Editor’s Note: Since this story was originally published in the September 2019 issue of SPEED SPORT Magazine, Charles Leclerc has won his first two Grands Prix in Formula One competition.
Many current and former race car drivers live in Monaco. It is because the weather is nice year-round and the principality is centrally located for traveling in Europe. There is also the small matter of Monaco being a tax haven for the wealthy.
But while many of the current Formula One drivers are Monaco residents — including Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas — only one of them is a true Monaco citizen: Charles Leclerc, 21, who has been impressively fast in his second season in F-1 and his first with Ferrari.
There is another reason the drivers like to live in Monaco — when it is not the grand prix week they can pretty much go around without being constantly stopped and asked for autographs and photos.
Leclerc, of course, has become a hometown hero, and there were posters of him all over the place during the Monaco Grand Prix days.
“I think there are drivers more famous than me living in Monaco,” Leclerc said. “For sure, I’m Monegasque, so it’s a little bit different. Also in Monaco they (the people living there) are quite used to it, so all year- round they don’t stop you that much in the city.
“When it comes to grand prix time, it’s a bit harder to go around Monaco because there are a lot of fans coming for the grand prix and, obviously, they want to have pictures, etc. During the year it’s quite OK.
“It’s a city that I’ve been growing up in,” Leclerc added. “It’s a huge honor for me to be racing in these streets. It’s actually pretty weird because these are the same streets (we race on) that I’ve taken on the bus going to school when I was 5 or 6 years old. To take them in a Formula One car feels special.”
What Leclerc has noticed is that many more people recognized him after he finished third in the Bahrain Grand Prix back in March. Until then many fans had only seen him with his helmet on in the car on TV, but now that he had celebrated on the podium after the race they were able to put a face with the name.
The journey to Ferrari for Leclerc, who was born on Oct. 16, 1997, began in 2005 in karting. He won the French PACA Championship in 2005, ’06 and ’08. He moved through the karting ranks and was the French Cadet champion in 2009. Leclerc claimed the Junior Monaco Kart Cup in 2009 and then in 2011 he added the CIK-FIA KF3 World Cup, the CIK-FIA Karting Academy Trophy and the ERDF Junior Kart Masters. He continued in karting until 2013 when he finished second to Verstappen in the CIK-FIA World KZ Championship.
Like Verstappen, Leclerc moved quickly through the car racing ranks and on up to Formula One. He competed in Formula Renault 2.0 in 2014 and the FIA Formula 3 championship in 2015. Then, in 2016, he won the GP3 championship with three victories and eight podiums. Ferrari and Haas nominated him as a junior F-1 test driver.
Seven wins and 10 podiums earned Leclerc the 2017 FIA Formula 2 championship. And he was a test driver for Ferrari and Sauber.
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