Charles Leclerc: a chance to give meaning to the Ferrari Driver Academy
Charles Leclerc is rumoured to be joining Ferrari on a two-year deal, which would see him partnering Sebastian Vettel for 2019 and 2020. The Alfa Romeo-Sauber driver has been on the way up after 9 races, managing to stand out from the crowd and proving that the FDA did something right.
Charles Leclerc has been linked to Ferrari for the next two seasons, as the latest rumours from Italy suggest that the Monegasque and the Maranello-based outfit have agreed a 2-year-deal which would see him taking Kimi Raikkonen's spot. Aside from the contractual move, Leclerc's arrival could mark a historic achievement for the team itself and its junior programme, the Ferrari Driver Academy.
The Italian team's academy was founded in 2009 but since then it failed to find the perfect candidate to reach out to Formula 1 or ascend dramatically up to a potential premiere class promotion. A great deal of talents have reeled through the young Ferrari sensations' nursery, but none of them has not actually made it owing to sponsors, lack of achievements or a surplus of competition.
The case turned out to be different with Red Bull and Mercedes' junior programmes, as the rivalry amongst top teams stretches further than their F1 campaigns. Both put their trust in their drivers and gave them a shot through their junior teams, whereas Ferrari has pushed its boundaries with mere testing opportunities or reserve driver's roles.
Max Verstappen broke the mold and paved the way, flipping the perspective of academies upside down. Mercedes followed closely with Pascal Wehrlein or Esteban Ocon, previously a Renault man. On the contrary, Ferrari never seemed to rely on Haas as a platform for FDA promises but the Alfa Romeo-Sauber partnership emerged as a proper talent pool to promote the latest F2 champion in the first place, earning him a golden ticket to F1.
Pierre Gasly, the 2016 F2 champion, had to spend almost a year in Super Formula, acting as a free agent to impress Helmut Marko and fully exploit his Red Bull connections. Charles Leclerc, on the contrary, was on the right place at the right time and was able to debut right after dominantly clinching the title with Prema, taking full advantage of the tight bond between his team, Ferrari, Sauber and its bombastic main sponsor which later became a technical partner.
The Monegasque's utterly dominant F2 campaign, in which he blitzed the opposition led to his leap, which stood for a massive wake up call for Ferrari. As the FDA was turning into a talent scout for collateral motorsport series, Leclerc interrupted the trend by making Ferrari ponder an actual promotion and restore the academy's initial purpose, which had been twisted over the years, partly due to the team's lack of boldness.
Thanks to Leclerc's on-track and commercial potential, the FDA is back in business, acquiring prestige and the acknowledgement it deserves for developing and supporting young drivers, despite the absence of promotion and apparent long time career-building experiences.
Whatever the outcome of the ongoing rumouring is, Ferrari's junior programme will benefit from it, as well as Charles Leclerc who is building on an impressive point finish-streak with Sauber.