Iconic marque, Ferrari, has turned away from tradition – and made a bold choice in promoting rookie Charles Leclerc, from Sauber to the Scuderia, starting from next season…
The Monégasque will replace 2007 F1 World Champion Kimi Räikkönen, who’ll return to the Swiss squad, where his F1 career began in 2001, for the next two seasons.
And it’s a shock driver switch that no one in the sport saw coming, with most expecting the Finn to retire if he didn’t retain his Ferrari seat.
Leclerc’s promotion was a move championed by Ferrari’s late former chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne to properly whip-up and challenge Sebastian Vettel – in a step away from its established strategy of having a clear number one driver…and dutiful number two.
Leclerc will become the 110th driver to race for Ferrari in F1, the first from Monaco, with the 20-year-old also the second-youngest ever to join the red team after Ricardo Rodriguez in 1961.
But while that level of pressure this early on normally crushes – Leclerc is undeniably the real deal and has already shown his star qualities.
He finished fourth in European F3 in 2015 before joining the Scuderia’s academy and winning the GP3 and F2 titles back to back. In F1 this year he’s sitting 15th after scoring 15 points to teammate Marcus Ericsson’s six.
And as a Ferrari junior, the passionate Tifosi have been behind him right from the start – building Leclerc’s confidence.
SOUNDBITE (Italian) CHARLES LECLERC,
F1 DRIVER, SAUBER:
“I am very lucky. Italy and the Italian fans have always supported me and I am very glad. In the past I was part of the Ferrari Driving Academy, and I believe that has helped.”
For Vettel, who is a 4-time F1 World Champion, it will be a chance to test himself against the sport’s latest gun…who is still very fresh, Leclerc’s first race for Ferrari next year just his 22nd Grand Prix.
… making him the Prancing Horse’s least experienced driver since Gilles Villeneuve, who became an icon with Ferrari.
For Räikkönen, it’s the end of an era, with this his eighth season with the Scuderia, and his fourth as teammate to Vettel…
… who, off-track, remains a good friend and badminton partner.
SOUNDBITE (English) KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN,
2007 F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“It's been good, we knew each other a bit before, we end up to be teammates. Of course, we always try to beat each other on the circuit but it's always been fair and we can openly work as one team.”
Räikkönen will become just the second F1 World Champion to join Sauber, since Canadian Jacques Villeneuve in 2006.
… his 2-year-deal with the Swiss squad ensuring the Finn will stay in the sport until after his 41st birthday, with rumours he could take a share in the squad to retain interests in F1 once he hangs up his helmet.
And with only six chances left to win, the Finn will want to give it everything – despite Singapore being a run to fifth after a long battle with countryman Valtteri Bottas, finishing where he started on the grid.
The next few races will be fascinating to watch as Ferrari prepares for its new combatant, with the title battle still raging.
It’s game on, as eras collide at the Scuderia.