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Charles Leclerc at Ferrari: The qualifying expert with a new contract and history in his sights

Charles Leclerc

London, December 24: If there was ever any doubt beforehand, now everyone in Formula One knows: Charles Leclerc is the future for Ferrari.

The famous team showed their long-term commitment to the talented 22-year-old by handing him a new contract that runs through until 2024.

Leclerc came through the Ferrari Driver Academy but started his F1 career with Sauber. His debut campaign in 2018 showed promise as he picked up 39 points, leading to a promotion. Since joining Ferrari, Leclerc has overcome some early hiccups to overshadow a four-time world champion in Sebastian Vettel.

So why have his current employers shown so much faith in him? With the use of Opta data, we look at the feats achieved by the man from Monaco - and the record he can break in 2020.

Leader of the pack

Leclerc was the master of qualifying this year. His tally of seven pole positions was the most by any driver during the season. Yes, even more than world champion Lewis Hamilton.

Ronnie Peterson is the only non-world champion to have secured more poles in a single year (nine in 1973), while Juan Pablo Montoya also had seven in 2002.

When it came to his head-to-head battle with Vettel, Leclerc was dominant. He qualified in front of his team-mate in 11 of the last 14 races, while only the legendary Niki Lauda managed more pole positions (nine in 1974) in a debut season for Ferrari.

A taste of success

Ferrari endured a tough first half of 2019. The Mercedes combination of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were dominant, including five successive one-two finishes at the start of the campaign. There was no battle to be the leading constructor after that, just a procession to the crown.

However, after the break, the Belgian Grand Prix was all about Leclerc. At a venue more suited to Ferrari, he made history by becoming the first Monegasque driver to win a race, while only Max Verstappen (18 years 7 months and 15 days) and Vettel (21 years 2 months and 11 days) had done so at a younger age.

So, how do you follow up such a notable result? You go out and do the same again, this time at the Italian Grand Prix, a week later. His success at Monza marked Ferrari's first triumph at their home track since 2010, when Fernando Alonso claimed top spot on the podium.

Record up for grabs

"I'm keen to see what the future holds and I can't wait to get going again next season," Leclerc said on Twitter after his deal was announced.

You cannot blame him for being in a hurry to get back behind the wheel. There were missed opportunities this year, with confusion over team instructions costing him in Singapore and the involvement of the safety car scuppering his hopes in Russia.

Ferrari will have to cope with the rivalry between their two drivers, with the relationship not aided by a crash involving the pair in Brazil. Still, the numbers make it clear who should be their main man, despite Vettel's CV.

Leclerc demonstrated he can learn quickly on the job - but can he go on to become world champion next year? If he does, he will become the youngest to ever achieve the feat in F1.

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Story first published: Tuesday, December 24, 2019, 4:00 [IST]
Other articles published on Dec 24, 2019
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