Charles Leclerc replacing 2007 Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari beginning in the 2019 Formula 1 season signifies the current youth movement taking place in the sport.
For several months, many people believed that Alfa Romeo Sauber rookie Charles Leclerc would sign a contract to drive for Scuderia Ferrari starting in the 2019 Formula 1 season as the replacement for 2007 Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen.
Talk of this happening heated up in June when it was revealed that Ferrari were ready to sign Leclerc to replace Raikkonen beginning next season, and it heated up even more later in June when it was revealed that Leclerc and Ferrari had reportedly reached an agreement that Leclerc had not yet signed.
However, it was then revealed that Raikkonen was set to sign a two-year contract extension to keep him under contract with the Maranello-based team through at least the 2020 season, as former Ferrari CEO Sergio Marchionne, a huge fan of Leclerc, passed away in July, which appeared to throw a wrench in the team’s plans to sign the 20-year-old Monegasque.
But the Scuderia opted to honor the plans of the late Marchionne by signing Leclerc as the replacement for the 38-year-old Finn starting next season. Raikkonen, meanwhile, is set to replace Leclerc at Sauber beginning in 2019.
So instead of the earliest possible season for which the 2016 GP3 Series champion and 2017 Formula 2 champion could sign with Ferrari being the 2021 season, he is now set to drive the team beginning next season on what is at least a four-year contract.
Instead of needing to wait to be promoted to one of Formula 1’s three top-tier teams by driving for one (or both) of the other two Ferrari-powered teams, Sauber and Haas, throughout the course of the next two (or more) seasons, the Ferrari junior driver is set to make the jump to the Italian team in what is set to be just his second season in the sport. He is set to turn 21 years old in mid-October.
No other contract signifies the youth movement currently taking place in Formula 1 than Leclerc’s does.
Leclerc signed with Ferrari not even one month after 22-year-old rookie Pierre Gasly, who currently drives for Scuderia Toro Rosso, signed a contract to drive for Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, another one of Formula 1’s three top-tier teams, beginning next season.
Max Verstappen is set to be the teammate to the Frenchman. The 21-year-old Dutchman was promoted from Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing during his second Formula 1 season back in 2016, at which point he was 18 years old.
But while there are several other young drivers who have recently begun competing in Formula 1, such as 19-year-old Lance Stroll and 22-year-old Esteban Ocon, and others who are set to begin competing in Formula 1 next season, such as 18-year-old Lando Norris and likely at least one more, Leclerc’s contract is arguably the most notable.
Leclerc signing with Ferrari means that half of the six drivers who drive for one of the sport’s top-tier teams with be in their second full Formula 1 season and/or 21 years or younger next year, and he signed to replace a driver who is nearly twice his age.
Neither one of the other two drivers signed to replace a driver nearly as old as Raikkonen. Verstappen replaced Daniil Kvyat when Kvyat was 22 years old and Gasly is set to replace 29-year-old Daniel Ricciardo.
Had Raikkonen retired after being replaced by Leclerc as opposed to signing with Sauber as his replacement, there would be just three drivers set to compete in Formula 1 next year at the age of 30 years or older, with that number set to grow to four at most. The oldest of those three (or four) drivers? Lewis Hamilton.
It just doesn’t seem possible that the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport driver could be the oldest driver in the sport, but that was very close to being slated to become the case. It seems like the four-time champion is still one of the newer drivers in the sport, and justifiably so.
Whereas Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, who announced that the 2018 Formula 1 season will be his last, began driving in the sport in the 2001 season, Hamilton did not begin driving in the sport until the 2007 season.
Because of Leclerc’s Ferrari deal, the oldest driver in Formula 1 next season very well could have been a driver who began driving in the sport just over one decade ago.
As far as driving for Ferrari goes, Leclerc does not have to wait at least two years to get that chance like many people thought he would have to. But while this seems crazy given the fact that he is a rookie and is just 20 years old, in this day and age, it is anything but crazy. The youth movement is in full swing, and Leclerc is a critical part of it.