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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Real challenge ahead for Charles Leclerc at Ferrari as he faces Sebastian Vettel duel

The 20 year old has been promoted to F1's biggest team but must now prove he deserves to be there

Charles Leclerc will be a Ferrari driver in 2019. AP Photo
Charles Leclerc will be a Ferrari driver in 2019. AP Photo

In many ways the hard stuff begins now for Charles Leclerc.

The Monegasque driver made his Formula One debut in March for Sauber and now 12 months later in March 2019 he will be lining up on the grid for Ferrari.

It is a rapid rise to the top for someone who turns 21 in October and life is about to become very different for him.

He has been one of the stars of this F1 season, taking his Sauber car to five points finishes in his first 14 races in the sport.

A great effort from a rookie, who has comprehensively outshone his more experienced teammate Marcus Ericsson.

Leclerc had arrived in F1 with a great deal of hype. He had dominated the Formula 2 Championship in 2017, just a year after he had the GP3 series.

Sixth place in Azerbaijan and then qualifying eighth in France underlined his talent as he outperformed a number of rivals in superior machinery.

But, the advantage of being in a car that is usually in the midfield is that expectation is low.

If Leclerc qualifies badly or makes a mistake in the race then it does not make headlines as there was little attention on him in the first place.

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Ferrari should replace Raikkonen for 2019 to help Vettel's title chances

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That will all change from next March and that is when we will get a better idea of just how good Leclerc is.

Ferrari have established themselves as a title challenging force again over the past two years, and their car this year has taken six pole positions and five wins.

That arguably could be more if not for mistakes from the team and from Sebastian Vettel, the driver Leclerc will partner.

Vettel is a four-time world champion, and despite being 30 points behind in the drivers' championship with seven races to go is still in with a real chance of winning the title this year.

Vettel is a considerable step up from Ericcson and how Leclerc measures up to the German will define him.

Ferrari have brought Leclerc in to challenge Vettel. Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, had occasional days when he was on the pace, but ultimately he has been no match for the man he shares a garage with.

What Ferrari need is a team with two drivers capable of winning races. Leclerc has been brought in to do what Raikkonen could not. Push Vettel, win races when he can, and beat the Mercedes cars and take points from them.

Winning the title in his second season in F1 would be a huge achievement, but if Ferrari repeat their car performance of this year in 2019 then Leclerc will have to be considered a contender if he is in the best overall package in the field.

But every performance in each session will be scrutinised. Every error will be analysed. Ferrari is the most successful team in F1 history and have a huge global fanbase.

Ferrari have not won a title in 10 years and for a team of their size that is an embarrassment.

Leclerc has not been brought in to play second fiddle to Vettel. They had someone in that foil already.

He is there to try and beat Vettel. Ferrari's mindset is they cannot lose. If Leclerc outshines him that is a win for them. If Vettel raises his game to see off his younger rival, that is also a victory.

Two drivers capable of beating Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes-GP doubles their chance of scoring a race victory each time out.

That is Ferrari's mindset and why they ignored the easy option of retaining the popular Raikkonen and taking a chance on a young charger.

It freshens up the front of the grid, with Pierre Gasly moving up from Toro Rosso to Red Bull too, and adds a fresh narrative to F1.

But for Leclerc, the real hard graft starts now.

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