“He’s just incredible,” Rosin said. “In testing we knew his potential, we knew what he was capable of doing, but here and there were some small mistakes. The first moment when the time counted, he didn’t do any mistakes, through all the season he’s always trying to push more, dealing with engineers, trying to always improve, because he knows he cannot sit down based on his own results. And he’s always improving.”
The team principal Frédéric Vasseur of Alfa Romeo Racing, which is the rebranded Sauber team, oversaw Leclerc’s debut season in Formula One in 2018. They had previously worked together in GP3, when Leclerc won the drivers’ title with ART Grand Prix, a team founded by Vasseur and Todt.
“When Charles joined us we were at the back of the grid, so Charles’s approach was a completely different one,” Vasseur said. “It was much easier to start with Sauber, I think. He struggled a little bit on the first appearance, with so little testing. But step by step, the pace was quite fast, and he improved a lot in his management skills; not only tire management and fuel management, but in managing how he monitored all the information on the steering wheel and so on, because this is a huge step compared to the other series.”
Leclerc’s relationship with Vasseur goes back to GP3 days, but his relationship with Todt goes back to Leclerc’s adolescence.
“I met Charles through Jules, who I was managing at the time,” Todt said. “Jules’s best friend was Charles’s older brother, and Jules told me that Charles was doing a good job in karting — at the time he was 12 or 13 — and he was doing well, but the family had no more resources to carry on in karting. Out of friendship, I met Charles and his dad.
“He was already doing well in karting, and I didn’t want him to stop at such a young age. I said: ‘I will give you a chance. I will fund your season in karting next year, and if you do extremely well I will keep on helping you.’ And that’s how the story started.”
At Ferrari, Leclerc is expected to help the team fight for the constructors’ championship. Ferrari has a global fan base, but the team is subject to media scrutiny in its home country, Italy, where the fortunes of the team can affect the national mood.
Despite the pressure, once he is alone in the car Leclerc finds his own version of peace.
“The moment I prefer is the moment I put on the helmet, that everyone is leaving the pit lane, that I’m alone with the car and there it feels good,” he said. “You don’t have any feelings anymore; it’s just racing and this I enjoy.”