Charles Leclerc: The young Monegasque with a big future

He may have been beaten to the title by more experienced drivers, but rookie Charles Leclerc proved in 2015 that he may have the biggest future of all among an ultra-competitive European Formula 3 field.

With the likes of Esteban Ocon and Max Verstappen spearheading European F3's rookie class of 2014, the following season's newcomers were always unlikely to match that - but Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc sure gave it his best shot.

A rival of Verstappen's in karting, where both of them had raced just two years ago, Leclerc kicked off his campaign with eight podiums from the nine first races, and ended up taking four wins and even leading the championship at one stage.

A low-key second half meant he ended up just fourth, but he did seal the rookie title with a number of races to spare.

Adjusting rapidly

While Verstappen went straight to Formula 3 after his move to cars, Leclerc spent a year in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps - where he finished runner-up to the vastly more experienced McLaren junior Nyck de Vries.

That measured approach to career progression paid dividends as, while Verstappen's early-season form in 2014 was uneven, Leclerc, who moved into the Dutchman's spot at the Van Amersfoort Racing team, proved brutally consistent: a non-score on his debut after a clash with fellow rookie George Russell was followed up with eight consecutive podiums.

Just as Ocon before him, the Monegasque appears to have nailed the switch from FR2.0 to F3. "It wasn't too hard [to adapt]," Leclerc reckoned. "The car is quite different, the aerodynamics make for quite a difference even if the engine is not too different.

"You do need to adapt your driving style, but I didn't find it hard."

Leclerc also played up the role of VAR in guiding his rookie campaign. "We did some winter testing and I felt great with them, they were very professional," he noted.

"They taught me a lot straight away, as, after Max, they were kind of used to rookies, so they managed to get me used to the series straight away. They taught me a lot."

Dip in form

Leaving the Norisring as points leader, the ever-improving Leclerc seemed a strong bet for the F3 title - but, over the remaining 15 races, him and VAR just could not match the pace of Prema or Carlin. As such, he wouldn't stand on the overall podium for the rest of the year.

"We don’t really have an explanation [for the dip in form]," Leclerc opened up. "At the start of the season, we were very fast. Then, there was the summer break. When we came back, we could see that the [other] teams had made quite a big step and we seemed to have stagnated a little bit.

"We saw that during [the second visit to] Hockenheim, with the same setup as before, we just weren’t where we were at the start of the season.

"Then we suffered until the end of the season. There’s not much more of an explanation to give.

"We always were quite fast in the wet, in tricky conditions, but on a dry track, we were lacking a lot, and these flaws remained the same until the end of the season. We tried to work a lot but couldn’t work it out. With the way we started the season, it’s a real shame to finish it that way."

However, despite the loss of speed, he continued to maximise the chances he had and, after 33 races, Leclerc only had four non-scores to his name.

"That was clearly [the approach], not taking too many risks in order to take the chequered flag," he said. "We tried to stay in the points as much as possible to score as many as possible, and even when it didn’t work, salvaging something, and that’s what we did.

"I think we were still fast at the end of the season, even though it wasn’t as obvious as earlier."

F3 or GP3 for 2016

With the example of Verstappen looming and Leclerc's obvious maturity in F3, it's, perhaps, natural to suggest he'd be ready for a big step up.

However, the Monegasque appears set to continue a measured programme on the ladder and next year could see him remain at more or less the same level.

"Next year will clearly be either F3 or GP3, but for now, I don’t really know what will happen between the two of them," Leclerc said.

"Afterwards, if it goes well next year, I think it will clearly be GP2. And then, we’ll see – for now, I don’t know. I hope to make it to F1 someday, but for now, it’s quite hard to make plans.

"We’re going to take things season by season, I’m going to focus on the end of the season first, and we’ll see next year, we’ll choose between F3 and GP3, and then, it will be GP2."

The GP3 option is sweetened by the fact that Leclerc's manager - Nicolas Todt of All Road Management - is among the bosses of the frontrunning ART Grand Prix squad.

"For sure, it will be hard to go anywhere else [in GP3]," Leclerc admits. "It’s not 100 percent sure yet, but for sure, it’s more likely with ART than any other team."

Interview by Benjamin Vinel

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About this article
Series F3 Europe , GP3
Drivers Charles Leclerc
Teams Van Amersfoort Racing
Article type Interview