Charles Leclerc needs to think more selfishly or risks being left behind

Thomas Maher
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc at the 2023 Le Mans 24 Hours.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc at the 2023 Le Mans 24 Hours.

Ferrari won the 2023 Le Mans 24 Hours at the first time of asking since their return to endurance racing, with Charles Leclerc watching on.

Ferrari’s previous nine wins at the Le Mans 24 Hours had faded long into the history books, with their most recent win coming in 1965 courtesy of Masten Gregory and 1970 F1 World Champion Jochen Rindt – albeit for a customer team using the 250 LM.

2023 was Ferrari’s first full-blown attack of Le Mans since 1973, entering into the new Hypercar class with their 499P to take on the might of Toyota’s dominance (with five consecutive wins from 2018 to ’22 inclusive), Peugeot, Porsche, Cadillac, Vanwall, Jota, and Glickenhaus.

Charles Leclerc and Ferrari F1 team boss Fred Vasseur made the most of a rare weekend off from the Formula 1 calendar to pop along to the Circuit de la Sarthe to soak in the atmosphere and watch how the Ferrari entry got on, joining Ferrari chairman and Exor CEO John Elkann to see how James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi, and Antonio Giovinazzi got on.

Amazingly, the trio won the race at the first time of asking, coming home almost a minute and a half clear of the lead Toyota after an hours-long battle.

An off-track excursion from Pier Guidi at the first Mulsanne chicane at the eight-hour mark had given the #8 Toyota the lead, before overtaking after a Safety Car intervention brought the Ferrari back into range.

Despite two scares in the pits due to power cycles being needed to get going again, Ferrari won out as Toyota’s challenge ended with just over an hour to go when Ryo Hirakawa went off backwards at Arnage and needed repairs.

Charles Leclerc would love to “tick the box” of Le Mans entry

Ferrari’s 499P crossed the line, with the entire AF Corse jubilant as they soaked in the enormity of their accomplishment. It was a tremendous achievement – not only had they returned to the top step of the Le Mans podium for the first time in 58 years, but they had toppled the dominant Toyotas and, even better, had done so at the first time of asking.

“It feels absolutely amazing, especially having a Ferrari winning,” Leclerc said of Ferrari’s win afterward. “It’s an incredible return after so many years, it’s a very special addition. I was here to support, and I’m really happy anyway that Ferrari won, and it was an incredible experience.”

As for whether he’d be interested in taking the wheel of a Ferrari sportscar in the future and take on the challenge of Le Mans, he said: “I mean, why not, why not? I would love to, it’s an incredible event! For sure, one day in my life, I want to tick that box – when will it be? I don’t know. Again, just extremely proud of what Ferrari has done today. It’s been crazy.”

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It’s in stark contrast to the constant turmoil that the Formula 1 team seems to endure and, while Leclerc smiled and waved to the crowds and spoke of his delight at being there to witness the Prancing Horse’s moment of glory, there’s no doubt that there must be some frustration and annoyance that Ferrari’s sportscar team have so rapidly managed to achieve what the F1 team struggles to do – particularly as it comes just days after Leclerc’s utter bewilderment at his lack of pace en route to 11th at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Some social media users, somewhat cruelly, also pointed out that “Antonio Giovinazzi is about to do more for Ferrari than Charles Leclerc ever has,” which is sure to rankle at the Monegasque as, once again, those around him seem to be able to meet with the success and vindication that they deserve, while he is forced to watch on as his contemporaries, including Max Verstappen, take the plaudits.

Charles Leclerc in danger of being left behind

Aside from a handful of races at the start of 2022 as Ferrari hit the ground-effect era in a rich vein of form, Leclerc has spent the entirety of his Formula 1 career watching someone else take all the glory, with Ferrari unwaveringly giving him a car, engine, or strategy team to ensure that he won’t meet with the success his talent suggests he should be having. Worse, Leclerc isn’t even in a position of authority at the team in 2023, as Carlos Sainz has raised his game for this season.

Interestingly, and unexpectedly, barring the current line-up of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, Leclerc is also the driver from the Alfa Romeo/Sauber signings to have had the least success. With Giovinazzi rewarding Ferrari’s faith in him by helping deliver the Le Mans win and wipe clean the slate of his poor F1 showings, he joins Leclerc’s 2018 teammate Marcus Ericsson in winning one of motorsport’s Triple Crown races.

Giovinazzi is a Le Mans winner, while Ericsson has won the Indy 500 – the Swede triumphing in the 2022 edition, and almost repeating the feat until the final corner at last month’s race. Add Kimi Raikkonen into the mix, with an F1 World Championship win, and Leclerc’s five career F1 wins – which doesn’t even include Monaco – really start to pale into insignificance.

Is it fair? Of course not. Leclerc has been vaunted as one of motorsport’s most talented racers ever since he first stepped into an F1 car, but his unwavering loyalty to Ferrari in his F1 career, and its resulting lack of success, is rapidly cutting into the eventual statistics he could boast. With his Ferrari contract coming to an end at the conclusion of 2024, it’s time for the Monegasque to think more selfishly.

Every year that passes without success, and Leclerc treading water, is a year in which talent from other teams has the chance to take the glory or impress the Ferrari leadership. Even worse, there’s also the rising stars of the programme through which Leclerc graduated – such as Spanish F2 winner Oliver Bearman, and even his own younger brother Arthur…

If he can see the F1 team making the same strides the sportscar team have made, having efficiently turned the 499P into a Le Mans winner in less than 12 months, then re-committing to the Scuderia makes sense. But, if he has doubts and putting pen to paper for Maranello once again will result in the utter confusion that he had to endure over the Spanish GP weekend, then it’s time to cut loose and start over elsewhere.