When you think about it, Charles Leclerc’s promotion to Ferrari at the age of 20 is a really big deal. This is not something the Scuderia does very often, or indeed ever in the modern era.
It makes one wonder what kind of year he’s likely to have in 2019, when he is sure to have one of the fastest cars, if not the fastest, in the F1 field.
Felipe Massa in 2006 is the only comparable example, but he had a year as a Ferrari test driver as well as his three year Sauber apprenticeship. Leclerc is straight in after one season at Sauber.
Leclerc is a different animal from Massa, despite having the same manager in Nicolas Todt. For a start he’s less emotional and – to my eyes at least, he’s more consistent at a young age than Massa was.
Leclerc is more like Lewis Hamilton in terms of his progression, excellence in karting, F3 champion and F2/GP2 champion in his rookie season. He broke into F1 two years younger, however.
He’s not as aggressive as Hamilton, but one wonders whether he’s going to give Sebastian Vettel a surprise next season, as Daniel Ricciardo did at Red Bull in 2014 and as Hamilton did in his debut season at McLaren to two time world champion Fernando Alonso in 2007.
To be fair to Alonso he was also new to the team, having transferred as world champion from Renault and he also had a significant adaptation to do onto Bridgestone tyres, having mastered the Michelin tyres at Renault. Hamilton had raced on Bridgestones in GP2, but didn’t have anything to ‘unlearn’ in that first F1 season.
Hamilton scored six poles, four wins and 12 podiums. The championship went down to the wire, with a fair bit of off track politics going on to say the very least, but the McLaren duo lost out to Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari’s last world champion.
The progression through the junior ranks speaks to Hamilton’s ability to get up to speed straight away, something that was drilled into him by the insecurity of his situation as a youngster, that if he didn’t perform straight away he might not be able to progress as resources were short.
Leclerc has the same profile, quickly up to speed in a new category, although his first couple of races in F1 this season were an outlier as they did not go particularly well as he struggled to understand how to get the best from the car. In terms of a comparison with Hamilton’s debut season, of course the major difference is that the pre season testing is limited to only two sessions, whereas Hamilton had many thousands of kilometres testing before his first race.
As for Vettel’s level of comfort with all this, he has lost a supporter in the sense of a team mate whose strategies have frequently been subverted to serve the team leader’s race effort. It will be immediately apparent next season whether the Leclerc gets the same treatment and whether Ferrari allow a Hamilton 2007 scenario to develop. Espcially as it looks like this year’s championship is now lost, barring some unforeseen catastrophe for Hamilton and Mercedes.
But it’s also curious that Vettel was so supportive of Ferrari retaining Raikkonen, when you consider that in Singapore last year and again in Monza this year, Vettel’s championship hopes suffered a significant set back because of a confusion over Raikkonen’s role and his opportunity to go for a win.
So the question really is not, who is this kid who has pushed Kimi Raikkonen out of Ferrari, but rather, can he do to Vettel in 2019, what Hamilton did to Alonso in 2007?
What do you think? Leave your comments in the section below