It was May 2019 when a 21-year-old Charles Leclerc got behind the wheel of his Formula One Ferrari to race his Monaco Grand Prix.
He was not only the youngest driver to compete for Ferrari since Ricardo Rodriguez in 1961 but he was the first Monegasque driver to have signed a deal with the Prancing Horse.
“I am very different than three years ago,” Leclerc told by Zoom before the 2022 Monaco Grand Prix. “In sport, year after year you grow, like in life. You have more experience; you know what works and what does not.”
The hometown hero said he takes note of everything. “I write down in a book absolutely everything I feel, everything I try, every way of working with my engineers. Slowly, slowly, with all of these things written, I improve as a driver and as a person. It is the accumulation of all the little details which in the end makes a big difference as a driver. As a person, I am more calm, more mature.
Son of Monegasque industrialist and Formula 3 driver, Hervé, (who died in 2017), Leclerc grew up with a dream of Formula One. “I was about 4 or 5 playing cars with my best friend on the street near the first turn and watching the Grand Prix at the same time.”
Now the superstar is second in the Drivers’ Standings, after losing power in Lap 27 due to a rear tire problem at the Spanish Grand Prix last weekend. Heading into Barcelona he had a 19-point lead over Red Bull’s Max Verstappen but his forced early retirement, his first of the season, put him six points behind the Dutchman going into Monaco.
“Three years ago, we had a pretty good car which was capable of winning on some occasions but we did not have the consistency that we have this year with a very competitive car on every track,” said Leclerc, who started karting at the age of four.
“With this year’s change in regulation, the cars are very different but it is much more competitive compared to three years ago and we have a good chance of winning this weekend even though Red Bull and Mercedes will be very strong.”
Jamais deux sans trois (things always happen in threes), Leclerc’s attempts at victory at home have repeatedly been cut short. The race did not go as planned in 2019 when in Lap 8 he touched the inside wall at La Rascasse which sent his Ferrari into a spin. The only driver to not finish the race that year was consoled by a hug from Princess Charlene. In 2021 (after Covid forced the franchise to stop in 2020), he failed to make the start due to damage sustained in qualifying. Two weeks ago, at the Historic Monaco Grand Prix, he crashed when driving Niki Lauda's classic Ferrari 312B3 when a brake disc failure caused him to go off…at La Rascasse.
But Leclerc remains focused, despite being asked repeatedly what he predicts for tomorrow’s race. He let loose on Tuesday and played the World Stars Football Match, an annual charity game that raises funds for Monegasque charities to help underprivileged children around the world.
“The football match is very fun and easy going,” Leclerc told. “It is organized by great people and to play with the prince is special. And it is for a good cause.”
He revealed that he “often played paddle with the prince which is a great sport. We do lots of sports together. I am very proud and grateful to have had him support me since the early days.”
Leclerc also told that he considers his fans to be very important but when it comes to his public image, “In the end, I would rather be hated for the person I am then be liked for someone I am not. I don’t want to play games. I am myself and while it is always flattering when people like you, I will never change because I want to be me.”
Leclerc is known for speaking his mind. In April, when tongues began wagging that F1 owner Media Liberty was considering axing the Monaco Grand Prix—a rumor quickly put to rest by Monaco Automobile Club president Michel Boeri: “That is false.”—Leclerc told several media that the Monaco GP race should stay on the calendar. “I’ve never known Monaco without F1, apart from for Covid reasons in 2020.
“And F1 without Monaco for me is not F1. I think F1 has a history, has some historic tracks like Silverstone, like Monza, and like Monaco too, and I think they should stay in the calendar.
“There’s no track that comes close to the adrenaline we get in Monaco, and for me it’s part of F1 history and should stay in F1.”
The Monaco GP may have survived the cut but it’s traditional late May date may change to potentially allow the Miami and Montreal weekends to run back-to-back. Motorsport.com reported that F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali confirmed a plan to regionalize 2023 races at a meeting in Barcelona last Saturday.
The move has been backed by F1 team bosses, including Haas boss Gunther Steiner who commented on a possible change of date in Monaco: “We need to go with the times. Nothing is there to stay forever, we always need to try to stay current. The world has changed a lot in the last 20 years.”
Shake-up or not, Liberty Media president Greg Maffei was in the Principality on Thursday night alongside Prince Albert to kick-off the first Grace Influential Impact Award, which will be given in Monaco to a Formula One team that displays the most positive impact over the course of a season—including diversity and inclusion, sustainability, philanthropy.
In a brief speech to acknowledge the Award launch and talk about F1’s path to be completely carbon neutral by 2030, Maffei began by joking that “Liberty Media is the proud owner of Formula One and owns a lot of other stuff which nobody ever asks me about—the Atlanta Braves doesn’t play as well in Monaco, we are the World Series Champions but that is irrelevant.”
As for Charles Leclerc and his dream to clinch a win at home, his qualifying times have impressed. On Friday, he set the fastest time at the Grand Prix practice. He finished the day 0.044s ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen. At Saturday’s Practice 3, Perez had a late crash into the barriers at Portier and with Sainz hitting him, it puts Leclerc in Pole Position for race day Sunday.
“It is very special. I am so incredibly happy. It's been a very smooth weekend until now. I knew the pace was in the car, I just had to do the job. It went perfectly... that lap before the red flag was really, really good. It was really on the limit. I struggled to put the tired in the right window in the last sector. The rear was a bit loose... the car felt amazing and it's also amazing to have Carlos with me on the front row,” an exuberant Leclerc told the media.
“I think dry [weather for Sunday] is a bit more predictable but whatever comes I think we are competitive so will be fine.”