Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Monza, 2023

Charles Leclerc

Back-to-back championship victories in GP3 and Formula 2 made Charles Leclerc an obvious choice for an F1 seat at Sauber in 2018.

Born: 16th October 1997
Birthplace: Monte-Carlo, Monaco
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He had his first run in a kart thanks to childhood friend Jules Bianchi. Leclerc, the younger of the pair by seven years, showed similar skills at the wheel and followed his friend’s path towards F1.

In 2009 Leclerc became the youngest-ever winner of France’s cadet karting championship. Two years later Nicolas Todt, Bianchi’s manager, signed Leclerc up. This was a pivotal moment, as without Todt’s backing Leclerc doubted his family could have afforded to keep supporting him.

He went on to enjoy success on the international stage, though he narrowly missed out on several major titles. In 2012 he was runner-up in the European KF2 series and the under 18 world championship. The following year Max Verstappen beat him to the KZ1 world title.

Nonetheless Leclerc showed clear potential and was ready to move up to racing cars. While Verstappen went straight into F3 Leclerc took smaller steps up the F1 ladder.

Charles Leclerc biography

2014: Formula Renault 2.0

Leclerc stood out as a rookie in the 2014 Formula Renault ALPS championship where his rivals included George Russell and McLaren junior Nyck de Vries, the latter in his third year in the category. De Vries beat Leclerc to the title, the latter winning twice at Monza.

The title had already been decided when the series arrived at Jerez in Spain for the final round. On the same weekend Bianchi was racing for Marussia in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, where disaster struck. Bianchi crashed and suffered serious head injuries. He was comatose for nine months and died the following July.

Though distraught, Leclerc said the death of his childhood friend never caused him to doubt his future lay in racing. Demonstrating remarkable composure just a few days after his 17th birthday, Leclerc finished on the podium in the final race.

Leclerc had also attracted attention with wildcard appearances in the more competitive Eurocup series, where he took second place finishes at Spa-Francorchamps and the Nurburgring.

2015: European Formula Three

For 2015 Leclerc ascended to another championship where he was up against several experienced competitors. He took Verstappen’s place at Van Amersfoort in the European Formula Three championship. His fellow rookies included Russell at Carlin and future F1 driver Lance Stroll driving for Prema.

Leclerc and Russell tangled in the first race of the year at Silverstone, then Leclerc followed his rival home in the second race. In the weekend’s final race Leclerc scored his first F3 victory, and a championship bid looked to be on the cards.

A superb performance in the third race at Hockenheim underlined Leclerc’s potential. He won a thrilling duel with highly experienced title favourite Felix Rosenqvist. That put Leclerc second in the points standings, a position he still held after the third round at Pau, despite a couple of poor starts.

Driving standards in the championship became a major talking point at the following rounds. Stroll went out in a horrifying crash at Monza and other incidents prompted one race to be abandoned. The controversy continued at Spa where Stroll earned a one-race ban for taking Rosenqvist out. Leclerc stayed out of trouble, racing from sixth to first in the weekend’s opening race. Second in race three meant Leclerc now had the championship lead.

He kept his points lead at the Norisring, winning a wet first encounter on the short street course and finishing the other two inside the top four. His closest rival, Antonio Giovinazzi, was now 42 points behind.

But his season was about to take a downward turn. Having reached the podium in 13 of the first 17 races, he failed to reach finish in the top three again during the rest of the season.

A heavy crash at Zandvoort after contact with Stroll (which was ruled a racing incident) put him on the back foot. He brought his repaired car home tenth in the final race but Giovinazzi now led the points standings.

Then Rosenqvist hit his stride. The Prema driver took the points lead with victory in Portugal and reeled off five wins on the trot to secure the title.

Leclerc was bumped down to fourth in the standings by Jake Dennis, but still ended the year as top rookie against a strong field.

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2016: GP3

The Monegasque driver attracted the attention of Ferrari who brought him into their Driver Academy in 2016. This allowed him to raise his game further: testing in the Ferrari simulator, developing his physical and mental abilities and even sampling a current-specification Ferrari F1 car in testing.

This also prompted a move away from F3 – where Prema enjoyed dominance and Stroll was being groomed for a title shot – and into GP3. While this meant adjusting to a new chassis and Pirelli’s high-degradation tyres, Leclerc had the benefit of joining top team ART which had taken Esteban Ocon to the title 12 months earlier. Leclerc emulated his predecessor and took his first championship since graduating from karts, but team mate Alexander Albon ran him close.

Leclerc won the season-opening race at the Circuit de Catalunya despite DAMS pair Jake Hughes and Kevin Joerg sweeping the front row. He took another feature race win at the Red Bull Ring, this time from pole, but a crash during Sunday’s reverse-grid race meant he went to the next race with a grid penalty.

Despite being relegated to seventh on the grid at Silverstone, Leclerc finished second in the feature race after a superb pass on fellow Ferrari Driver Academy member Antonio Fuoco. But another win-less weekend in Hungary cost him the points lead to Albon.

By now Leclerc making occasional practice session outings in F1 with Haas. Although it underlined that he was now being considered a serious prospect for promotion, he found driving an F1 car during a race weekend compromised his GP3 preparations. He also had test outings for Ferrari, and

Nonetheless the pendulum swung back in Leclerc’s favour at the Hockenheimring where Albon dropped out of the second race and Leclerc scored well in both races. A dominant performance in race one at Spa – despite being caught by Dennis towards the end – moved him further ahead.

Although Monza included another no-score following a collision with team mate Nirei Fukuzumi, none of Leclerc’s title rivals were able to capitalise. Albon took a useful win in the first race at Sepang but Leclerc took points off him again in the Sunday race, meaning they headed to the finale with Leclerc 29 points ahead.

Pole position for Albon with Leclerc only fifth set up an intriguing championship showdown. Leclerc lost a place at the start while Albon led, but a mid-race Safety Car brought Aitken within range of the leader. He took the lead but Albon’s attempt to regain the position put both out. Moments later Leclerc went out in a tangle with Santino Ferrucci but it didn’t matter: He had already secured the title.

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2017: Formula 2

A move into Formula 2 was the obvious next step though his chances of winning the title first time out appeared slim. The series, previously called GP2, was now in its seventh year of running the same chassis, which handed an advantage to the more experienced drivers.

Joining Prema, who had dominated their first attempt at the championship 12 months earlier, strengthened Leclerc’s hand. Not only did he win the title as a rookie – the first to do so since Nico Hulkenberg in 2009 – he smashed the opposition.

Leclerc ended the year with a 72-point margin over his closest rival. But this understated the extent of his dominance: Leclerc won on the road at Spa but was disqualified for excessive plank wear, as was title rival Oliver Rowland. And he should have started from pole position at Hungary but his car failed a scrutineering check due to a minor technical infringement.

Despite these setbacks, and a significant penalty in Azerbaijan for failing to slow sufficiently for yellow flags, Leclerc’s title bid never looked under serious threat.

He began the season on pole position in Bahrain but failed to convert it into victory as tyre degradation got the better of him. In the sprint race the following he took the gamble of making a non-mandatory pit stop in order to race flat out and sliced through the field to an extraordinary win. He followed that up with victory at the next race in Spain despite a problem with his radio.

He was hard done by in Monaco where a suspension problem put him out shortly after his team misjudged a strategy call behind the Safety Car. However further wins in Baku (where his penalty denied him a double), the Red Bull Ring and Silverstone strengthened his championship situation.

Leclerc suffered another, much greater blow during 2017. On the Tuesday before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend his father Herve died. In spite of his grief, and with the motto “Je t’aime pap” added to his rear wing, three days later Leclerc put his car on pole position by six-tenths of a second.

The slogan stayed there until the end of the year. After the disappointment of Spa, Leclerc was in the hunt for victory at Monza until he was taken out by De Vries.

That meant he had to wait until the penultimate race weekend at Jerez to put a lock on the title, which he did in style with victory from pole position in the feature race. He signed off with a final win in the reverse-grid race at Yas Marina, muscling past Albon on the final tour.

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2018: Sauber

Learning from his difficulties in 2016, Leclerc ensured his practice outings for Sauber during 2017 took place outside of F2 race weekends. He also returned to test for Ferrari, and impressed enough that they found a place for him in Sauber’s race team for 2018.

His rookie season was a huge success in terms of establishing himself on the Formula 1 grid, as Leclerc outscored his team mate Marcus Ericsson by 30 points.

On his debut in Australia, Leclerc qualified 18th and brought the car home 13th. He soon got comfortable in the car and at round four in Baku scored a sixth place which was his and Sauber’s best result of the year.

After September’s Italian Grand Prix, Leclerc was signed by Ferrari to partner Sebastian Vettel for the 2019 season. In the seven races after the announcement, Leclerc scored points five times and in four of those races he finished seventh. At the Russian and Brazilians grands prix he started seventh, his best qualifying results of the season.

Leclerc’s late-season points haul lifted him to 13th in the championship standings, making him the highest-placed rookie.

2019: Ferrari

Leclerc’s first season at Ferrari started with fifth place at the Australian GP. He earned his first pole position in Bahrain and looked on course to win until he encountered engine trouble. Nonetheless he bagged his first podium finish and fastest lap.

His second pole position came in Austria, which proved the prelude to a gripping tussle with for victory against Max Verstappen. The Red Bull driver prevailed, obliging Leclerc to wait even longer for his breakthrough win.

It finally came on a tragic September weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, the day after his friend Anthoine Hubert was killed in a Formula 2 crash. A week later Leclerc added a second success in front of Ferrari’s Tifosi fanbase at Monza, narrowly holding off Lewis Hamilton.

He ended his first season in a Ferrari with two wins, seven poles, four fastest laps and 10 podiums to his name. The team signed him up to a new, long-term deal which far outlasted Vettel’s contract.

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2020: Ferrari

Following Leclerc’s strong first season at Ferrari, expectations were raised for 2020. However the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted preparations for the season and Ferrari’s latest car turned out not to be a grand prix-winning machine. Following an investigation into Ferrari’s power unit by the FIA and a private settlement between the team and governing body, the straight-line speed advantage they once enjoyed was conspicuously absent in 2020.

Although Leclerc started the season with second place in the Austrian Grand Prix, and then finished third in the British GP three races later, he only reached the top five on four more occasions across the season and was a lowly eighth in the standings.

At the Styrian Grand Prix, run a week after the Austrian Grand Prix and on the same track, Leclerc was eliminated in the second segment of qualifying. He was then found to have breached red flag protocols and impeded another driver, which resulted in a grid penalty. The race went even worse, as Leclerc crashed into team mate Vettel, leading to both retiring.

At the Spanish Grand Prix Leclerc failed to finish due to his engine cutting out, and had further car trouble as well as a lack of pace at the Belgian Grand Prix left him 13th. The Italian Grand Prix was even more painful, as Leclerc crashed out of the race at high speed at Parabolica.

The season ended with two more difficult weekends, as Leclerc crashed into Sergio Perez, caused his own retirement and earned himself a grid penalty at the Sakhir Grand Prix, then in the Abu Dhabi finale came in a lapped 13th. However for the second year in a row he comfortably outscored Vettel, whose departure from Ferrari was by now confirmed.

2021: Ferrari

Ferrari began to rebound from their slump, though 2021 was another win-less season for team, driver and new team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr. Leclerc finished seventh in the standings, but only had one podium finish, fewer than Sainz, who also outscored him.

Leclerc’s home grand prix promised much as he was fastest in qualifying, bagging the coveted pole position, but crashed out of Q3. A driveshaft problem on the way to the grid meant he did not even start the race. He took pole for the next race in Baku too, but could only convert it into a fourth place finish.

His sole podium appearance of the season was a gem, courtesy of a brilliant drive at the British Grand Prix. Leclerc was fourth in qualifying and F1’s first ever sprint race, then he moved into an early lead in the grand prix itself after Hamilton and Verstappen collided. Despite power unit trouble, Leclerc clung onto his lead, until Hamilton passed him with two laps to go. After that second place, Leclerc’s next best results over the remaining races were three fourth places.

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2022: Ferrari

An all-new set of technical regulations provided Ferrari with an opportunity to return to the front in F1, and for Leclerc to prove he was one of the best in the series having previously been unable to follow up on his breakthrough 2019 season.

It looked like Leclerc was going to deliver on that, as he started the 2022 season with pole, race victory and fastest lap in two of the first three events. Although his qualifying form continued to place him at the front, with seven further poles while fighting Verstappen for the world championship title, his Austrian Grand Prix win in July was his only podium in nine race in the middle of the season. When he started fighting for wins again after the summer break it was already too late for his title ambitions, and Verstappen clinched the title at Suzuka with four races to spare.

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