MONACO: No driver on the grid at this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix can claim to know the bumps, corners and idiosyncrasies of the Mediterranean principality’s famous streets as intimately as local hero Charles Leclerc.
The Monegasque driver remembers watching the red Ferraris whizz through the familiar home streets as a toddler, who was later to travel to school on them by bus and as an adolescent dreamed of racing on the world’s most iconic F1 course.
At 21, and approaching only his sixth race as a Ferrari Formula One driver, he has realiSed his and his greatest mentors’ ambitions by coming home to race in front of family and friends in the distinctive overalls of the ‘scarlet scuderia’.
His father Herve Leclerc, a one-time Formula Three driver who died in 2017, and his inspirational friend Jules Bianchi, who died in 2015 following a crash at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, share the personal space on his racing helmet this weekend, a division to reflect their importance to him.
“Without them, I would never have started driving or racing,” he said.
His father, he added, had transmitted to him his passion for Ayrton Senna, the great Brazilian three-time champion who was killed 25 years ago at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
In the week of Niki Lauda’s death, the memories, as displayed in the coloured graphics on his helmet, are important to the calm, determined and self-possessed Leclerc who replaced Kimi Raikkonen as teammate to four-time champion Sebastian Vettel this year.
“I am eager to race at home, for sure, as it is one of my favourite tracks, but I am trying to prepare as normally as possible,” he said. “I try to make sure that the pressure does not affect me ... “
He knows already that he is making history for his birthplace. Tomorrow, as one of only five men from Monaco to have raced in F1, he hopes to become the first to score points since Louis Chiron finished third in 1950.
Trailed by fans, stopped for ‘selfies’ and besieged by a French media almost desperate for a new champion, 26 years since Alain Prost clinched his fourth title, Leclerc has retained his air of coolness despite the hoopla all around him.