The Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc tells himself before the Grand Prix of Tuscany - Ferrari 1000
An exclusive interview with the young champion since 2019 in Ferrari
He’s the youngest Ferrari driver to have ever won a Formula One Grand Prix race and, this year, he celebrates the thousandth Grand Prix at the Mugello Circuit with the Gran Premio della Toscana - Ferrari 1000, a race boasting almost 50 years of history and which debuts in Formula One for the first time. Charles Leclerc, born in 1997, has been passionate about car racing since childhood: “I was born in Monaco and I’ve been surrounded by cars since I was a child ”- he tells us just a few hours before the start of the GP della Toscana race -.“I was four years old when I watched my first Grand Prix race from a friend’s house while we were playing with our toy cars: I watched the red cars racing on the track and I was immediately struck by the speed and sound.”
When did you decide to become a racing driver, and when did you realise you’d made it into Formula 1?
My father was also an avid racer and his best friend, Jules Bianchi’s father, had a karting track close by that we used to spend our free weekends at, racing with friends. While racing in the junior categories, I was focused on doing the best job possible where I was at. Having the opportunity to join Formula 1 was a fantastic surprise, something that every racer aspires to but doesn’t expect. When it becomes reality, it is just a great feeling and you are motivated to give it your all and take the opportunity you are given.
You’re very young, but you never hold back if you need to do some soul searching. Is that the secret of your success?
I believe that it’s always important to be realistic and reflected, no matter what happens. Making mistakes is normal, what is important is to understand and analyze them, and focus on growing from them. Sometimes it may seem like I am too hard on myself, but to me it’s the way in which I manage difficult situations and make sure I can make progress.
Which driver is your greatest inspiration?
Ayrton Senna is the driver I looked up to the most when I was younger. My father was a fan of his. He told me stories and gave me books about Ayrton’s career.
It’s been a very strange year for F1 too; how did you spend lockdown? Did you carry on training with Virtual Grand Prix?
A lot of drivers, especially the younger generation, got into eSports during lockdown. It was a good way to stay focused on racing, and it was fun to compete off-track during this difficult period. I also enjoyed the interaction with fans online and I hope that they did too. The virtual championship we had was good fun, as was the Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans I competed in. It was something different and I’m glad we had the opportunity to stay connected and share our experience with each other and the racing community around the world.
What do you think of the Mugello track?
I first raced in Mugello in 2014, in my first year racing single-seaters. The first time I drove a Formula 1 car on the track, however, was in June this year, when we completed a day of testing there with the team.
It was 1950 when Ferrari debuted in Montecarlo, your birthplace. What does it mean to you to compete in the one thousandth race under Maranello colours?
Ferrari is such an iconic brand and the Scuderia is the first team to reach its 1000th Grand Prix in the sport. This is an amazing milestone, and it is just and honour to be there and have the opportunity to drive the red car at this event. It will be something special that I will remember forever.
What did it feel like to win the Italian Grand Prix, your second Formula 1 win in a row?
To win the race, in Italy, with Ferrari, with our tifosi there – it was simply an unforgettable experience which I am grateful for. I would never have imagined a podium ceremony like the one we saw last year. To see the Italian flags, the Ferrari emblem, hearing our fans singing the Italian anthem with us – it was the best moment of my career so far.
Formula 1 is an individual challenge, but it’s also a team sport. How do you balance the two?
As a driver, of course, you always try to do the best job possible. However, racing is a team sport, especially in Formula 1. First of all, you have a teammate with whom you work together by sharing experiences and trying to score the best results you can for the team. Secondly, you work with a lot of people, be that at the factory in developing the car, or at the track during the race weekend. There is so much hard work going in to each Grand Prix from every mechanic, engineer, and the rest of the team. As a driver, you want to give your all to make everyone proud and let the effort put in show. I think that at the end, all of these things go hand in hand and create a natural balance, because we all have the same goal.
How did you feel when you arrived in Maranello, and what’s it like working for a top team like Ferrari?
Racing for Ferrari has always been a dream for me. Having this badge on my chest feels incredible and you never get used to it. I think that here you feel more proud than anywhere, and I think that it’s the same for everyone in the team. I just feel very lucky. I had already been to Maranello before, as I was part of the Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA), the Prancing Horse programme for young drivers, but arriving there as one of the drivers in Formula 1 was a special experience. It took some time to get used to working with a larger amount of people, and also the attention on my work from the outside grew. It’s the first time in my career that I have a long-term contract with the same team, and I’ve been here for two years in a row now. It’s very exciting and I couldn’t wish for a better team to do that with.
The Mugello track is in one of the most beautiful parts of Italy. What do you like about the area, and which are your favourite places in Tuscany?
Italy is a beautiful country. I like the mentality of the Italian people, you immediately feel very welcome there. The people are passionate, especially the tifosi which is very unique to Italy and Ferrari in particular. The food is also great.
I’ve spent some time in Toscana. Most recently for a test day in June and also for fashion week, Pitti Uomo, which was another exciting and new experience.
Which car do you usually drive, and which would you choose for a Grand Tour of Italy?
At home, I drive an Alfa Romeo Stelvio. As for a Grand Tour of Italy, I would probably chose a car like the Ferrari Roma for the experience.
Made in Italy is synonymous with style. Apart from Ferrari, are you linked with any other global symbols of Italian style?
Italy is famous for style and fashion, which I have a big interest in. I have had the honour of becoming an ambassador for Armani recently, a brand I really love and am proud to support.
What are you passionate about, apart from cars?
I’m very interested in architecture, design, and I also love fashion.