Leclerc joined Ferrari in 2019 after a very solid 2018 rookie season at Sauber, due to his involvement in Ferrari’s junior programme since 2016. The young driver scored two wins during his first season at the team from Maranello, which lead to him signing a long-term contract till 2024. Binotto believes there’s a lot of similarities between the two drivers. He said there are a lot of similarities between the state of the team upon the arrival of Michael Schumacher in 1996 and how it looks like around Leclerc right now.
As he said during the interview for the Beyond the Grid podcast: “I often compare it, I think there are similarities, no doubt. Ferrari at the time, 1995 to 2000, was investing. We were investing as we are investing today, investing on technologies, but investing on people as well, employing young people and young engineers. If I look at Ferrari in the last years, we have employed a lot of young engineers, which today are starting to become our foundations. There also was a leader as a driver, Michael at the time. I think today, we’ve got Charles. Obviously he’s not as experienced as Michael, because he’s not a world champion, while Michael was.”
He added: “We’ve got a clear leader on-track as a driver. I think that’s important as well. I think there is the commitment of the entire company to try to build a winning cycle in the future. Charles is a lot younger to Michael at the time. He needs, as often, to develop as a team. The success of Ferrari tomorrow will be somehow dependent on the way he will behave as a leader himself. But I think that while Michael was already a leader, Charles is developing as a leader, but is developing well.”
During this very challenging year for Ferrari, due to the massive weaknesses of the engine and aerodynamics in the SF1000 car, Leclerc was still able to put the best effort and score two podium finishes and secure the 6th place in the championship, with almost triple amount of points of his teammate Vettel. Binotto believes that during the 2020 season Leclerc driven better than in 2019, even though he was higher in the championship that year.
As he said: “This year, he drove even better than last year. I think with a difficult car as he’s got this year, he has been strong, consistent, he has been capable of adapting himself to the various track layouts, trying to extract the most potential of the car. The way he progressed was the way now he understands the tyres and can manage the tyres, not only on the single qualy lap where he is very strong, also on the race pace. As a driver he developed a lot. I think he is stronger, compared to what he was. That is experience, but not only as a driver, but I think as a man, he is growing.
He added: “He is very linked and connected and committed to the team, to Ferrari, and I think that our people feel it very well. I like the way he is part of our family. He is really the right way of acting, and I appreciate his commitment.”
Although it is still all up in the air if Leclerc will be able to reach anywhere near the level of Schumacher, he definitely still has a long time to prove himself, considering this season is only his 3rd in F1 and he’s still very young. It only might be very hard to try to match up one of the most legendary drivers in motorsport.