Charles Leclerc, born in Monaco on October 16, 1997, is a Ferrari driver who many believe will be the man to finally bring the World Championship back to Maranello.
The Italian team added him to their academy in 2016 and he spent the next two years serving as a development driver for them and Haas, also comfortably winning the GP3 and Formula 2 titles in that period.
Such performances earned him a spot on the F1 grid for the 2018 campaign with Ferrari feeder team Sauber, now known as Alfa Romeo, and he quickly began to make his mark.
In just his sixth race, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, he fought his way up from P13 on the starting grid to finish in P6. He then followed that performance up with four top-10 finishes in the next five races.
A combination of bad luck and poor reliability then caused him to not score points in any of the next five rounds, but he recovered by doing so in five of the final seven weekends, claiming P7 in four of them to finish the year with 39 points, 30 more than team-mate Marcus Ericsson.
So impressive had he been in his rookie season that Ferrari opted to give him Kimi Raikkonen’s seat with the team for the following year and beyond, handing him a four-year contract. It was a big call by the team, but would quickly prove to be a good one.
At the Bahrain Grand Prix, the second race of the season, he claimed his first-ever pole position with a stunning lap and then dominated for the vast majority of the race. However, he was cruelly denied his first win by an engine issue which caused him to drop down to P3.
He would pick up one more pole and four more podiums in the first half of the season but again just missed out on victory when Max Verstappen passed him with three laps to go of the Austrian Grand Prix. However, the Monegasque would more than make up for those near misses after the summer break.
He dominated the first two race weekends back in Belgium and Italy, taking pole position and the race-win at both, becoming a hero of the Tifosi at the latter. He then claimed pole at the next two races as well but was unable to win either, finishing in P2 and P3.
Nevertheless, it had been an excellent first year in red in which he claimed secured more pole positions than anyone and was more often than not the stronger Ferrari driver, shown by the fact that he finished 24 points ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel, also winning more races.
He then very much established himself as the team leader in 2020. Driving the worst Ferrari in years, one that was at times one of the slower midfield cars, he was nonetheless able to regaulry make it into the top-10 on both Saturdays and Sundays.
He finished on the podium twice, inside the points in 10 of the 17 rounds and with three times as many points as Vettel who was nowhere near him for the vast majority of the campaign.
With him so dominant over a four-time World Champion, he was now widely considered one of the best drivers around, right up there with Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, but again didn’t have the machinery to battle them in 2021.
That being said, he did have a much better car than he’d had the previous year and got everything out of it to score points in all but four races and finish inside the top six in 12 of the 22.
He made a blistering start to the season, picking up two P4 finishes and two P6 finishes in the first four rounds before claiming his first pole position in over a year on home turf in Monaco and then doing so again in Azerbaijan, despite having a far slower car than the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers.
The first of those two poles was somewhat tarnished by the fact that he crashed shortly after setting his lap in qualifying, and that summed him up quite well; he had perhaps the best one-lap pace on the grid, but was still prone to making big mistakes.
Those mistakes as well as his fair share of misfortune throughout the year saw him lose an intra-team battle for the first time with Vettel’s replacement, Carlos Sainz, generally slower but more consistent, scoring three more podiums and five and half more points.
Nevertheless, it had still been another strong season for Leclerc, and the rare occasions in which he was able to fight at the front of the field, such as at the British Grand Prix where he so nearly claimed a stunning victory, made fans long for him to be given a car that would allow him to do so on a regular basis.
There was reason to believe their wishes would come true in 2022 with widespread regulation changes giving Ferrari the chance to catch up with the frontrunners, and little doubt that if they could, he was more than ready to go toe to toe with the very best and challenge for the title.
He’s already the youngest driver to win a race for Ferrari, and could yet become the youngest driver to win become a World Champion with them.