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Charles Leclerc, a successful first season in F1

20 December 2018 - 14h15

In his first year in Formula 1, Charles Leclerc ended in 20th place in the driver standings, and led  Sauber to 8th place in the constructor standings. Throughout the eight months of competition, the future Ferrari driver never stopped learning and impressing. His younger brother Arthur, who drives in Formula 4, and Franck Anfosso*, who has been following the Monegasque driver since 2011, agreed to discuss his performances.

 

Charles Leclerc has just finished his first season in Formula 1. How would you rate it?

Arthur Leclerc: it was simply huge. He worked really well with the team and showed some great things, such as reaching the Q3s (Editor’s note: the third qualifying stage, which determines the starting position of the ten first drivers) in Brazil, even though the rain was starting to fall and it was very difficult to improve his time under those conditions, and also taking seventh place. It was crazy! He has the talent to go to Ferrari, as well as the right mentality. Charles resists pressure. For a first season in F1, it’s great to see him achieve so many things.

Franck Anfosso: Exceptional. Charles took time to get used to the category. He understood that with certain technical issues, his driving methods needed to be looked at. From there, everything exploded. His sixth place in Baku is the perfect example of this. Throughout the season, he proved that it was no fluke. He was regularly among the points, and often in Q3. As Arthur said, we saw it in Brazil. He insisted on redoing a lap in Q2 and managed to get into Q3 in the end. Thanks to this, Sauber consolidated its eighth place in the constructors’ championship.

 

©Sauber F1

 

Was his best race in Baku?

A.L.: it was his first big achievement, because he finished in sixth place in his fourth start in F1. It was exceptional. Despite having so little experience, he still managed to achieve a very good result, arriving just after the Ferraris. He had his chances, of course, but he needed to succeed in seizing them! It was during this weekend that he proved his worth and that he could go very fast.

F.A.: This was clearly the race when he proved himself. For me, however, it’s his consistency that strikes me the most. He goes looking for points and drives intelligently. He is careful about his tyres and takes the time he needs to when passing. He overtakes cleanly, whereas before, especially in Formula 3, he was criticized for not daring to attack too much.

What do you think of his progress?

A.L.: It’s all very well to get good results, but to follow them up and improve every time is even better! In his first three races, he finished on the right of the table. Then he hit hard. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting it at all. Certainly, he flew through F2, but there’s a gap between F2 and F1. F1 is the big leagues! But throughout the season, he proved that he was capable of doing better.

F.A.: When the strategy worked, he was always among the points. We mustn’t forget that the Sauber team doesn’t have a huge budget. In spite of this, it now stands shoulder to shoulder with Haas, Renault and Force India in terms of lap times. Last year, Sauber was a long way behind. What the Monegasque did with this single-seater was exceptional, above all because it hadn’t evolved for some time. In Brazil, he finished 17 seconds behind Sebastian Vettel, who stopped twice, whereas Charles only stopped once. Charles did half the race on very soft tyres. That’s where his progress is. With his Sauber, which was meant to be much less fast than a Ferrari, he placed very close to Vettel.

 

©Michael Alesi

 

Does it all depend on his mentality?

A.L.: Clearly, he is very strong mentally. It’s his biggest asset. Above all, he keeps his feet on the ground. He doesn’t give in to pressure. I’ve never seen him break down, which is quite remarkable.

F.A.:  Charles has worked up top; he’s forged a steely mentality for himself. He doesn’t necessarily have pressure; he has simply always been demanding of himself. I often compare him with Max Verstappen, because they were only born 16 days apart. These two are the best of the new generation of drivers. Verstappen, who’s impulsive and instinctive, is the Ayrton Senna of our time. Charles is more thoughtful; he’s more a version of Alain Prost. This will be Formula 1’s big duel of the future.

He will be coexisting with Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari. How do you view their future relationship?

A.L.: To be alongside a great champion like Sebastian Vettel, who has won the title numerous times (Editor’s note: in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013) is simply enormous. Charles has been very fortunate. He’ll be able to learn from him, to get the most from him in order to improve. This can only be beneficial.

F.A.: Looking at the past two years, I think that if Charles begins to tickle Vettel and finds himself in front of him in races, Vettel will make even more errors than he did this season. The German manages pressure much less well than he used to. If he sees a young 20-year-old wolf who has his whole life ahead of him to become world champion, there is a risk that he will be very shaken up. With Kimi Räikkönen, Vettel was sitting in an armchair. Ferrari favoured him. The first races will therefore be decisive, even though I would imagine that Ferrari will leave Charles a year to express himself. This hiring shows that the Italian team is changing completely. It’s 40 years since Ferrari hired a driver as young as Charles.

 

©Sauber F1

 

What can he do this year?

A.L.:  It’s hard to say. It’s a difficult question because you never know what can happen. What’s certain is that Charles will not be going for second place. I’m expecting a lot from him, and I’m sure he’ll do a fine job.

F.A.:  If Ferrari let him, he’ll be in front of Vettel. The biggest problem for Charles next year is called Lewis Hamilton. The British driver is very strong, and doesn’t make mistakes. If Ferrari gives Charles a supercar, he can achieve something. Not necessarily a final victory in his first season with the team, although he will be world champion sooner or later.

In an interview he gave us just before the Monaco Grand Prix (see La Gazette no. 523) Michel Ferry agreed with this, saying that Charles Leclerc has all the qualities needed to record his name in the F1 rankings.

A.L.: I agree with him. I think my brother will become world champion. He’ll never give up, and will work even harder to reach his objective. He’s a hard worker. I’m not saying this because Charles is my brother, but simply because he has the talent to become world champion.

F.A.: I’ll go even further. If he continues to build his career and has a good car, Charles will win his first world championship title in the next three years.

Jérémie Berningole

Photo ©Manuel Goria - Sauber F1

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