Scuderia Ferrari will have a new driver line-up next year after the Maranello team officially confirmed that Charles Leclerc will replace Kimi Raikkonen for the 2019 championship. Charles Leclerc joins from Sauber after just one season in Formula One, while Kimi Raikkonen moves in the opposite direction to the team with whom he started his career in 2001.
Will Leclerc be up to it?
The Monegasque is just 14 races into his grand prix career, but has already proved his worth at Sauber. After a shaky start, Leclerc outqualified his team-mate Marcus Ericsson (a driver with four seasons under his belt) in nine consecutive rounds by an eye-watering average of three-quarters-of-a-second. He has scored more points than Ericsson, too, and finished a lofty sixth at Azerbaijan in only his fourth race. Ferrari will be an almighty step up for Leclerc, but there is every chance he will put the wind up Sebastian Vettel next season.
Jules Bianchi, the French driver who died following horrific head injuries he sustained at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, was Leclerc’s godfather and mentor. Bianchi, like Leclerc, was also a graduate of the Ferrari driver academy. Earlier this season, Leclerc became the first Monaco-born driver to compete at their home race in more than two decades. He also made history by becoming the first driver to win both of F1’s feeder championships,
GP3 and Formula Two, in successive seasons. He is managed by FIA president Jean Todt’s son, Nicolas, and aged 21, four months and 27 days for next season’s curtain raiser in Melbourne, Bianchi will become the second youngest driver in Ferrari’s Formula One history.
What does it mean for the rest of the driver market?
Ferrari have now joined Mercedes (Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas) and Red Bull (Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly) in announcing their driver line-up for next year. Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris have also been named as Renault and McLaren drivers respectively for 2019. Force India are likely to confirm that Lance Stroll will partner Sergio Perez, which could leave Esteban Ocon – the highly-rated Mercedes junior driver – without a seat. Englishman George Russell, 20, leads the Formula Two championship and will be hopeful of joining Norris as the second British rookie on the grid next year. Williams looks like his best bet.