Charles Leclerc could be forgiven for watching the Formula 1 title battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton with envy. Having proved himself capable of fighting at the front in his first Ferrari season in 2019, he’s been stuck in the midfield ever since.
The 23-year-old is regarded by many as one of the fastest drivers in F1 and has the qualities required to become a world champion in the future.
The key questions are first if and when Ferrari will give a driver who is contracted until the end of 2024 a car capable of running consistently at the front, and whether Leclerc will be able to eliminate the errors that have punctuated his impressive performances in recent seasons.
Leclerc has plenty of time on his side and despite the strong performances of new team-mate Carlos Sainz alongside him, he remains the driver Ferrari believes can lead it to its first drivers’ title since 2007. And Leclerc buys into that dream of winning with Ferrari, which he is adamant will make any future success all the sweeter.
“Obviously, I would love to be in the fight for the title with them and it is great to see that there is actually a battle,” said Leclerc when asked by The Race if he was impatient to have a shot at the title.
“On the other hand, I am very happy with where I am now and it’s an incredible challenge to have the duty to bring Ferrari back to the top. The story will only be better if we managed to do so as a team.
“We’ll keep working and I’m sure the happiness will come very soon.”
The hope is that Ferrari can re-emerge as a winning force next season. While it has improved significantly from 2020 to 2021, with Leclerc taking pole positions in Monaco and Azerbaijan, and is embroiled in what looks set to be a season-long battle for third in the constructors’ championship with McLaren, Ferrari has managed just six podium finishes in the past 27 races.
But Ferrari has prioritised 2022 development alongside its objective of finishing third in the current constructors’ championship, meaning it can realistically take a good step forward with its car next year.
It has also taken an aggressive approach to claw back the engine disadvantage created by the series of technical directives ahead of 2020 that Ferrari helped to frame as part of its secret agreement with the FIA following suspicions, unproven, it was running its power unit illegally.
With further upgrades planned for this year, as well as some bold changes for 2022, it should at least close the gap to Mercedes and Honda, having achieved parity with Renault.
Ferrari has also invested significantly in its infrastructure, which includes a new driver-in-loop simulator that is due to play an active role in 2022 development after the August break. This is part of a series of changes in recent years to regain ground lost to Mercedes and Red Bull technically.
“The last races shows we are doing something right,” said Leclerc. “We have been working very hard.
“If you look where we started at the beginning of last year and where we are now, it is a very different situation and I think this is because and thanks to all the work from the team.
“So I am confident everything we are doing is going in the right direction. It doesn’t give us any certainty that it’s going to be much better next year, but I feel like if we keep working like this I trust that we will be back to where want to be, which is to win regularly very soon.”
Leclerc himself has already proved he is capable of winning regularly, as his fine victories at Spa and Monza in 2019 demonstrate. But only once Ferrari comes up with a car capable of fighting for the title will Leclerc have the chance to show he is a world championship calibre driver.
Chances are, he will thrive when he gets that chance. And to have another top-liner battling at the front will only be good for F1, especially if Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and perhaps even 2021 star Lando Norris can also be up there.