Youth trumps experience as Ferrari takes new path for 2019

Charles Leclerc has been promoted by Ferrari to replace Kimi Raikkonen for the 2019 Formula One season.

Published : Sep 12, 2018 14:55 IST

Sauber driver Charles Leclerc, who is to join Ferrari.
Sauber driver Charles Leclerc, who is to join Ferrari.

Sauber driver Charles Leclerc, who is to join Ferrari.

The announcement on Tuesday that Kimi Raikkonen and Charles Leclerc would trade places next season marks a significant change to Ferrari's tried-and-tested recruitment policy.

A team steeped in tradition, only drivers with a proven track record in Formula One have been entrusted with guarding - and with any luck enhancing - the Scuderia's reputation.

Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel. Every one of Ferrari's drivers since 2000 has arrived with at least three years of F1 experience under their belt - three of them had been world champions before joining.

Indeed, you would have to go back 40 years to find the last time Ferrari put a car in the hands of someone less experienced than Leclerc - Gilles Villeneuve raced just once for McLaren before landing a Ferrari seat towards the end of the 1977 campaign.

The F1 landscape has changed around Ferrari over the course of the past decade.

While Schumacher and then Raikkonen - now 38 - helped it dominate the early part of the new Millennium, it is now in the midst of its second-longest run without a constructors' title.

The years since Ferrari last laid its hands on that particular piece of silverware in 2008 have seen other teams reap the benefits of putting faith in the young drivers already on its books.

From Lewis Hamilton's maiden success with McLaren that very same season, through Vettel's dominance with Red Bull and the fast-track promotion of Max Verstappen - the grid, and those competing at the front of it, has been getting younger.

Ferrari has had its own 'Driver Academy' in place since 2009.

The idea came about after Massa was loaned to Sauber for three seasons before being deemed ready for a race seat by his parent team, but the programme has not produced a Ferrari driver since.

Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll and the late Jules Bianchi are among the drivers to have been part of the academy, but 20-year-old Leclerc will be the first to get his chance with the Scuderia.

As talented as Leclerc is and as promising as the early signs have been during his one season at Sauber, his promotion represents a leap of faith for a team previously inclined to err on the side of caution in the driver market.

Leclerc needs this to work to prove his backers right. Ferrari needs this to work to vindicate the investment in its academy. 

Whatever happens, the prancing horse will have a youthful spring in its step next season and this famous old team will be better for it.

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