With reports circulating that Charles Leclerc will replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari in 2019, the young Alfa Romeo Sauber driver has produced a stunning qualifying lap for this weekend’s French Grand Prix to liven up discussions.
The Alfa Romeo Sauber driver made it through to the final stage of qualifying for the first time in his career, eventually finishing P8.
Alfa Romeo Sauber Team Principal Fredric Vasseur was complimentary of Leclerc’s efforts, describing his lap as “perfect.”
“To finish qualifying in P8 is an amazing feeling,” Leclerc said after the session.
He explained how he was “very happy” to take a step forward in qualifying given his lacklustre practice on Friday, where he failed to finish inside the top ten.
Leclerc thanked his team for their efforts in creating a car he described as “comfortable.”
This qualifying lap is yet another notable achievement Leclerc has made during his debut season in Formula 1.
The Alfa Romeo Sauber driver has scored points in three of the last four races and France marks the fifth consecutive weekend that he’s progressed out of Q1.
By comparison, Kimi Raikkonen hasn’t had a hugely impressive season, with just three podiums to his name after seven races.
He currently lies fifth in the Drivers World Championship with just 68 points; a stark difference to his team-mate and Championship leader Sebastian Vettel, who’s won three Grand Prix’s in 2018.
The two drivers couldn’t have had more oppositely successful seasons, and it appears Ferrari have noticed it too.
On Thursday, a Motorsport.com article from Italian journalist Roberto Chinchero said that he understands Ferrari are “leaning towards promoting Leclerc to a race seat.”
If true, this would see twenty-year-old Leclerc replace Kimi Raikkonen, who’s been with Ferrari since 2014.
The Finnish driver is one of the sport’s most experienced – 278 starts over 19 seasons – but his contract runs out at the end of 2018.
Raikkonen is currently the oldest driver on the grid at 38 years. He made his debut at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix, when Leclerc was just four years old.
Raikkonen’s qualifying performance in France was underwhelming, finishing P6 and six tenths adrift of team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
The Ferrari driver said he was unable to put together a clean run in the dying stages of Q3.
With both cars of Mercedes and Red Bull starting ahead of Raikkonen on Sunday, the Finn agreed the Grand Prix will be “challenging.”
Leclerc’s approach to the first French Grand Prix in ten years is quite different, the Alfa Romeo Sauber driver admitting he’s “excited” for Sunday’s possibilities.
“I look forward to the race very much,” Leclerc said.