1. I agree with Chirstopher, that it is highly unlikely that what you mention about Wehrlein getting a chance will come true @montalvo, it is somewhat more likely that Ferrari will manage to convince the team to give Giovanazzi another shot, but that would really have to mean the team is badly in need of money.

          Ericsson was not kept on either for his speed, nor really for his experience but for his nationality being the same as the team owners @chrischrill, so it is indeed quite unlikely they will be wanting to drop him now or during the season

    12. Just looking at this guy he looks a WC :)

      I hope he moves up the grid quickly as he’ll take it to the older VS and hopefully triumph as he seems a nicer, fairer racer!!

    13. Apparently he chose #16 because of his birthday, 16 October. Two drivers who seemingly had the same idea were Vergne and Kvyat, both now without a seat. Hoping though Leclerc will stay on for longer than those two.

      1. He wanted 7 but Kimi has that. So 16, which is his birthday, also represents 1+6=7!

      2. @bleu Not to mention Wehrlein, who chose his number based on the year of his birth, the only driver to do so I believe

    14. so does/will he race as a Monegasque? or french?

      1. @frood19 Up to this point he has raced as Monegasque!

        1. And he didn’t look best pleased when they played La Marseillaise after he took the title in Jerez

    15. here I am with my macau GP references. But man was he fast. First year here. Surprised everyone. Overtook in places and in fashion no one deemed possible. He came second, but only to a very experienced (in Macau) Rosenqvist. Was really hoping he would come last year but probably it was a good thing, since we had the most spectacular race we’ve seen since, when, Schumacher vs Hakkinen?

      Anyway, Leclerc really is a talent. great to see him in Formula 1. Would be great to see Rosenqvist also there. And next, look out for a certain royal family member that starts with Ferdinand…

    16. Made it on pure merit and not because daddy had big enough pockets.
      Sure he has Ferrari backing but for them to put their faith in a 20 year old as a future driver says it all really.

      One to watch for 2018. My only fear is that the Alfa investment came way to late and he’s stuck in a car just as slow as last year’s Sauber.

    17. I believe André Testut was from Monaco…although he never qualified for a race.

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