Ferrari driver, Charles Leclerc, has a massive task on his shoulders in 2020.
The young Monegasque is seen as the lead driver for the Ferrari Formula 1 team this year, and will need to take charge from the front - whether team mate Sebastian Vettel resigns or not.
But Leclerc's rise to popularity was almost overnight. Like with many racing codes feeding the premier class, Leclerc was more familiar to people who followed these feeding series'.
When he joined Sauber-Ferrari in 2018, suddenly, more people took note of this talent.
Climbing the ranks
The moment he joined F1, his name was on everyone's lips, and it took only that one season for Ferrari to draft him in for 2019.
Interestingly, 2019/20 was the first time in Leclerc's entire racing career that he's been with one team for consecutive seasons. His talent and racecraft are so good that teams would outbid one another to acquire the young man's services.
And because Ferrari knows the talent they have, they tied him down to a five-year contract that'll expire at the end of the 2024 season. Not even Michael Schumacher got such a lengthy deal, mind you.
Ferrari driver, Charles Leclerc. Image: Getty Images
The extra weight
Leclerc is under no illusion of the pressure that accompanies driving for Ferrari. The team is hungry for championship gold, given that the last drivers' title came in 2007, and the constructors' in 2008. It's been more than a decade, and the Tifosi (Italian for fans) are growing restless. Especially in Italy.
So when Leclerc, for the first time in a decade, won the 2019 Italian GP for Ferrari on home turf, the crowd went wild. Italy irrupted. Monza, the race track, erupted. Ferrari fans around the world exploded, because finally, after ten years of waiting, a Ferrari driver is standing on the top step, as the winner of the Italian GP.
Leclerc's win in Italy was preceded with a win at the Belgium GP just the week before. Yes, the young man's first two victories came in back-to-back succession. A feat not many drivers can brag about.
But what these victories unearthed was for Ferrari to invest heavily in Leclerc. It added mounted pressure for the youngster to lead a struggling Ferrari who's been nothing but best-of-the-rest since 2009. Fernando Alonso (2010 - 2014) could not be the hero Ferrari was waiting for. Kimi Raikkonen (2014 - 2018), upon his return to the team, failed miserably the second time around. Vettel (2015 -) has only been getting worse with every passing season.
Leclerc, then, also carries the weight of his champion-predecessors' failures as Ferrari looks to him as the prayed-for solution.
Ferrari drivers, Charles Leclerc (left) and Sebastian Vettel. Image: Getty Images
Can he do it?
Alongside Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing), Leclerc is one of the most talented young drivers on the F1 grid today. Both he and Verstappen signed long-term deals with their respective teams over the European winter, which only underlines the potential in them.
In 2019, Verstappen may have outscored Leclerc at the end of the season, but the real star was Leclerc, who showed that he has what it takes to 1) win and 2) be a team leader.
What it comes down to is that Leclerc recognises his faults on track (something many drivers, including Vettel and Verstappen, can't do) and work towards improving on the shortcomings for the next race. He has a maturity on his shoulders that few possess, and it lights a beacon of hope that Ferrari's immediate future is in good hands.
But can he lead a charge to bring both championships home - the first time since 2004? Yes, he can. Provided, of course, that the driver who partners him in 2020 will not feel he has a point to prove, and that the team gives him a car that can go toe-to-toe with Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes.
The 2020 F1 season is (preliminary) scheduled to start on July 5.Ferrari driver, Charles Leclerc. Image: Getty Images