Finally, Ferrari broke with an age-old tradition and have banked on youth and experience when they decided to promote Charles Leclerc to replace Kimi Raikkonen and team up with Sebastian Vettel at the Scuderia in 2019.
Next year the likeable 20-year old will be the second youngest driver to race for the sport’s most famous and popular team since 19-year-old Ricardo Rodriguez wore the prancing horse badge back in 1961 at the Italian Grand Prix.
Leclerc knows that the relative obscurity of Sauber, will change dramatically from the moment the lights are shut at Yas Marina and the intense spotlight of media, Tifosi and his own team attention beams on the #16 red car.
Nevertheless, the youngster believes he is ready for what comes his way because of what life has thrown at him in recent years.
In an interview with told Corriere della Serra he revealed, “Above all I learned how to handle emotions which when I was younger was tough for me.”
“Then I grew up, started mourning and learning. I lost my friend, Jules Bianchi, for me he was like an older brother… and then last year my father passed away. These tragedies have made me much stronger.”
At the same time, Leclerc appreciates what Ferrari have done for him, “The team have given me so much support, they are like family and I owe them a lot.”
The Sauber driver has impressed with the manner in which he has tackled his rookie season, easily better than his journeyman teammate Marcus Ericsson in the sister car. He has also put the car in places it had no place being on several occasions.
When asked for the highlights of his season thus far, Leclerc replied, “Difficult to choose one, the most positive thing is that there has always been progression. Although in the last five races before Singapore we were a bit unlucky with two accidents and a pit stop problem.”
“But looking back on Baku’s sixth place, I still remember that well. I thought I would grow more gradually, that it would take a little more time, so I am very happy.”
Born in Montecarlo, Leclerc has invariably met Prince Albert of Monaco who is a big supporter of his subject, “He was very happy with the news. He has been following me for many years so I see him quite often, more now of course.”
“He complimented me. He said he was happy for me and that the achievement is a source of pride for all of Monaco. It was great to hear these words from the prince,” added Leclerc.
Many believe Leclerc will rise to be Max Verstappen’s big challenger as a new generation of young guns replaces the old guard in Formula 1, with even four times world champion Lewis Hamilton impressed with what he has seen.
“Yeah, someone like Lewis speaking well of me, that’s an honour,” admitted the Monaco Kid.
What has impressed those close to Leclerc is the manner in which he goes about his job, exuding calm and confidence, able to cut out the outside world and focus on the task at hand.
All traits that belie his age, “Many people say so, they see me different in those moments. But I actually do not notice it. For sure I talk a lot less because I review everything I have to do in the car.”
“I enter into a kind of bubble where I think only of where to make up time and how to go faster. I have always worked hard with one goal in mind: to get on the top step of the podium.
Perhaps his secret is the work he did with a mental coach earlier on in his rise through the junior ranks?
“I don’t know, but in my opinion this is important for any pro athlete. The head is 80 percent for a driver, if you are not smart you will never make it in Formula 1.’
“I worked so hard because it was my weakness when I was a child. The sooner you deal with it, the sooner you are better, at that age you assimilate the concepts faster. I followed the Formula Medicine programs and those of the Ferrari Driver Academy. ”
On the leisure side, he shares similar interests to Hamilton: music and fashion, “A bit like Lewis, I like fashion and music too. I play guitar and piano, there is no better way to relax.