Charles Leclerc, a gifted man with a thwarted destiny


Monegasque Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc before the first practice session for the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix in Monza on September 1, 2023.

Usually a peaceful green setting in Lombardy, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza has become, for a weekend – and like every year for more than 72 editions –, the stronghold of the “tifosis”. These unconditional supporters of the Ferrari team, adorned in the emblematic red of the Scuderia from head to toe, will be able to admire, on September 2 and 3, on the sidelines of the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Italy, several “historic” single-seaters. But they won’t be mistaken: no fan zone, however legendary, can fill the void left by the expectation of sporting results.

At the 4e place in the 2023 constructors’ standings, with only three podiums in thirteen races and two drivers out of the running overall (Carlos Sainz Jr 5eCharles Leclerc 6e), the prancing horse stable will hardly be at the forefront of “its” Grand Prix. It is certainly difficult to compete on a regular basis with the unwavering Max Verstappen (Red Bull), on track to acquire a tenth victory in a row on Sunday – more than any other driver before him – but the Italian team is not at the expected level.

After a nightmarish weekend at the Dutch Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc hopes to return to success at Monza, the seat of his coronation in the colors of Ferrari, in 2019. The 2022 vice-world champion is now in 6e place in the drivers’ clification (99 points). “I think we should be a bit more competitive herequalified the Monegasque before the Grand Prix. As for knowing if it will be enough to fight for a podium, I am unable to tell you at this stage: ask me the question again on Sunday after the race! »

Left behind in his rivalry with Verstappen

The Monegasque can only measure the gulf that now separates him from “Mad Max”, he who was nevertheless his rival and his equal from a very young age. Born in 1997, seventeen days apart, the two drivers faced each other as children on karting circuits before extending their rivalry in formula 1, sometimes with roughness. Already in 2013, Charles Leclerc became vice-world kart champion in Varennes-sur-Allier, ahead of a certain… Max Verstappen.

erting themselves as they progressed as the most talented drivers of their generation, the two young men also shone with their precocity. Charles Leclerc became at 21 years, 10 months and 16 days, the third youngest driver to win in Formula 1, after Max Verstappen (18 years and 7 months in 2016) and Sebastian Vettel (21 years and 2 months in 2008). They have since become the protagonists of anthology duels, like the 2019 British Grand Prix, or that of Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), in 2022. But very quickly, Red Bull and Max Verstappen rose a notch above, winning the titles of world champion in 2021 and 2022.

At the same time, Charles Leclerc had to deal with badly born cars, hesitant or even wobbly strategies, but also reliability problems and personal faults… Result: while it was aiming to compete with Red Bull, the Scuderia Ferrari n is not at the level.

After a few difficult seasons, would the Monegasque be tempted to look elsewhere? “I have always liked Ferrari and I would like to stay. I have always said very clearly that my objective was to try to be world champion, but first with Ferrari. swept the interested party in an interview with the BBC.

“Charles seems to have digested the situation better”

To provide a more competitive single-seater to its pilots, the prancing horse has also announced that it is working on the production of a car “very different” for the 2024 season, embarking on a major wave of recruitment. The short-term objective is to become the second force on the board again in the second half of the season. However, Ferrari will face competition from McLaren, Mercedes and Aston Martin.

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On the other hand, there is no longer any question of closing the gap with Red Bull, as the Dutchman’s team plays outside the category (14 victories in 14 races). Still, the Scuderia will not be able to revolutionize everything by 2024, a question of regulations, budget ceiling and availability of the best technicians.

In an interview at The Gazzetta dello SportFerrari boss Frédéric Veur blamed his drivers for Ferrari’s disappointing results: “We can always do better, as a team and as a driver. Charles Leclerc did not expect a season like this and at the beginning he pushed more than he should have. Now he seems to have digested the situation better. »

Read the picture: Article reserved for our subscribers Formula 1: Frédéric Veur, a quiet force at the bedside of Ferrari

Moreover, the Monegasque, less competitive this beginning of the season, is ahead of three points in the drivers’ clification by his teammate Carlos Sainz Jr: “Charles Leclerc is impulsive. If something goes wrong, he doesn’t hold back. However, for his own good and that of the team, it is sometimes better to calm down before speaking, noted Frédéric Veur. Charles is always very fast, but this year if you look at qualifying Carlos was more on his level than in the past. »

Lacking victories on which to capitalize in Formula 1, the Scuderia spoke of its good fortune in endurance. For the Italian Grand Prix, the team has changed its livery to pay homage to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, by adding touches of yellow. A reference to the 499P of James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi and Alessandro Pier Guidi, victorious in June in the Sarthe. Ferrari will also equip its drivers with “retro” helmets and suits. A way to remember the great hours of the stable waiting for better days. It will take at least that to restore “color” to a single-seater which has not won any victories this season.

Louise Le Borgne



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