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Charles Leclerc

'Leclerc is currently in his Verstappen 2016-2020 era'

Charles Leclerc has yet to hit the levels of success he would have expected at Ferrari - but he's in a position Max Verstappen once found himself in.

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Charles Leclerc's bumper five-year contract extension that he signed in 2020 expires at the end of the next Formula 1 season - and he does not have an awful lot to show for it.

When the Monegasque agreed terms on that five-year contract extension, it raised eyebrows as extensions of such a length were rare in F1. To lock yourself to one team for so long, based off limited success, was a risk.

And as he enters the final year of that contract in 2024, Leclerc has not experienced the glory he expects, the Tifosi desires and Ferrari demands. Instead, he is coming off a third winless season in five at Ferrari with the team taking major steps backwards in 2023, slipping to third in the Constructors.'

But despite finishing fifth in the 2023 standings, three places and 102 points worse off than he did 12 months ago, Ferrari finds itself in a far stronger position - and Leclerc in a similar position to Max Verstappen during the Lewis Hamilton Mercedes heyday of 2016-2020.

Ferrari on stable platform

Firstly, this time last year, Ferrari was busy searching for a replacement for Mattia Binotto after the Italian paid the price for the implosion of the 2022 title charge after repeated strategic, reliability and operational failures throughout the season.

Changing a team principal will always have unintended consequences, with Leclerc and Binotto's relationship deteriorating throughout the season, but a trusted Leclerc lieutenant was brought in: Frederic Vasseur.

At times throughout 2022, it felt as if Ferrari lacked a racer's instinct on the pit-wall, putting too much faith in computers or simply not trusting themselves to make the correct calls. Vasseur is a pure racer.

These mistakes were far less prevalent in 2023 as Vasseur slowly moulded Ferrari into his image, and in a boost, the technical team is remaining in place over the winter into 2024. You only need to look to Red Bull for the benefits of a stable technical structure and to Mercedes for what can happen when you lose one.

The team has also abandoned its bathtub sidepod design for the Red Bull-esque downwash concept, and will be able to sculpt the 2024 car around it rather than a bodge-job to make the 2023 car fit as the team tried with its Spanish Grand Prix upgrade.

Granted, it might be two years behind Red Bull in understanding the particulars of the concept, but at least the Scuderia will now be following what has clearly become the concept that brings most performance with it.

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	© XPBimages

But what about Max Verstappen?

Now, at this point, you're probably wondering where the comparison with Verstappen comes in.

During the Hamilton era, Verstappen was often left fighting for the odd podium, a pole position here and there and made a whole catalogue of mistakes - especially at the start of the 2018 season.

In Australia he spun during the race, in Bahrain he collided with Hamilton, and the same with Sebastian Vettel in China.

In Azerbaijan, Verstappen was at fault for causing the collision with Daniel Ricciardo that took both Red Bulls out while he collided with Lance Stroll under the VSC in Spain, damaging the front-wing.

To cap off this rotten run of form, he crashed in practice in Monaco on Saturday morning, leaving Ricciardo free to dominate the weekend and leaving Verstappen with the thoughts of what might have been.

Verstappen was over-driving the car and a reset in Canada was the start of the stunning form he had carried to this day.

As for Leclerc, he too has been guilty of trying to drive the car he wants under him rather than the one that actually is.

There are still too many crashes, especially in qualifying such as in Miami, but the #16 is in the best place to make those mistakes.

Would you rather a heavy crash when fighting for fourth in the World Championship and then learning from that mistake or doing so in the white-hot environment of a title battle against Verstappen and maybe Hamilton if Mercedes gets its act together in 2024...

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	© XPBimages

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ANALYSIS Has Red Bull shown an early advantage in pre-season testing?