Charles Leclerc and Ferrari make for a fascinating combination in F1.
On the occasions one of the emotionally charged drivers and emotionally charged teams get it right, it feels like they could make magic together. Yet when they get it wrong, there are times when it seems Ferrari and Leclerc really could tear each other apart.
With Leclerc signing a new contract on Thursday, the rollercoaster ride has more twists and turns to come in the years ahead. To mark his new deal, here’s our ranking of all five of his Ferrari wins so far…
5. 2022 Austrian Grand Prix
Here was the first little hint of Red Bull’s set-up weakness on sprint weekends, which would only truly come to light – opening the door for Mercedes’ only victory so far in F1’s ground effect era – in Brazil much later in the 2022 season.
After dominating the sprint race from pole position, Max Verstappen was widely expected to rinse and repeat on race day – yet found himself suffering from an excessive level of degradation, forcing him to pit for new tyres after just 13 laps as Leclerc extended his first stint until Lap 26.
Verstappen’s tyre woes left him largely defenceless as Leclerc overtook him on three separate occasions times within the first 53 laps of the race.
Having seen team-mate Carlos Sainz retire with a dramatic fire earlier in the race, Leclerc became unnerved in the closing stages as his throttle pedal stayed 20-30 per cent open in the corners, which allowed Verstappen to close the gap.
Leclerc held on to win by 1.5 seconds, but Verstappen’s heavily compromised race means his most recent win is his least impressive.
4. 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix
Three words to make the heart of any F1 enthusiast leap to the sky? Ferrari are back.
It felt that way as F1 entered its brave new world at Bahrain 2022, the first race of the new ground effect era with cars designed specifically to make the racing more exciting.
After pipping Verstappen to pole, Leclerc played his part in that by racing Max wheel to wheel, providing instant confirmation that the most thoroughly researched rule changes in F1 history had worked a treat.
When Verstappen and Sergio Perez dropped out almost simultaneously in the closing laps, promoting Sainz to second, it was as though the racing gods had conspired to make this a perfect day for Ferrari.
Ferrari were back and Leclerc, the World Championship leader for the first time, was face of the revival.
Yet as more details have emerged – Christian Horner admitted late last year that Red Bull were as much as 20 kilograms overweight in 2022 – so this win has become a little less impressive over time.
With Red Bull fighting their own battles – and “a bit on the chunky side” as Horner put it – in the opening weeks of that season, Leclerc and Ferrari were flattered slightly by Bahrain 2022.
3. 2019 Italian Grand Prix
Only third? For the first – the only – Ferrari victory at Monza since 2010?
Leclerc’s stunning first season with Ferrari reached its summit with victory at the team’s home race, marking a significant political milestone in the power shift from Sebastian Vettel, who finished a lapped 13th after one of his party-trick spins at the Ascari chicane.
This day also proved that the Second Coming of Gilles Villeneuve had a streetfighter side too, Leclerc receiving a warning at one stage for crowding Lewis Hamilton – the reigning World Champion, if you please – off the track at the second chicane.
So why only third for a Ferrari win at Monza?
With a rocket-ship engine, later the subject of an infamous FIA investigation, straight-line speed was Ferrari’s greatest weapon in 2019. And if the striking matte-red SF90 was built to win anywhere, it was built to win at Monza.
By putting his foot down, both literally and in his battle with Hamilton, Leclerc simply did the rest.
2. 2019 Belgian Grand Prix
For Monza, read Spa. Only with more twisty bits. And therefore a more even contest.
The Ferrari would doubtlessly fly in sectors 1 and 3, but how would it – and, more pertinently, its tyres – stand up against Mercedes’ all-rounder in the sweeps of the second sector over the course of a race distance?
That was where the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix would be won and lost.
It was nervy – so much more so than in qualifying where he outqualified Vettel by more than seven tenths – but against the advances of Hamilton, a 21-year-old Leclerc stood firm to take his maiden win.
It is impossible to mention Spa 2019 without referencing the events of the previous day, when Anthoine Hubert was killed in an F2 accident.
At such moments of tragedy as this, racing drivers who choose to race on cannot fail to be cast in a heroic light.
As he took to the top step of the podium for the first time at Spa, 24 hours after the incident, Leclerc stood as the most heroic of all.
1. 2022 Australian Grand Prix
Two races later, the caveats of Bahrain 2022 still applied as F1 returned to Melbourne.
But even a lean, mean, fit and firing Red Bull – even in the hands of the mighty Max Verstappen – would have struggled to live with Leclerc that weekend.
Pole position by almost three tenths. Fastest lap on the very last tour.
And victory – sweet, sweet victory – by a 20-second margin rarely seen in the tyre/fuel-management, win-at-the-slowest-possible speed era.
The cherry on the top after Leclerc had successfully navigated a few Safety Car periods in what proved to be the only threat to his lead all day? The sight of Verstappen, as in Bahrain, dropping out of the race with more reliability issues.
Strange to think now, but two wins and two Verstappen DNFs from the first three races of 2022 gave Leclerc a 46-point lead over Verstappen (can’t lose it from there, surely…).
Why pick this one ahead of the emotion of Spa and Monza 2019, you ask?
Simple: it’s the closest Charles and Ferrari have ever come to looking as formidable as Max and Red Bull…