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Portrait of the young hero: Charles Leclerc

How, when and why Charles Leclerc became the legend we know today

Portrait of the young hero: Charles Leclerc How, when and why Charles Leclerc became the legend we know today

It's inevitable, when you're dealing with the kind of champions capable of dominating the era the compete in, to ending up wondering where, how and when everything has started. It happened for Michael Jordan, for Roger Federer, for Muhammad Ali, for Lionel Messi… and now it's happening for Charles Leclerc as well.

While I'm writing, my tv is screening the images of the last Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, that in recent times has become the guard of honor for the Monegasque driver. And this year, 2031, hasn't been different. After trailing in the first part of the season due to a series of engine problems and some unlucky episodes, Leclerc got an impressive series of wins, overtaking his life-long enemy Max Verstappen and winning the championship during the Brazilian Grand Prix. It's the eighth in the last 12 years and the one that allows him to surpass the Kaiser, Michael Schumacher.

But if all his other championships gave me unmeasurable joy - just as for millions of Ferraristi around the globe - this umpteenth victory also made me wondering a few things. How has Charles Leclerc became the greatest driver in the history of Formula 1? And most of all, have there been a moment in the story, a turning point, a corner, that changed everything, handing over Leclerc to the legend of the world sports?

The answer is yes, there has been.

Actually, there have been plenty.


Turn 1 - Hervé

Some corners you have to take them a full speed, while other you have to study them, understand them, interpretate them, with all the concentration a driver can have. This particular corner, Leclerc had every right to assault it, with all the rage that a 19-years old man can pour out on an unfair life, that took his father from him - he was just 54 - three days before the 2017 Baku Grand Prix.

Charles, that was driving in Formula 2 at the time, in that moment showed, maybe for the first time, his immense regality, the imperturbable calm that has gone with him for the years to come. That that, among the tortuous streets of the Azerbaijan capitol, Leclerc unwillingly (maybe) build the foundations for his triumph, that started that very year by dominating and winning the Formula 2 championship.



Turn 2 - Jules

In Lelcerc's life, Hervé and Jules create a double corner, very similar to the Nouvelle Chicane of the Monaco GP that Charles knows very well, that could cost the Monegasque driver everything.

The career of the now 8-times world champion started on the Brignoles go-kart track - between Nice and Marseille - where many other kids like him were following their dream to become a Formula 1 driver someday. And among those future drivers, Charles crossed path with the son of the track's owner, Jules Bianchi, that in the years became some sort of big brother for him. A friend, an inspiration, a support during difficult times, unfortunately disappeared way to early from Leclerc's life.

In fact, Jules became the first driver ever signed by Ferrari Driver Academy and, after a couple of years, he got to realize his wildest dream and became a Formula 1 driver with Marussia. The rest, as they say, is history, with the dramatic incident against the crane during the 2014 Suzuka Grand Prix and the end of all hopes, nine months later, on July 17, 2015.

Nella vita di Leclerc, Hervé e Jules formano un uno-due di curve, non dissimili dalla Nouvelle Chicane del tracciato del GP di Monaco così familiare a Charles, che sarebbero potute costare tutto al giovane pilota monegasco.



Turn 5 - Nicolas

In the continuous corners, sudden brakes and full-speed straight stretches that has moulded Leclerc's life, the chronological order of the events gets overtaken by the importance of the people and the events that brought Charles here, today, in the Motorsport Olympus. One of the most important characters is Nicolas Todt, son of Jean Todt, the former Ferrari manager during the Michael Schumacher era

In fact, it was Nicolas himself that offered Leclerc a seat in the All Road Management (ARM), the agency that eventually brought Leclerc to Formula 1 and that was also Bianchi's agency a few years before.



Turn 7 - Charles

The turns of Leclerc's life allowed his astonishing talent to get unnoticed for a while. But besides all the events that characterized his first 20 years of life - either catastrophic and happy ones - Leclerc has been a phenomenal driver since day one. And his wins with the karts and the minor leagues, as important as they may be, have been crushed by his impact on the GP3 and Formula 2 championship: today, Charles Leclerc is the only driver able to graduate champion in both categories in two consecutive years, both from novice.

Obviously repeating in Formula 1 would have been possible but, in hindsight, it didn't take much longer to do that too.



Turn 13 - Frédéric

One of the sweetest turns of his life and his career can only be named after Frédéric Vasseur, Team Principal of the Sauber Alfa Romeo team in 2018 - the year in which the Italian brand returned to F1 - which was also the official team with which Leclerc ran his first Formula 1 world championship.

Despite the limited chances of his Sauber Alfa Romeo C37, Charles was able to show his abilities to the world in his first F1 season. In addition to having practically deleted his team-mate Marcus Ericsson for the whole world championship, Leclerc obtained several points' finishes, including four seventh places, laying the foundations for what would have been the most important year of his life: 2019.



Turn 16 - Kimi


Like it or not - knowing it, more the second - Kimi Raikkonen was a key figure in Leclerc's career. What appears today to be a natural witness, in 2018 was far from obvious. In that period, in fact, Raikkonen was the last driver to have graduated world champion with Ferrari and, either for that legacy or for his unique character in his kind, he enjoyed almost unlimited respect and affection among Ferrari fans. Even today, I'm convinced that only the fair extraordinary nature of Leclerc's talent managed to convince the Ferrari board, that otherwise Kimi would still be held for a couple of seasons.

And instead, it went the way it did, with the "exchange" that forever changed the future of Formula 1: Kimi Raikkonen at the Sauber Alfa Romeo, Charles Leclerc in Ferrari.



Here comes the moment of history defined in the Spannung literature, that of maximum tension. After starting his story and having faced endless ups and downs, the hero must cope with the decisive moment of his adventure, the one that will make the difference between victory and defeat, between glory and anonymity, between a place in the motorsport olympus and a small name written in the last pages of the annals. And this moment arrives between the end of March and the beginning of April 2019, in the two weeks between the Bahrain and China Grand Prix.

The weekend on the Persian Gulf shores saw Charles Leclerc dominate far and wide for three consecutive days, along with teammate Sebastian Vettel. Free Practice 1, Free Practice 2, Free Practice 3, qualifications: the Reds, in particular that of the Monegasque driver, have made a clean sweep of their opponents, conquering the entire front row ahead of Sunday's race.



In the race Leclerc started badly, retreated in third position, overtaken Bottas, overtook team-mate Vettel, trim 9 seconds to world champion Hamilton, but then his engine broke, he fell third - overtaken by machines that at that moment had 100 horses more than the his - he despairs, but he regains lucidity and brings home the third place, winning his first podium in Formula 1. At the end of the race, Leclerc is overwhelmed by solidarity and greetings from the whole racing world, from his team, from his opponents, from the fans. A show that we rarely used to see in the Formula 1 circus. But on the other hand, even such a talent has rarely been seen in the Formula 1 circus.

In those two weeks that led to the next Chinese Grand Prix, I'm sure, many people will have wondered what would have happened to Charles Leclerc. You will have wondered if that determination, that composure, shown even in the most difficult moments, that determination to want to prove to be the strongest without exaggeration, with the only brutal determination of his talent, would have led him, maybe already that year, to winning the Formula 1 World Championship, rejecting his natural role as second driver, apprentice squire at Vettel's court.


And I am sure that, among the many who have spent even just five minutes thinking about it, at least one will actually have succeeded in imagining what would have actually happened. Overtaking, triumphs, clashes, titles, falls and ascents. I envy the people who lived that moment, unaware of what would happen next, unaware of having the greatest driver in the history of Formula 1 in front of them. I envy them, because they didn't know and could testify the story. Or perhaps, on closer inspection, in the depths of their unconscious, they too already knew everything.