Le­clerc gets Fer­rari race seat

Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - SCOTT MITCHELL

Charles Le­clerc has sealed his grad­u­a­tion to Fer­rari for 2019 in a straight seat swap with Kimi Raikko­nen, who will re­turn to the Sauber team that gave him his For­mula 1 de­but 17 years ago.

The 20-year-old Le­clerc is a Fer­rari Driver Academy grad­u­ate and will not only be­come the first prod­uct of the pro­gramme to race for the team in F1, but the sec­ond-youngest driver in his­tory to race for Fer­rari af­ter Ri­cardo Ro­driguez.

He won back-to-back ti­tles in GP3 and For­mula 2 to earn his F1 grad­u­a­tion with Sauber this sea­son, and a stun­ning start to his grand prix rac­ing ca­reer con­vinced Fer­rari’s top brass that he was ready for an im­me­di­ate pro­mo­tion.

Le­clerc has scored a best re­sult of sixth, in Azer­bai­jan, and bagged 13 points to lie 15th in the cham­pi­onship, out­per­form­ing his much more ex­pe­ri­enced team-mate Mar­cus Eric­s­son.

His re­sults, and a dip in form for Raikko­nen, con­vinced the late Ser­gio Mar­chionne, Fer­rari’s former chair­man, to green-light Le­clerc re­plac­ing the Finn for next sea­son, which has fi­nally been rat­i­fied by Mar­chionne’s suc­ces­sors.

In an emo­tional trio of tweets, Le­clerc thanked those around him and paid trib­ute to his late fa­ther Herve and former Fer­rari pro­tege Jules Bianchi, who was a close Le­clerc fam­ily friend be­fore suc­cumb­ing to the in­juries he sus­tained in the 2014 Ja­panese Grand Prix.

Le­clerc wrote: “To a per­son that is not part of this world any­more but to whom I owe ev­ery­thing of what is hap­pen­ing to me, Papa. To Jules, thank you for all the things you learnt me [sic], we will never for­get you. And to all the per­sons that sup­ported me and be­lieved in me.

I will work harder than ever to not dis­ap­point you.”

Raikko­nen, the 2007 world cham­pion, has not won a race since ’13 and has not tasted vic­tory in his sec­ond spell with Fer­rari. He has en­joyed stronger form this sea­son and lies third in the cham­pi­onship, and Fer­rari paid trib­ute to Raikko­nen in an un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally per­sonal press re­lease.

“Dur­ing these years, Kimi’s con­tri­bu­tion to the team, both as a driver and on ac­count of his hu­man qual­i­ties, has been fun­da­men­tal,” said team boss Mau­r­izio Ar­riv­abene. “He played a de­ci­sive role in the team’s growth and was, at the same time, al­ways a great team player.

As a world cham­pion for Scuderia

Fer­rari, he will al­ways be part of the team’s his­tory and fam­ily.”

Raikko­nen made his de­but with Sauber in 2001 fresh from win­ning the ’00 For­mula Re­nault UK ti­tle. He scored a point on his de­but and eight more over the sea­son to fin­ish ninth in the cham­pi­onship and earn an im­me­di­ate move to Mclaren.

Raikko­nen’s re­turn is a ma­jor coup for Sauber. The team has been on a ma­jor re­build­ing project over the past year since Fred Vasseur took charge amid an own­er­ship change. Raikko­nen took to Instagram fol­low­ing the news, writ­ing: “Guess who’s back?! Next two years with Sauber F1 team ahead! Feels ex­tremely good to go back where it all be­gan!”

That Raikko­nen has taken one of the 2019 Sauber seats means that the team’s other cur­rent driver Mar­cus Eric­s­son is un­der pres­sure to earn a stay with the team for next sea­son. Fer­rari pro­tege An­to­nio Giov­inazzi was con­sid­ered a favourite for a Sauber drive, as Fer­rari has an op­tion on one of the seats there. It may have used that to al­low Raikko­nen’s move, or Giov­inazzi could make his full-time move into F1 by re­plac­ing Eric­s­son.

Le­clerc is al­ready a favourite among fans. Now he’s at Fer­rari…

…while Raikko­nen is head­ing back to his 2001 home

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