Why it’s too soon to promote Charles Leclerc to Ferrari

Charles Leclerc is one of Formula 1’s biggest rising stars, he is arguably Ferrari’s best hope to bring them success in the near future. Word on the street is that Leclerc is tipped to replace current Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen for 2019, a promotion that is too big too soon. Although Leclerc is taking the world of F1 by storm, such a promotion is too much too soon for the 20-year-old.

 

Driving for Ferrari is a big step up compared to driving for Sauber. The Scuderia is so rich with history and with that history inevitably comes pressure to live up to the expectations that Ferrari have built for themselves since 1950.

 

Historically, Ferrari isn’t partial to hiring youngsters as drivers, and it is no environment for younger drivers either. Should the team sign Leclerc for 2019, he would be the second youngest driver ever at Ferrari. In addition to this, in the past few years, Ferrari hasn’t been fond of signing young drivers.

 

Felipe Massa, as an example, was one of the youngest drivers Ferrari has ever signed, and even then he’d completed multiple seasons at Sauber and undertaken tests with the team. Also, Massa was hardly regarded as young during his time at Ferrari, which says a lot about the typical age at which the Scuderia hire their drivers.

 

Throughout their history, Ferrari has been seen as the pinnacle of F1, a place for the best of the best. To be the best of the best, you need experience as well as talent and skill. Although Leclerc is talented and skilled, he is not experienced enough to tackle the Prancing Horse.

 

With such strong racing from Leclerc, backed by a powerful Ferrari package in his Sauber, it is easy to forget that he remains in the embryonic stages of his F1 career. His best result so far this season is an impressive sixth place in Azerbaijan, and Sauber are miles away from the back end of the grid as they were last year. He is still learning and adjusting to the circus that is F1, albeit quickly.

 

There is no doubt that Leclerc will have a strong future. Finishing in the points five times so far this season compared to team-mate Marcus Ericsson’s three, there is little wonder why his F1 future is looking so good. It makes it difficult to remember that this is only his first season in the series.

 

Sauber has been the perfect team for him this season; strong enough to provide Leclerc with battles and chances to prove himself, but not strong enough for the pressure that battling for the championship comes with, like at Ferrari.

 

Such pressure placed on the young and fairly inexperienced shoulders of Leclerc could be too much at this stage in his career, which is why it would be better for him to spend a season or two at Haas, for example, before being ready to tackle the Scuderia in full.

 

Haas is currently fifth in the championship, hoping to steal fourth place from Renault, which makes it the perfect step up for Leclerc, and would ensure that he could survive the step up to Ferrari and assure the bosses that he is the right choice.

 

He would fight for better results and potentially podiums, without the pressure which being a championship contender or being in a championship contending car demands.

 

In fact, Haas would be the natural progression for Leclerc. He has described them as a very quick team, and as one of Ferrari’s customers, this is likely to progress next year. He has also referenced them as a particularly strong team, and one that comes without all the pressures that Ferrari does, making them the ideal team for Leclerc at this stage in his career.

 

At a team such as Ferrari mistakes are not taken particularly lightly. When a driver is learning, such as Leclerc, mistakes do happen. It’s part of the natural learning process.

 

The mistakes that Leclerc could make as he learns the team and the car could be too costly for Ferrari, especially in such an early stage in his career, where learning is an important factor of his driving.

 

Sauber is fighting for points, whereas Ferrari is fighting for championships, and mistakes can cost a championship.

 

The step up from Formula 2 to F1 is big enough, as Leclerc points out: “From F2 to F1 there is such a big step,” he told Autosport/motorsport.com. “I was the first one expect less of a step when I came to F1 but it was bigger than I expected.”

 

Equally, the step up from Sauber to Ferrari is a big one, albeit not as big as the step from F2 to F1. Another year before being promoted to Ferrari wouldn’t hurt Leclerc and would provide Ferrari with a final reassurance that he can lead them to championship glory in years to come.

 

It will show that he can come with a promotion to a bigger team without the pressure that driving for Ferrari brings.

 

There are similarities between Leclerc’s predicted career progression and Max Verstappen. Brought into F1 at the age of 17 with Toro Rosso, he graduated to Red Bull the following year, just over a year after he entered F1.

 

The situations seem remarkably similar. Although Red Bull is considered a top team, it does not reach the prestige of Ferrari.

 

Verstappen was also promoted in lieu of Daniil Kvyat, who was not performing to the team’s requirements. Under pressure he folded after a series of crashes. Raikkonen, whom Leclerc would be replacing if he was to graduate to Ferrari for 2019, is performing to the team’s requirements and there is, therefore, no need to turf him out prematurely.

 

Kvyat is a clear example of what can happen when a team promotes a young driver too soon. After only one year racing in Toro Rosso in F1, he was promoted to Red Bull, where after a few crashes and a collision with Sebastian Vettel in 2016, which led to a demotion back to Toro Rosso before being released from the Red Bull driver development program in late ’17.

 

Naturally, Leclerc’s aim is to end up at Ferrari, however, the young Monegasque is not allowing himself to get caught up in rumours.

 

“Ferrari is a dream since being a child,” he explained. “I have always dreamed of one day being a part of this team, but it is very important for me not to distract myself with what may happen next year.

 

“It is really important for me to focus on this year and try to deliver as much as possible this year and then we will see what happens next year.”

 

Currently, Vettel is Ferrari’s finest hope at another championship, since the last one in 2007 with Raikkonen.

 

For a team with such history and previous success in F1, there is a strong expectation that they will provide dominant Mercedes with a true battle, and fans with more entertainment.

 

In 2018, they have certainly delivered, providing a car that is arguably better than Mercedes, a car which suits Vettel and has set him up to have a strong chance at bringing the championship back to Maranello.

 

Since Vettel is the Scuderia’s best hope, Ferrari is understandably keen to keep him on board, and have been especially in previous years where Ferrari was not as strong.

 

Vettel has recommended that Raikkonen should be his partner at the team, and it is unlikely that the German would share the same positivity regarding Leclerc, a rising young star who could threaten him and his position at the team.

 

Vettel is the number one driver at Ferrari, and he likes it this way. When he’s so close to the championship crown once more, he won’t be ready to possibly move aside for Leclerc.

 

Admittedly, Raikkonen is Ferrari’s number two driver, but having two drivers from the same team battling for the championship title can cause friction and difficulties (see the Hamilton versus Rosberg era for an example), something that Ferrari has no desire to get muddled up in.

 

He is strong enough to bring in the points for the Prancing Horse, yet doesn’t pose a serious threat to Vettel which avoids unnecessary conflict at Ferrari. In essence, he is the perfect companion to the four-time world champion, and isn’t unhappy about his position at the team either.

 

With fewer mistakes from Vettel, the partnership could see Ferrari through to the championship crown once more, something they have been desperate to reclaim.

 

Alongside this, amidst all the excitement among media and fans alike, Raikkonen’s recent good form has been overlooked, and most are forgetting that this is his best season in F1 since 2003.

In 2017, Raikkonen was on the podium seven times, and so far in 2018 he has already beaten that number with a total of eight, despite only being partway through the season.

 

Despite being the oldest driver on the grid at the age of 38, the Finn is constantly proving why he deserves to retain his seat at Ferrari for 2019. During the three back-to-back races at France, Austria, and Great Britain, he was the only driver on the grid to score a podium at all three.

 

In fact, despite some DNF’s, Raikkonen has been almost consistently on the podium which has allowed him to sit in third place in the championship standings above Valtteri Bottas. The Finn seems to be revitalised, seems to be having a new lease of life, and driving one of his finest seasons in the championship to date.

 

It certainly doesn’t look like the performance of someone who is ready to hang up his race suit and retire, and, as he has pointed out previously, if he wasn’t happy racing or no longer had the desire to, he would just leave F1.

 

It’s also important to note that since the ‘Leclerc to Ferrari’ rumours first began to gain traction among mainstream media and fans, Raikkonen has managed to put together a series of strong results; building up a repertoire of podium finishes which shows that he has a desire, a drive to compete in 2019 at Ferrari, as well as retaining the skills.

 

Although teams desire good quality results, they also desire peace in the team. Mercedes suffered undoubtedly a bit of a nightmare during the Hamilton/Rosberg era, a feature of which was when the pair collided at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.

 

In comparison to this, Ferrari has been one of the major peacekeepers among drivers in recent years. The Vettel/Raikkonen pairing is working wonders for relations at Ferrari, which allows them the opportunity to score points.

 

At this stage, adding a young, inexperienced driver into the mix could cause upset at Ferrari, something that could be avoided if Leclerc gained more experience at a junior team before being promoted to Ferrari.

 

We’ve seen flashes of what Raikkonen once was, how he performed as a younger driver, and why Peter Sauber took a chance on him for 2001, after only 23 races in junior series. He still has the talent that carried him into F1 in the first place, and in recent races especially, we are seeing glimpses of his youth.

 

F1 constantly pumps out a mantra that the older drivers need to leave, such as Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, to make room for young talent, to get the drivers of tomorrow in the cars as soon as possible, but if these older drivers on the grid are still performing, there is no reason why they should.

 

Raikkonen has proven himself this season, and if he continues to perform in the same manner after the summer break, there is no reason why he should be pushed out of F1.

 

Age typically goes hand-in-hand with a reduction in performance quality, but that doesn’t have to always be the case and hasn’t been with Raikkonen in 2018, with a string of podium finishes.

 

Although Leclerc is young and talented, the need to rush him into Ferrari is not there. Aside from the fact he currently isn’t ready for the step up to Ferrari, Raikkonen is performing well and there is no need to replace a driver who is almost consistently on the podium and in bringing in precious points to Ferrari.

 

A year at Haas is what Leclerc and Ferrari need, for Leclerc to gain more experience in a better F1 car, and for this to act as confirmation for Ferrari that Leclerc is the right driver for them in the future.

 

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