How Charles fulfilled his childhood goal of racing at Ferrari.
Russell – Leclerc – Albon: the racing dream team. From their early beginnings on the kart track to racing in the masterclass Formula 1, to entertaining fans in esports racing, the trio’s carrers seem to be inseparable. We want to put the three rookie drivers in the limelight and take a closer look at their careers, esports racing experience and what makes them so special. In the second part of our series we portray Ferrari’s prodigy Charles Leclerc.
2019 Monaco Grand Prix: A young man is being interviewed shortly before the race starts. He is dressed in the traditional red colors of Ferrari. A fitting cap, crested with the iconic prancing horse logo, hides his dark brown hair. The interviewee is tall and athletic, and not unattractive: He is an ambassador for the luxury brand Giorgio Armani. But in this interview, his face seems sorrowful. He is holding his racing helmet and shows the special design.
The young man is Charles Leclerc, Ferrari’s miracle driver. And the helmet is split in half: one side honors his deceased father, the other side is dedicated to his friend who passed away after a horrible crash in 2014.
Charles Leclerc is now 22 years old and a well-known face to Formula 1 fans across the world. Most recently, he explored the realms of esports racing and conquered Twitch with his friends George Russell and Alexander Albon to entertain motorsports maniacs throughout the pandemic. But behind the facade of a joyful streamer and racing sensation from Monaco is a person that had to endure countless strokes of fate throughout his life.
Karting with his best friend: the early days
The passion for motorsports started when Charles began karting at the age of seven. His father Hervé was a well-respected Formula 3 driver, so he was keen on supporting his son to follow in his tire marks. The young boy from Monaco then became friends with Jules Bianchi, a talented driver from Nice who was eight years older than Charles.
Jules’ father managed a kart track in Brignoles which Charles used to frequent. The young Monégasque looked up to the popular and talented driver. The two rookies were so close, Jules later was revealed to be Charles’ godfather. Their bond is perfectly described in a statement from Charles, as reported by Essentially Sports:
Our fathers always joked that we had a very similar career. Strangely, when he and I were racing, every time there was a weekend, if he had a very bad race that weekend, the same weekend, I would have a very bad race, too.
Not only was the due extremely close, but also skillful. Nicolas Todt took both under his wings, a motorsports team owner and investor. Especially for Charles who was 14 at the time, the new sponsor saved the day. As Nicolas revealed in an interview with Motorsport-Magazin.de, the future Ferrari star was close to giving up on karting as his family had troubles supporting their son financially. With the backup of talent scout Nicolas, the promotion to higher classes straight towards the final destination Formula 1 began. Charles and Jules had a clear vision of their career.
From a juvenile dream to a horrible calamity
The two drivers always shared the dream that one day, they will sit behind the wheel of a Ferrari and compete for the same team as their hero Michael Schumacher. Jules took the first step towards their goal when joining the Ferrari Driver Academy in 2009 – and took little Charles to Ferrari’s headquarters, as he remembered in a Q&A.
I was probably 11 or 12 and it was with Jules Bianchi, I actually arrived in the city but I couldn’t enter Ferrari yet as I didn’t have the pass to go in. I remember watching at the Ferrari facilities from the outside and being very impressed and dreaming of being in there one day. Now, it is a bit easier for me to go into the factory.
But their dream was shattered abruptly. In 2014, the motorsports scene was reminded of how dangerous and deadly racing can be. At 25, Jules had a horrible crash in a Formula 1 race at Suzuka which he wouldn’t recover from. After nine months in a coma, he passed away. The world lost an amazing racing star and with that, Charles Leclerc lost his friend and godfather. Jules had been the first Formula 1 driver to die after an accident in a Formula 1 race since Ayrton Senna’s death in 1994.
Despite the tragic death of Jules, Charles was not afraid to pursuit their dream of becoming a Ferrari driver further, as he revealed in an interview with The Sportsman:
Fear? No, that doesn’t exist. Even after Jules’ accident in Suzuka, I never had the slightest doubt about my future. I know that danger is part of racing, but when I’m in the cockpit, all I feel is the adrenalin rush and I have never driven even a single metre, afraid that something could happen.
Growing from tragedies
On the contrary, Charles was eager to push through and make it to the top, in order to honor Jules. While climbing the ladder towards Formula 1 and Ferrari, another tragic event occurred. In 2017, his father passed away after a long fight against an illness. Charles had his own way of processing his death. One day later, he went to compete in the Formula 2 Azerbaijan Grand Prix and winning with flying colors. From taking pole position to taking the race, Charles had an amazing performance and dedicated his victory to his father Hervé. These tragedies changed his life, as reported by GPFans.
The loss of my father and Jules. Two incredibly hard moments in my life that made me stronger as a person and a driver. Mentally I am stronger than I used to be. They definitely stay with you forever. Unfortunately I lost my father quite early, it changes you. It changes you forever.
The Monégasque kept on going, eventually reaching his goal. After his first Formula 1 season in 2018 with Sauber, Scuderia Ferrari signed Charles for 2019 where he took over the seat of motorsports legend Kimi Räikkönen – and Charles straight up scored a contract for four seasons. His accomplishment will however always be overshadowed by the fact that his friend and mentor will not sit in the second driver’s seat, as he told Motorsportmagazine:
He (Jules) definitely deserved the Ferrari seat more than I did, but unfortunately, other things were decided for him. I’m pretty sure he would have shown probably more than what I do. He was extremely talented.
In honor of Anthoine
Charles improved quickly and delivered solid performances. Pole positions, track records, podium wins: The rookie’s career accelerated. Then, Charles had to endure another horrible setback. In August 2019, his friend Anthoine Hubert died in a tragic accident at the Spa-Francorchamps FIA Formula 2. Charles was not given much time to grieve as he had to enter the cockpit again the next day and compete on the very same circuit in a Formula 1 race.
Despite losing another friend, Charles was more focused than ever before and made it to first place with an outstanding performance. Under these mournful circumstances, he could of course not celebrate his victory but decided to dedicate his very first Formula 1 win to Anthoine:
We have lost a friend first of all, and it’s very difficult in these situations so I would like to dedicate this win to him. We have grown up together and my first ever race I did when I was seven with Anthoine.
Charles continued his impressive racing throughout the season and finished 2019 with an impressive fourth place in the final World Driver’s Championship Standings. He even placed above his Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel. In the end, he could look back at a record of ten podium finishes, two victories, four fastest laps and the most pole positions of any driver that season.
The chaotic trio that entertains us on Twitch
When Charles is competing in Formula 1, he is not racing against strangers only. He has experience driving against Williams’ George Russell and Red Bull’s Alex Albon. The three might be rivals on the tracks, but have been close friends for several years and used to vie with each other in karting.
Since their early beginnings in karting the three youngsters made it from rookies to some of the most skilled drivers in this world together.
However, racing in the highest class took its toll and the group of friends had less time to spend together. George talked about the issue in a podcast on ESPN where he explained:
We have always been mates, but when you find yourselves as competitors at the track, you’re fully focused on your job, and we are also so busy at race weekends that you don’t really get to see each other.
Showing his true personality with esports racing
2020 hasn’t offered Charles many chances to display his talent on the real tracks yet. But the first race after the season had been suspended for months due to the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a second place at the Austrian GP. Before that however, the first official online season of F1 provided another opportunity to him.
Esports racing is more than just a pastime to Charles. The trio of him, George Russell and Alexander Albon entertained the racing world with their shenanigans on Twitch by competing in top esports tournaments such as the Virtual Grand Prix – or simply while crashing into each other on lawn mowers or causing carnage in truck simulators.
The partly serious, partly chaotic racing brought the three friends closer together again, as Leclerc explained in an interview with Essentially Sports:
We probably lost a little bit of contact in terms of speaking to each other over the years with the different categories we were doing. And now in a situation like that it’s great to find each other again and to have fun all together racing and doing what we like, so it’s great.
But not only did Leclerc get closer to his friends again, streaming also turned out as a great opportunity to interact with fans. As he revealed in a press conference, Twitch is the best way to discover his true personality. During the Formula 1 weekends, the atmosphere between racers was different due to the high pressure, he explained. But in front of the camera, he is more relaxed and aims to entertain his fans in the difficult past months since not everyone has a sim rig at home.
When talking about his run at the Virtual GP, he recounts that he played about five hours each day during the lockdown-days.While it was not the same thing as racing on real tracks, the drivers still wanted to compete and he was eager to win. On top of that, esports racing helped him to practice his reflexes.
As he explained to GPfans, esports racing did not directly benefit driving skills. However, he thinks that it could help to build mental strength:
Mentally, it is difficult to finish a lap without making any mistakes in the sim, and on the mental side, that is very similar to reality. I’m sure that it helps us to stay trained.
Looking at Charles’ course of life, he seems to have greater mental strength than most people can imagine. Being able to cope with tragic setbacks and surpassing himself, turning the deaths of his close ones into driving force to make them proud and achieve his dreams in their memory: Charles Leclerc is not only an exceptionally skilled driver, but also a strong personality with the necessary drive to become the next world champion in Formula 1.
Check out our latest portrait about rookie sensation George Russell. The next and last personality of our special Formula 1 trio-series will be Alex Albon.