MONZA, Italy (Reuters) – Charles Leclerc grew up yearning to win races for Ferrari but even the wildest of boyhood dreams failed to prepare him for the emotional tidal wave of Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.
Taking the chequered flag at Monza, Ferrari’s home circuit, in front of tens of thousands of wildly celebrating fans and for his second Formula One victory in eight days, Leclerc was overwhelmed.
As he took the chequered flag, the driver who has stood out for his level-headed calmness under pressure and resilience in the most difficult of personal circumstances, let it all come out.
“I don’t think you can understand anything that I have said on the radio, but it felt absolutely amazing, and the podium also,” he said.
“It’s going beyond all the dreams I’ve had since I was a child. To see so many people cheering for one team, singing all together, it’s amazing.
“I’ve never been on a podium with so many people underneath it. And to see that the whole straight was full of people — 99% red — was great to see. Hearing them cheering, singing was just a lot of emotions.”
Leclerc is in only his second season in Formula One and 14th race with Ferrari but it is already hard to remember that many questioned the wisdom of handing a coveted seat to one so young.
Now, despite having four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel as his team mate, he is looking like the main man in Maranello.
Leclerc started on pole position on Sunday and ended the day 13 points clear of the German, who has not won a race for more than a year, and with a haul of 62 points from his last three outings.
Vettel made an unforced error and spun off, rejoined the track dangerously, was penalised and ended up 13th after being lapped.
Leclerc showed plenty of inner steel too, pushing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour at times, as he held off the Mercedes of five-times world champion Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
It was a far cry from the not so distant past when he turned up at the Maranello factory with his late godfather Jules Bianchi, then a member of Ferrari’s young driver academy, and was denied entry.
“Obviously he tried to let me in with him but they decided I couldn’t go in the factory. Now it’s a little bit easier to go inside,” smiled the youngster.
The previous weekend, when Leclerc took his first win in Belgium, the Ferrari driver had felt unable to celebrate in the wake of the death in a Formula Two race of his friend Anthoine Hubert.
His second win promises to be different, even if the Frenchman will not be forgotten.
“Definitely I believe that with the whole team we should celebrate, because they deserve it.” he said. “The way I will celebrate I don’t know yet. I will let you know at the next race.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian RadnedgeOur Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.