Charles Leclerc is now into his fifth season at Ferrari with the ultimate goal of becoming Formula 1 World Champion. The Monegasque has impressed since his junior formula days, securing the Formula 2 championship before making the step up into F1 with ease – earning an instant promotion to the Scuderia after impressing in his rookie year at Sauber in 2018 – confidently dismissing the challenge of the rather underrated Marcus Ericsson. But with the chastening surrender of the 2022 title to Red Bull and Max Verstappen, how long will Leclerc continue to place all his eggs in the Maranello basket? Leclerc’s contract and Ferrari troubles So strong was Leclerc’s first season at Ferrari in 2019, he earned himself a bumper five-year extension and usurped Sebastian Vettel as the apple of the Tifosi’s eye. That deal was signed ahead of the 2020 season, meaning it is set to expire at the end of next season , and with Ferrari unable to pull themselves back into contention for regular wins, looking for pastures new could be an appealing option. Much has been made of the organisational disarray at Ferrari in recent times. Questionable strategy can be traced back at least over a decade to 2010 when a blunder cost Fernando Alonso the title in Abu Dhabi. It continued throughout the Vettel years and the team failed to get a grip on the repeated faux pas made in 2022 – which eventually cost Mattia Binotto his job. Whilst such problems are high on the priority of fixes for new boss Frederic Vasseur – actioned already by changes to the structure of the strategy team during race weekends – fundamental issues with the car itself continue to be a worry. Having been Red Bull’s closest challenger last season, Ferrari has so far struggled to live with the pace of Mercedes and the emergent Aston Martin in the opening three rounds of the season. However, Vasseur is determined to continue on with the SF-23 concept , despite concerns that the team have already hit the ceiling of this design route, and a complete change of direction not being likely in-season. Reliability has also been a cause for concern, with Leclerc forfeiting the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix before he had started when taking a 10-place grid penalty for using a third Control Electronics unit – losing two through failures at the season-opener in Bahrain. With a seemingly never-ending drip of misery surrounding Leclerc and Ferrari – and with him all but ruled out of the 2023 championship already – could he really be frowned upon for glancing his eye elsewhere? Where could Leclerc go? Leclerc is in the very top echelon of drivers, so will want a front-running machine and will not drop down to the midfield to build a project up – he’s already done that with Ferrari in 2020/21, but herein lies the issue: there is no obvious landing spot for him. Until the rules reset set for 2026, there will be a period of evolution rather than revolution, with Red Bull, Mercedes and gatecrashers Aston Martin the only logical options. Sergio Perez’s contract at Red Bull expires in parallel to Leclerc’s and whilst results will be a large part in determining the Mexican’s future, current relations with Max Verstappen might point to the partnership ending. Should that happen, would the two-time champion allow a switch for his 2022 title rival? Unlikely. Aston Martin has Fernando Alonso tied to a ‘multi-year’ deal, though the enigmatic Spaniard has never been shy of surprising the F1 world across his career. The second car will have Lance Stroll’s name and a Canadian sticker on it for as long as he wants. If Leclerc was to move then, the most likely destination would be Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton’s future looks uncertain despite his wishes to stay with the German manufacturer ‘for life.’ He says he wants to record an eighth title before heading off into the sunset, but as things stand, with Red Bull’s advantage set to be baked in until the end of 2025, that seems a distant hope. Are there any guarantees that Mercedes can claw its way back into championship contention before Ferrari? No, and that is exactly why Leclerc is best off hedging his bets with the Italian outfit until either the Prancing Horse emerges from its slumber, or a better opportunity arises.
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