It is not often a young driver enters the frenetic world of Formula One and sparks into life so early in their career, but the gifted Charles Leclerc has always done things a little differently.
In collaboration with Hublot, the Official Timekeeper and Watch partner of Ferrari, we explore the nascent career of a young man who was born to race.
The 21-year-old Ferrari star grew up in a home steeped in motorsport. It was Leclerc’s father Herve – an F3 driver in the 1980s – who first brought his son to a kart track owned by Bianchi’s dad Philippe at aged three.
Around the sweeping circuit in Nice, Leclerc honed his skills on a daily basis, making mistakes, gaining confidence and falling in love with a sport in which he would establish himself as a real star in the years to come.
From as early as the age of five, it was clear that Leclerc was a determined and gifted young man with immense talent.
Growing up in the tax haven of Monaco, most people would have had the initial impression of a youngster who enjoyed a privileged upbringing, but for Charles it was quite the opposite.
His parents lived in the Principality long before he was born in 1997 and, in his own words, they had little money and relied on sponsors to help him with the travel costs needed to fund his burgeoning karting career.
Under the inspirational guidance of Herve, Leclerc began karting competitively at aged eight and went on to win the French PACA Championship, KF3 class, Formula 3 and GP3 titles, with each success better than the last.
It was his domination of the Formula 2 Championship in 2017 that really made people step back and take notice of his sparkling talent. He may have been quiet and respectful off the track but he was an assassin on it, chalking up seven wins during his rookie title-winning season.
But it wasn’t all rosy for the rising star. Days before round four of his F2 championship-winning campaign, his father passed away after a long illness.
In between all the other impressive things Leclerc had achieved at such a young age, he demonstrated maturity beyond his years in dealing with the loss of his dad and went on to produce an extraordinary victory at the Azerbaijan race despite the grief.
He signed with Sauber, a team affiliated with Ferrari, shortly after his F2 glory. This would be his springboard to the big league.
His stand-out result was a scintillating sixth in Baku which made people take notice of his sheer class and he backed it up in round five with 10th place in Barcelona.
Both times he was mixing it with double world champion Fernando Alonso, beating him in Azerbaijan and losing out for ninth place in Spain. An achievement in itself taking on and challenging a veteran of over 300 grand prix races.
Five races into his first season, whispers began to circulate around the paddock about Ferrari replacing Kimi Raikkonen with Leclerc at the end of the 2018 campaign.
It was confirmed two months later in September and, nevertheless, a dream was achieved.
It was a statement of intent from the Italian marque to promote Leclerc so early, but with it would come the pressure and expectation to deliver every week instead of sporadic strong finishes.
A strong pre-season for Ferrari dominated the column inches leading into the 2019 campaign. The car looked sharp, well-balanced and quick around the corners during the two weeks of testing in Barcelona.
And without a constructor’s championship since 2008, the pressure was on both Leclerc and his illustrious new colleague Sebastian Vettel to topple Mercedes’ dominance in the new season.
While the pace didn’t present itself immediately in the Melbourne season-opener, Leclerc snatched a remarkable pole position in Bahrain two weeks later and led for most of the race before a mechanical issue late on denied him victory.
Had the Monaco man won, there could have been a different feeling around Maranello as Mercedes stormed to a second successive one-two.
Still, a first F1 podium on his third competitive drive for Ferrari was an extremely positive result.
The Silver Arrows would go on to win 10 of the first 12 races of the season, but after the summer break, Ferrari began to show their supreme class.
With the Hublot Big Bang Scuderia Ferrari 90th Anniversary tracking his time, Leclerc sealed pole in Belgium and went on to convert his formidable grid position to a stunning maiden F1 triumph.
However, the joy of victory was no doubt balanced by the despair of losing his friend Anthoine Hubert just the day before, following a horror 170mph crash during a Formula 2 race on the same track.
He somehow maintained his poise both before and after the race with composure behind the wheel and admirable words in triumph.
The Monaco native comfortably brought his Ferrari home ahead of a chasing Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes. And as he said on the Ferrari team radio after the race, his first win was the culmination of a lifelong dream, but impossible to enjoy given the circumstances.
The next week, he followed up his inspiring victory in Spa with Ferrari’s first win at their home race in Monza for nine years.
The last time Ferrari secured victory in Italy, Leclerc was taking part in the Junior Monaco Kart Cup as a 12-year-old in Monte Carlo.
He showed his maturity when soaking up pressure from Hamilton for large parts of the race and was smart on the positioning of his car when trying to defend.
Though Hamilton may have won the title again this season, he will realise that his neighbour from the Principality is perhaps his biggest threat to a seventh world title in 2020.
Indeed, despite Hamilton’s recent stranglehold on the sport, 2019 should go down as the year that Leclerc planted his flag.
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