Formula 1: Charles Leclerc is Ferrari’s clear top driver

With his second career and consecutive Formula 1 victory in the Italian Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc illustrated with full clarity that he is the top driver at Ferrari. One year ago today when Charles Leclerc was announced as Kimi Raikkonen’s replacement at Scuderia Ferrari beginning with the 2019 Formula 1 season, there was skepticism as to whether or not this was the right move for the Italian team.

AUTODROMO NAZIONALE MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 07: Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF90 during the Italian GP at Autodromo Nazionale Monza on September 07, 2019 in Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Italy. (Photo by Andy Hone / LAT Images)

With Raikkonen as his teammate from the 2015 season through the 2018 season, Sebastian Vettel had always been the team’s number one driver, and it was generally a pretty smooth operation at Ferrari.

Would the addition of the 21-year-old Monegasque create friction within the team given the idea that Vettel’s role as their top driver could be challenged?

Would he be able to handle the pressure of driving for Formula 1‘s most historic team after just one season of Formula 1 competition?

1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve even stated that putting a “young cub” alongside Vettel would cause the 32-year-old German to “destroy” him and try to “eat him alive”. He added that the situation “will end in tears”.

But Leclerc has rendered both concerns useless if not completely silly.

The first-year Ferrari driver has established himself as the team’s clear top driver, and there is little to no doubt about it.

Ferrari didn’t hire him to play second fiddle to Vettel, and that was clear in the season’s second race. Had this been the case, they’d have stuck with Raikkonen. They hired a guy who could step right up and win races right away for the Prancing Horse.

Leclerc proved that he was the man for the job, dominating the Bahrain Grand Prix. Unfortunately for him, an engine issue turned a 10-second victory into a third place finish, and the whole first half of the 2019 season turned into damage control for him and Ferrari.

Leclerc, still winless through 33 career races and 12 at Ferrari, took the pole position for the former alongside Vettel on the front row in second place. Vettel’s win drought, meanwhile, had exceeded a full year by this point, with his most recent victory coming late last August in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Leclerc went on to secure the first victory of his career after staving off a late charge from Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport’s Lewis Hamilton.

Perhaps most notable about how Leclerc won this race was the fact that Ferrari had Vettel on a different tire strategy and ended up utilizing him in an attempt to hold Hamilton up. In fact, Ferrari ordered him to let Leclerc pass him at one point, and he had to settle for fourth place.

Six days later, Leclerc took the pole position for the Italian Grand Prix, marking the seventh consecutive race for which he outqualified Vettel, and the next day, he ended Ferrari’s longest ever win drought in their home race at Autodromo Nazionale Monza.

Leclerc did it in his first try, and he did it in extra impressive fashion, fending off Mercedes teammates Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas on opposite strategies since Vettel had spun out early and caused a collision upon his unsafe reentry onto the track, marking yet another unforced error on an ever-growing list from recent seasons.

He ended up finishing one lap off the lead lap in 13th place, and he was never a factor in terms of helping Leclerc or fighting for a good result himself.

In a span of just one week, Leclerc secured twice as many victories as Raikkonen did during his five-year stint at Ferrari prior to his departure. During this same two-race span, meanwhile, Vettel’s average finish was 8.50 and included just one top 12 finish with no podium results.

No tension.

Just dominance.

Two things we that were told by the skeptics would not be the case with Leclerc at Ferrari.

Two things that could not have possibly been proven more false.

There is little if any doubt about it; Charles Leclerc is the top driver at Ferrari, and at this rate, it’s beginning to look like it’s not even close. His talent shows it, and Ferrari’s tactics are justifiably starting to as well. Unfortunately for Sebastian Vettel, the way he has been driving also shows it.

AUTODROMO NAZIONALE MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 07: Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF90 during the Italian GP at Autodromo Nazionale Monza on September 07, 2019 in Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Italy. (Photo by Andy Hone / LAT Images)