Leclerc gets Ferrari race seat
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