Exclusive meeting with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz behind the scenes of the Ferrari team in Maranello
The following weekend, however, he won his race, and with style. They say riders can take the worst of their weekdays, as long as they’re allowed to race over 300 km/h every Sunday. The Monegasque tries on a red fireproof balaclava and a pair of racing gloves. Sainz approaches him discreetly and whispers: “Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaons of being being being being being being done being done. Like two teenagers, they swing a few valves before changing the subject and discussing a difficult corner of the next Grand Prix. Each Formula 1 team enters two drivers and, with rare exceptions, there will always be a number one and a number two. Leclerc is the prodigal son that Sainz, older than him, has the mission to bring to light. This kind of situation sometimes leads to tensions between teammates but, as a Scuderia executive explained to us, the two are more like two high school students who want to do everything better than the other. “They are very close, they chat all the time. They are like kids competing for everything: who will sit first in the canteen, who will be the fastest in the simulator…” We still have a little compassion for Sainz. If he really wants to win the individual title with Ferrari, he will be doomed to hope that his teammate fails. But he tells us on the contrary to feel rather well off. “I’m a Formula 1 driver for Ferrari. This is my dream. The days can be long and exhausting, but there is no reason to complain.”
THE NETFLIX SERIES Drive to Survive was able to show the work done by second drivers like Sainz to make talents like Leclerc shine. Above all, it exploded the popularity of Formula 1, bringing new fans and new media obligations for the racers. If Charles has never experienced F1 before Netflix, Sainz has seen the difference: “More people recognize us in the street. More sponsors, more interviews, more selfies
with the fans.” What if Leclerc soon brings the title back to Maranello? In addition to his talent behind the wheel, the Monegasque has a quality that we haven’t seen for a long time here: a touch of irreverence. Sure, he can handle endless simulator sessions, ingest tons of data, and sit in a cramped cockpit for hours, but that doesn’t stop him from being a smartass. During the Bahrain Grand Prix, when he was very close to winning his first victory of the season, he announced to his pit via radio that a mechanical problem was going to force him to retire, just before the finish. Radio silence in the stand. Obviously, Leclerc was joking, and he crossed the line victorious. We then made it clear to him never to do this joke again. Victory, at Ferrari, is serious, almost sacred.
During my visit to Maranello, the Ferrari press officers absolutely forbade me to talk to the drivers about the risks of the job. Yet Leclerc will address the issue himself without me asking him. Sometimes he receives calls from his mother who is worried about him, and rightly so. Jules Bianchi, F1 driver and family friend, who was like a big brother to Charles during his younger years, died in 2014 in a crash, while on the rise. He was 25 years old. Leclerc’s brother, Arthur, is also a pilot. Their mother sees her two sons defy death every weekend in front of millions of viewers. Especially at the first corner after the start, the moment that all spectators expect at a Grand Prix, where the chances of a collision are highest. In Drive To Survive, crashes loop and slow-motion. At this year’s Silverstone Grand Prix, more than Sainz’s first Formula 1 victory, it was the impressive crash of Chinese Alfa Romeo driver Guanyu Zhou that grabbed the headlines.
CHARLES LECLERC KNOWS HE PLAYS A DANGEROUS SPORT, even if it is less so than before. He smiled, a little embarrassed. “It’s hard for my mother, but I’m not going to tell her that I’m going to try to be careful, that would be lying to her. When I’m in the car, it’s to win, be the fastest, and take all the risks. And she knows there’s nothing that makes me happier than driving.” Before heading home, Leclerc and Sainz greet their mechanics. The next morning, they have an appointment at Bologna airport with the team to fly to the next Grand Prix, in a private jet. My last vision of Maranello, before I too go to take the plane, is the bell tower of the San Biagio church which disappears in the distance in the rear view mirror of my taxi. At Bologna airport, there is obviously a Ferrari store, with its mannequins in the window all wearing prancing horse flocked jackets, their gaze pointed towards the tarmac. As if to beg the Scuderia to finally bring back this sixteenth drivers’ title, which all of Italy is waiting for, but especially in this small town in Emilia-Romagna, where the most famous car brand in the world is based.