As the previous season came to an end in Abu Dhabi, Mattia Binotto informed his driver Charles Leclerc over the radio, next year we will have fun, you will see. Ferrari’s team principal couldn’t have realized how prescient his remarks would turn out to be, but Leclerc’s beaming smile and irrepressible joie de vivre in his driving leave no mistake about how much fun he’s having. The team has performed admirably for Leclerc in the past, but now it must shift its attention to the more serious task of translating enjoyment into Formula One glory.
Ferrari had a bad season two years ago: their car, which they planned to use to celebrate their 1,000th F1 Grand Prix at Mugello, was a disaster. They didn’t win a race and placed sixth in the constructors’ standings, a low point they hadn’t reached in 40 years. Last season, he improved to third place, but only in a midfield battle distance from the dominant Red Bull and Mercedes rivals.
Charles Leclerc pushing the limits of Ferrari
Charles Leclerc kept his head down and pushed the car to its limits, and often beyond, in search of performance that just wasn’t there, while the team focused all of their resources on building this year’s model in accordance with the new regulations. It’s paid off, with the F1-75 being the current field’s class. The 24-year-old Monégasque driver has certainly proven his promise as a world champion candidate now that he has access to the proper machinery.
From three races, Leclerc has two wins and a second place. The victories were outstanding. He beat a rowdy, elbows-out Max Verstappen with the cool accuracy of a seasoned pro in Bahrain, and he won the last round in Australia with a polished run from pole to flag, an almost flawless showing against which his competitors were powerless. Leclerc has relished the opportunity, his cheery radio messages to the team and bubbly demeanor reflecting a driver who enjoys getting behind the wheel.
He’s on his game, and Ferrari is the team to beat. It will be a difficult task. While Leclerc has enjoyed the script of the season openers, his primary adversary, Red Bull’s Verstappen, has struggled to adjust to his new role. In two of the three races, his car had to retire due to technical issues. In Saudi Arabia, the world champion won, but it wasn’t enough to undo the damage.
A massive task ahead of Charles Leclerc
Verstappen is likely to be at the front of the pack, with Mercedes still battling to get their car up to speed in order to compete with Red Bull and Ferrari. Now he has a massive task ahead of him. Leclerc holds a 46-point advantage over Verstappen. To put it in perspective, retaining the title for the Dutchman would necessitate the greatest point deficit turnaround since the 25-point-for-a-win system was implemented in 2010. Although there are now more races, there are just four more.
It’s crucial to put together the entire package — development, execution, engineering, and driving – because Ferrari understands that having a point advantage isn’t enough. They started the season with the fastest vehicle in 2017 and 2018, giving Vettel an early lead. Both challenges failed because Hamilton and Mercedes had out-developed and out-raced them.
Ferrari cannot afford to be found wanting in what will be a tough development war this year, nor can they afford to be operationally deficient when the pressure surely mounts, as the Scuderia looks for their first drivers’ crown since 2007 and their first constructors’ trophy since 2008.