Only a few weeks remain until the Formula 1 season kicks off in Australia. As the teams are currently gaining insight into the qualities that they possess and issues that need to be addressed during F1 testing in Barcelona, it is time to begin thinking about the many driver changes that have occurred during the course of the offseason. Eight of the ten teams are welcoming new drivers into the paddock including two young and exciting talents getting the opportunity to showcase their skills at top three teams. Charles Leclerc is the newest member of the Ferrari family and Pierre Gasly is joining Max Verstappen at Red Bull, who is starting its new engine partnership with Honda. The introduction of these two promising drivers at two of the three top constructors will bring a fleshing shakeup in the hunt for wins. Charles Leclerc is unquestionably the more noteworthy since Ferrari are often considered to be the strongest car of the field at the beginning of the upcoming season. Yet, with already having a world champion who is still searching for his first Drivers Championship with Ferrari, can Leclerc topple Vettel’s standing as Ferrari’s number one driver?
Charles Leclerc had an impressive first season with Sauber in 2018 where he managed ten top-ten finishes and gained a total of 39 points. He ended up thirteenth in the Driver’s Championship compared to his team mate Marcus Ericsson who only managed 9 total points and finished in 17th. Sauber as a team performed remarkably well and created an exciting challenge for the best of the rest behind the top three teams. His daring overtaking maneuvers and skillfully aggressive driving assisted precipitated his move to Ferrari. He has replaced Kimi Raikkonen who swapped seats with Leclerc at Sauber. Raikkonen is in the twilight of his career and it showed during the past few seasons at Ferrari. He was more conservative in his tactical approach during the race, and his lack of consistency in qualifying and race pace inhibited his ability to regularly challenge for wins. However, his memorable win at Austin stands out as the exception. Kimi would traditionally start out the season considered to be a potential challenger for the title, but would be utilized as a secondary driver in support of Vettel.
Charles Leclerc’s driving talent and situation is reminiscent of Max Verstappen and his move to Red Bull. Max’s provocation to Ricciardo as number one driver, resulted in a stronger Red Bull team as a whole. While Max has come under intense scrutiny for his perceived over aggressive driving, Charles ability to exercise patience in his attempt for overtakes is noteworthy. However, Leclerc will most likely play a support role to Sebastian Vettel in his first season and rightly so. Vettel is currently Ferrari’s best bet to win the driver’s title for Ferrari as his familiarity with the operations and technicalities of the car. Vettel is familiar with what it takes to defeat Hamilton and Bottas, and Ferrari’s desire to sort out its mishandling of strategic decisions during the previous season will only further their desire to defeat to win-now. It should be expected that Leclerc may need this season to adjust to his new team and surroundings as well as the immense expectations surrounding his hiring.
While the pressure is indeed prodigious, Leclerc will impose an unenviable challenge to new Ferrari team principal, Mattia Binotto. Charles will be hungry to prove his worth as the future of Ferrari ,and the impending excitement around the potential to consistently finish on the podium and challenge for wins on a regular basis, should push Leclerc to achieve his full potential. It is important to remember that Vettel had the best chance to win the Driver’s Championship in 2018, and unfortunately failed to achieve his goal. After his crash while leading at Hockenheim, Sebastian was never able to recover to the form he exhibited during the beginning of the season. He also had a few collisions with competitors such as Ricciardo at Austin, which allowed Hamilton to claim his 5th Driver’s Championship in Mexico. Perhaps, Vettel collapsed under the pressure or maybe he is no longer the driver he once was, regardless Leclerc may challenge Vettel as number one driver much sooner than anticipated.