Alfa Romeo Sauber driver Charles Leclerc is already being hailed as the next big sensation. On Saturday, the praise for the F1 rookie reached deafening volumes when he qualified in a stunning eighth for the French Grand Prix. The Monegasque driver struggled to describe his emotions after the session.
“I have no words to describe how I feel right now,” said Leclerc.
“I’ve just had a smile since I passed [into] Q3 and yeah, it’s great. We all should be proud – the team and I – of what we have achieved today.”
Sauber brought minor car upgrades to France and Leclerc used them to go 14th fastest in Friday’s second practice.
“It’s just unbelievable,” he continued. “It’s probably the best recovery I did in my career from one day to another. Yesterday, it was a disaster, the car didn’t feel great, I was not driving very well. We changed completely the car today and I felt a lot better.
“I went to bed very late because I worked quite a lot with the engineers to find out what were the issues – they have been very good to identify the exact issues.
“They understood really well what I wanted from the car and that’s what we did today. So no crazy things really, but we did all the right things, and, yeah I’m extremely happy.”
Leclerc earlier mentioned of his friend and mentor, Jules Bianchi, who was a former Ferrari academy driver himself. Frenchman Bianchi succumbed to head injuries sustained during the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.
As kids, Leclerc and Bianchi would race on that track, so Phillipe Bianchi regards Leclerc as his own kid. He was visibly proud of the youngster racing in F1 at a track so close to home.
“It’s a beautiful thing to see Charles racing. I wanted the same for Jules and now every time someone speaks about Charles, they remember Jules because they were so close”, Phillipe said.
“The return of the French GP is a beautiful thing. For Charles, it is good to have another type of home race. He is from Monaco, but the French is very similar to him”, he added.
The emotional father also detailed out how close the two were back in the day. “Charles tells me that every time he has problems and pressure, he speaks to Jules, because he was like a big brother for Charles.”
“He will do what Jules used to say, that when you start the race you push, you push and you see at the end of the race where you are. And that’s a good strategy”, he poured out.
The similarity between the two close friends’ careers is not lost on Phillipe. Leclerc is being tipped to replace Raikkonen at Ferrari from 2019, just as Bianchi was before the tragic accident. But he warned him to be cautious.
“Of course, he can race for Ferrari. It will be difficult for Charles to drive for Ferrari next year, but when you got there you have a lot of pressure. Perhaps he needs one more year at Sauber.”
“After that Ferrari may take Charles. When your clothes are red, it’s not easy”, he joked.
This revelation was amazing to say the least and Leclerc seemed to have benefited from the memories, putting in a career-best qualifying performance at his second home race. He will be looking to honour his friend with a strong finish tomorrow too.