Mattia Binotto has confirmed Charles Leclerc is the driver Ferrari see as spearheading their next world title assault.
After a season in which they have moved back towards the front following a dreadful 2020 campaign, the Scuderia’s next step will be to re-establish themselves as winners.
From there, the logical progression, if not in 2022 then 2023, would be to challenge for the World Championship – and having the right drivers in place to do that is hugely important.
This year, Carlos Sainz moved to Maranello to join Leclerc and it is perhaps a touch surprising that the Spaniard has been so close to his team-mate during the second half of the season, trailing him by only 6.5 points in the standings.
There were even signals in a couple of recent races that Sainz may be starting to gain the upper hand on Leclerc – with Marc Gene, who is on the inside at Ferrari, recently saying: “There will not be a number one and a number two driver even when we will fight for the Championship.”
However, Binotto, the team principal, has insisted it is two-time F1 race winner Leclerc on whom the Italian giants are pinning their hopes to become their first Drivers’ champion since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.
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“We have invested in him for the long term because we are fully convinced he will be the man to become the next World Champion,” Binotto told GP Racing magazine.
“First of all, we have known him from the beginning of his career. We are talking about a very talented driver and this is the priority.
“He is very fast and not only on the single lap. When he is in the race, his ability to defend and attack without losing pace is something exceptional.
“I always have in mind Monza 2019 and his defence against [Lewis] Hamilton, or against Max [Verstappen] at Silverstone.
“Charles is very good at managing pressure, he is capable of winning thanks to his winning mentality required when you are in the lead, managing the situation. He has a fantastic talent.”
Binotto sees certain characteristics of previous Ferrari greats within Leclerc.
“The way he handles the tyres now is incredibly different than when he started,” added the team principal. “He has significantly developed his sensitivity in the car and on the tyres.
“This distinguishes the talented from the good drivers. If you are talented, you are capable of getting everything out of the car, putting together a fantastic lap. That was the case with Michael [Schumacher] and Fernando [Alonso].”
Binotto also touched upon Leclerc’s appeal with the tifosi, saying: “If we think of the fans, Charles certainly reflects the spirit of Gilles Villeneuve.
“This will be even more true when he starts winning championships.”
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