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Charles Leclerc

Leclerc must stamp authority over Sainz for Ferrari supremacy

The Monégasque has signed a contract extension with Ferrari ahead of the new F1 season. But can he complete his Italian job?

Sainz Leclerc
Article
To news overview © XPBimages

"The dream continues."

That's how Charles Leclerc addressed his contract extension with Ferrari on social media ahead of the new F1 season.

Ferrari launches the car Leclerc will hope to carry to a maiden Drivers' championship on February 13, hoping to build on being the only team to prevent a Red Bull whitewash of Grands Prix victories last season, though that was collected by Carlos Sainz.

Shaking off Sainz to claim authority as the number one driver at the Scuderia has to be top of Leclerc's priority if his Ferrari dream is to come true.

Leclerc joined Ferrari alongside Sebastian Vettel in 2019 and hit the ground running, with stunning qualifying performances resulting in multiple wins - although some opportunities were missed through errors, which could be put down to experience.

But Ferrari took a step backwards in 2020 with a woefully underperforming power unit, with which Leclerc still shone to almost single-handedly spare the Scuderia's blushes in the Constructors' standings, even if the team suffered its worst points haul since 1980.

The struggles meant that 2021 was a year of preparation for 2022, where Leclerc and Ferrari had a flying start to F1's new technical regulations.

Two wins from the opening three races and a mammoth lead over Red Bull's Max Verstappen - who had retired twice in that period - made Leclerc heavy favourite for the title, only for a spate of reliability issues, pit-stop blunders and driver errors to derail his bid.

Red Bull stretched its advantage last season, with Ferrari's early-campaign form proving too much to overcome to finish runner-up in the Constructors', instead forced to finish third behind Mercedes.

While the recent tests will have stung Leclerc - his haunting cry over team radio in France two years ago still ringing in Ferrari fans' ears - nothing will play on his mind more than Sainz's triumph in Singapore.

Leclerc is meant to be Ferrari's poster boy: he was the one who rose through the Italian marque's junior ranks, he was the one that was promoted after a single year in F1, he was the one that was tipped as a future champion as part of the sport's golden generation - Sainz's ability risks taking that away.

The Spaniard's win was commanding and, added to his win at Silverstone in 2022, means Sainz has won two races to Leclerc's one since the latter's early-season blitz that year.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Hierarchy

Leclerc did finish 62 points ahead of Sainz in 2022 but the roles were reversed a season prior, whilst the Spaniard was just six points adrift by the end of last term.

It means there is no way that Ferrari can implement any form of team hierarchy between drivers early in the season and help Leclerc maximise points yield from race to race as, say, Michael Schumacher was able to do alongside Rubens Barrichello and Eddie Irvine, or even Max Verstappen has been able to do with Red Bull.

If Ferrari's new machinery matched Red Bull's this season, form would suggest the title fight would come down to Verstappen against both Ferrari drivers. If both are in the battle, how can one be favoured? Red Bull would be able to put all eggs in one basket and that would likely sway the fight towards the Dutchman.

So how does Leclerc stamp his authority?

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Leave Ferrari in no doubt

This season, Leclerc must outperform Sainz on a regular basis to leave the Ferrari hierarchy in no doubt over which driver is the chief threat to rivals.

Any silly errors - like the crashes in Miami last season - must be eradicated, though he must also be assisted by an improvement in Ferrari's reliability and strategic decision-making.

Verstappen does not have to make concessions at Red Bull, so if Leclerc can leave himself some distance ahead of Sainz, he should be set up to have all the help possible from the other side of the garage. If not, then his dream becomes even harder than it already seems. Supremacy is key.

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