It was 2017 when a young Monegasque driver triumphantly won the F2 championship, with the hope of earning fastly a set in Ferrari and take the Prancing Horse back on top of Formula 1. Now, that young driver is 23 years old and every Ferrari fan knows him: Charles Leclerc. Two victories on his side, a team in difficult times on his shoulders, but a lot of determination. He is called the "predestined" in Italy and there is no wonder why: he is already part of the royals on the grid, among drivers as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
The only thing missing? A competitive car, able to bring him and Ferrari back where they belongs. The last season has not been easy for the italian team and Charles as well, but today, there is a brand new atmosphere in Maranello: a new engine, more powerful than the previous one, and a new team mate, Carlos Sainz. But will he keep the leading role in the team, with this new team mate? And when will Ferrari deliver? And what about his reputation, after last season's results?
Charles Leclerc spoke about Sainz, Vettel, Ferrari, politics, worst and best moments with Ferrari (Montecarlo 2019 and Monza 2019, respectively) and many other topics in an exclusive interview with Motorsport Italia's Roberto Chinchero.
"I think it's part of the game - said Charles Leclerc about who might question its worth - I am learning season after season that I have to answer above all to myself, I know when I did a good job and when I could have done better. Then there are moments when you know you have given your all and done very well, but it is not perceived from the outside, and this can sometimes be frustrating".
“Every year I have in my head a list of aspects on which I want to improve, precise objectives. Tire management remains an always open front, I think I have improved but I know I still have work to do, it is a complex issue and every time I get into the car there is always some more aspect that I can grasp, both in the management of the fastest lap and in that relating to the race pace. Sometimes they are details, but they are details that make the difference”.
A driver's choice outside the car can also make a difference, as Chinchero asked Leclerc: see Lewis Hamilton, who has win six world titles in the past sever years, or Fernando Alonso, who chose to bet on McLaren- Honda and ended up with no results and the decision to take a break from F1.
"It's true that the choices you make off the track affect your career a lot, but as far as I'm concerned I'm very happy to be a Ferrari driver, it's always been a dream of mine, and my challenge is to give my contribution to bring this team back to to win. I am aware of the importance of the choices, but today my only goal is to get back to the top with Ferrari, and I'm sure there is the potential to get where we want to be".
Carlos Sainz signed a two year deal with Ferrari to replace four time world champion Sebastian Vettel. The spaniard moved to Maranello and spends a lot of time with both the team and Charles.
"In recent years [Carlos] has been in several teams, and I think it is always interesting to get an idea of how the opponents work - said Charles about his new team mate - then I immediately perceived his great motivation, he is in his first year in Ferrari and you can see that he wants to do very well immediately, and this euphoria is contagious for the benefit of the whole team. I believe that for a team it is always good to have two drivers who push and paw to get back to victory”.
Coming back to Ferrari, it seems like the Prancing Horse has made a step forward in 2021, but the road to the top is still very long. How long can a driver wait?
“You must have patience, and it is a gift that I developed along the way, years ago in fact I didn't have it, or I had little - he admitted - when you get to have a technical delay, we know that in Formula 1 it takes time to be able to reset it and, during this phase, you need to be as calm as possible, also because getting angry and impatient is not constructive. I think I've matured from this point of view, then obviously I can't wait to go back to winning races, the goal of a driver is always the same".
And what if he had to choose, conquer third place in the World Cup without stage success, or fifth with two victories to assets, Charles answers: "Third in the World Cup. But it is difficult to answer, perhaps as a driver it is better to win a few races, but I believe that the final position is more important in the overall team balance. However, yes, it is difficult to answer".
Every F1 fan hope to see Ferrari recovering the gap and fight for the championship. Chinchero aks Leclerc what would he do if, in the last race of the season, he is fighting for the title with his team mate: there is a chance in the end, but a crash is behind the corner. What does Charles Leclerc do?
“I try, I try, but… you have to evaluate how much the team has to lose. If as a result of that maneuver the team risks slipping from first to third in the Constructors' Championship, well, I think very well about it. But as a driver ... yes, I do, I attack”.