Championship Ambitions: Ferrari’s Master Plan to Secure Leclerc’s Loyalty
In the high-stakes world of Formula 1, Ferrari team leader Frederic Vasseur is betting on Charles Leclerc as the driving force behind the team’s future success. With Leclerc’s contract up in 2024 and rumors swirling around the racing world, Vasseur has a plan to build the team around the young driver’s talents.
Ferrari team leader Frederic Vasseur claims that every Formula 1 team achieving long-term dominance in recent history has centered around a driver, suggesting his plan to retain Charles Leclerc for an extended period is to position him as that driver.
Leclerc’s existing contract with Ferrari runs out at the close of 2024, and the five-time Grand Prix victor’s future has been the focus of sporadic intense conjecture for several years now – which is currently fueled by Ferrari’s subpar start to 2023.
In Baku, when questioned about whether negotiations for extending Leclerc’s contract have commenced, Vasseur replied, “No, I informed you [earlier] that we would address it during the season. He is under contract with us for over a year from now, so there is ample time to discuss it.
“I’m not worried at all, and I believe now is not the appropriate moment to proceed.”
Vasseur also admitted that Leclerc was “frustrated” with the team’s current performance, but emphasized that it would have been more concerning if he wasn’t. “I appreciate it. Honestly, we had the conversation, and I view the frustration as a positive thing.”
However, another response may have provided greater insight into Vasseur’s perspective on the situation and his possible approach in persuading Leclerc to continue trusting Ferrari with another contract, considering that it has not brought him especially close to championship success thus far. Vasseur explained, “He is undeniably an integral part of the project. He’s not just a bystander.
“He participates in the team’s development, contributes to its growth by developing himself. He is a driving force for performance both on and off the track. As long as he maintains this role, we are on the right trajectory.
“In every single team, you always construct a team around the driver. Looking back over the last 20 years or more, all the triumphant stories in F1 required time, but they always revolved around a driver. This holds true for Lewis [Hamilton] with Mercedes, Michael [Schumacher] at Ferrari, [Fernando] Alonso at Renault, and others – including Red Bull. There are countless examples.
“Charles is undoubtedly a crucial element of our performance, and he must assume this role, in the car and beyond, as a driving force for performance. He fully supports this aspect of the job, and I am entirely convinced that it is also a personal commitment from him.”
One could interpret Vasseur’s message in a few ways, with one being that among the top teams, only Ferrari can potentially offer him the number one driver position, similar to what Schumacher experienced with Ferrari in the past.
Vasseur, like his predecessor Mattia Binotto and nearly every other modern F1 team leader, has been hesitant to discuss these matters explicitly, and the notion that Leclerc has priority over his teammate Carlos Sainz has not been evident in past race situations.
This applied to both significant events with championship ramifications, such as last year’s British Grand Prix under Binotto, and less consequential incidents like this year’s race in Jeddah under Vasseur, where Ferrari did not have Leclerc overtake Sainz despite being the faster driver throughout the weekend.
Another interpretation is that Vasseur was merely implying that achieving continuous success requires a driver to become deeply embedded within a team over an extended period, shaping various aspects of the team to their preferences, in preparation for the arrival of long-term title opportunities.
In F1, there is a widespread belief that Leclerc is a potential target for Mercedes once Lewis Hamilton retires. However, attaining a number one position there would involve overcoming a challenge posed by George Russell, not to mention that the current performance gap between Mercedes and Ferrari is negligible compared to Red Bull.
Prior to the Baku race, Leclerc expressed his confidence in Ferrari as being “greater than ever” due to what Vasseur had shared about his goals and strategies. Leclerc mostly dismissed questions about Mercedes.
“Right now, I’m entirely focused on the project I’m part of, which is Ferrari,” Leclerc stated. “As I said, I have full trust and confidence in the future.
“We’ll see, but I have complete confidence in Ferrari’s project.
“I adore Ferrari; it has always been my dream to be a part of this team, and my primary objective is to win a world championship with them. It’s not something on my mind.”
Leclerc mentioned that there have been no talks with Mercedes, although he added a possibly revealing “not for the moment.” When asked directly about any phone calls from Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff, he insisted, “No, absolutely none. You all smile because you don’t believe me, but I promise!”
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