Formula 1

The risks and rationale of Leclerc’s new Ferrari F1 deal

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

This is an updated version of a column that first ran last month, when Charles Leclerc's new Ferrari deal - now official - was first reported by Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Charles Leclerc has long since made it clear a Ferrari Formula 1 contract renewal was in the offing. The only question has been how long he would tie himself down for.

We don’t have an exact answer to that now that Ferrari has announced Leclerc has “extended his contract”, although Leclerc at least confirms the obvious - it is a multi-year deal keeping him there for “several more seasons”. Previous speculation suggested it would be another five-year deal running to 2029 with a possible break clause after the third year.

Leclerc is one of F1’s best talents. He is a massive asset for Ferrari, the kind of ‘franchise driver’ that gets talked about a lot in the modern era. Much like the contracts that tied down Max Verstappen and Lando Norris for so long, the logic for Ferrari wanting to get a fresh multi-year commitment from Leclerc is obvious to understand.

It is a big commitment for Leclerc to make, though. And while Ferrari is special in its own way, from a competitiveness point of view it is just one of many aspiring title-challenging teams trailing in Red Bull’s wake.

Ferrari needs Leclerc more than he needs Ferrari. Sooner or later he would command a move to almost any other team with similar competitive prospects. So why hitch his wagon to this prancing horse?

It is partly driven by sentiment. Leclerc adores Ferrari and is hero-worshipped in return by the team and fans (especially in Italy). There is nothing he would love more than to win a title with Ferrari, though he’d settle just for fighting for one right now. He also has a lot of loyalty, having spoken previously about the gratitude he has for Ferrari’s faith in him, not just getting him into F1 with Sauber in 2018 but then promoting him to the top table after just one year.

Ferrari made Leclerc an F1 driver, and an F1 race winner. He has not forgotten that.

However, Leclerc also knows sentiment can be a weakness. He acknowledges there could come a time where he needs to be selfish. When he stops believing in Ferrari’s project, he told The Race last year, is when he will accept he needs to move elsewhere.

That time has not come. Leclerc is a big fan of Fred Vasseur, who took the reins at Ferrari at the start of 2023, and has bought entirely into the Frenchman’s vision for the team.

No doubt that has been partially validated by Ferrari’s response to a challenging season, with a flawed car that – under Vasseur’s leadership – has not just been improved but has been tuned more to Leclerc’s liking, unlocking a fantastic run of end-of-season form.

It can be safely assumed that Leclerc believes in Ferrari more than he did 12 months ago, when his relationship with Vasseur’s predecessor Mattia Binotto looked irreparable and must have damaged Ferrari’s prospects of keeping Leclerc longer-term.

Vasseur’s arrival, Ferrari’s 2023 trajectory and that underlying affection for the team makes for a powerful combination. That alone means a renewal also makes total sense on Leclerc’s side. But signing up for several seasons is where it leaps from a logical show of faith to a gamble that risks wasting some of Leclerc’s best years.

Even if we assume a break clause, Leclerc is banking on Ferrari rewarding his faith and loyalty early in the new regulations. It’s possible, but hardly guaranteed. After all, Ferrari has underdelivered in F1 since Leclerc was only starting to build a serious reputation in karting.

If, and right now it is a big if because we don’t know, Leclerc is relying on technicalities to extricate himself from an underwhelming Ferrari several years from now, then things will have gone very wrong. And the regret could be quite high, given Leclerc has ruled himself out as an option to be Lewis Hamilton’s immediate successor at Mercedes, or sliding into the Aston Martin-Honda works project whenever Fernando Alonso finally calls it a day.

Who knows what chances will still await Leclerc by then. Who knows if he will have a real opportunity to leave Ferrari before the end of his new deal at all. Who knows, in fairness, if these will even be relevant thoughts by then if Ferrari really does get its act together.

The point is that Leclerc has made a huge commitment, likely borne from being enamoured with Ferrari, believing in its project, and being aware that there is no immediate better option. Why not, in that case, sign a lucrative, long-term deal with a possible escape ramp should things go awry?

There is a degree of risk, although the emphasis now is less on Leclerc to justify his rationale and more on Ferrari to justify it for him.

It has locked down a special driver at a time his faith could have been fundamentally shaken.

For the sake of the team, for Leclerc, and for the prospect of an F1 where this driver and team combination does end up in a full-on title battle, Ferrari better make the most of it.

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