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One to Watch: Charles Leclerc

Max Verstappen has made serious waves through F1, but we should keep an eye on his karting rival Charles Leclerc, young Ferrari driver.

Red Bull has Max Verstappen. McLaren has Stoffel Vandoorne. Mercedes has Esteban Ocon. Renault has Oliver Rowland. What about Ferrari? Well they have Monegasque youngster Charles Leclerc.

One to watch: Charles Leclerc

It has been many years since a Ferrari young driver has progressed to the main team. Brazilian Felipe Massa was the most recent driver to do so, in 2006. At just 18, Leclerc is very much still in the early stages of his racing career. So far, he has shown a strong rate of progress. His debut in the GP3 series (which uses the hard-to-work Pirelli tyre seen in F1) was incredibly impressive. He earned Free Practice sessions with both Sauber and Haas (almost certainly funded by Ferrari – good news for the former) during this year; so his name will be one seen in recent weeks quite a lot.

Leclerc’s rise through the ranks has been very impressive. He finished second in the CIK-FIA World KZ Championship to a certain Dutchman currently racing with Red Bull in F1. Those two were fierce rivals in that category, so it is immediately clear to see based on that alone as to why Leclerc is highly regarded by a team such as Ferrari.

Formula Renault 2.0

He made his car debut in the Formula Renault 2.0 category in 2014, doing a full season in the Alps championship and a partial season in the Eurocup as a guest driver. In his first full season in cars, he finished as the top rookie. He only finished behind the vastly more experienced Nyck de Vries in the championship. In the Eurocup, Leclerc took three second places to give him a strike rate of 10 podiums from 20 race starts in the 2-litre category across the year. Leclerc subsequently made the switch to the European Formula Three Championship for 2015, vacating the seat left by Verstappen.

Early in the season, Leclerc was able to take advantage of a lot of messy (and controversial) races to lead the championship. He picked up four wins and a further nine podiums from the first 18 races. However his season petered out as it progressed, and the fearsome form of the Prema team and Felix Rosenqvist saw Leclerc drop to fourth; just one place behind what Verstappen achieved in his one and only season in that category. Leclerc also participated in the prestigious Macau Grand Prix. On his first appearance at the famous venue, finished second only to the vastly more experienced Rosenqvist, earning praise from many.

On the F1 Radar

This led him to getting a deal to become a Ferrari young driver. Leclerc was a friend of the late Jules Bianchi, who was also part of that academy prior to his death. Leclerc ended up in GP3 with reigning champions ART as part of a four-car super-team consisting of Leclerc (Ferrari youngster), de Vries (McLaren youngster), Alexander Albon (former Lotus youngster) and Nirei Fukuzumi (Honda youngster). Of those four, it was Leclerc to take victory first time of asking at Barcelona, setting himself up for a good shout at fighting for the championship this year, and getting his name really on the F1 radar sooner rather than later.

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