Charles Leclerc’s first Formula 1 pole position came in only his second race for Ferrari and at what was effectively his first chance of taking one, but it says a lot for his potential that it was not a surprise at all.
The 21-year-old Monegasque has seemed destined for success for years now. When he came to F1 last year, it was only a matter of time before he was in a top team. And when he joined it, the question was not if he would make a success of it, but when.
Not yet 23 races into Leclerc’s career, it is far too early to know how far he can go, but that he has already delivered on the potential that was so clearly there is a promising sign.
Ferrari were out-paced at the season-opening race in Australia a fortnight ago – which came as something of a surprise after a strong showing in pre-season testing.
But in Bahrain, as Mercedes said after qualifying, the performance was back to expectations, and Leclerc was clearly a strong contender for pole from the beginning of the weekend.
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Fastest in first practice, pipped by team-mate Sebastian Vettel in the second, fastest again in final practice, and in all three parts of qualifying. Leclerc was the man to beat.
Vettel was put on the back foot with a mistake on his first run in second qualifying, provoked by being in too much traffic, which left the four-time champion with only one run in final qualifying.
But the likelihood was that Leclerc was going to take some beating anyway.
How big an achievement is it?
For all Leclerc’s talent, though, it is important to mark the magnitude of his achievement. Vettel is not just any driver, and to already be showing so strongly against him is highly impressive.
It often takes time for drivers to settle into new teams – as Daniel Ricciardo is proving at Renault. And Vettel is not only one of the most successful drivers in history, but he has been at Ferrari for four years already.
Toro Rosso driver Alexander Albon has raced against Leclerc for much of his career, and was his team-mate when Leclerc became GP3 champion in 2016. Albon finished runner-up.
“I get on really well with Charles,” Albon said. “We had our GP3 experience, and to be honest, already back then, it was, ‘This guy is seriously, seriously quick’.
“I was really happy for him – it’s really cool. From what I know of him, he could always do these laps – sort of, ‘Where did that come from?’ Today was maybe one of those laps.”
But even Albon has been surprised by Leclerc’s quick progress.
“Seeing Charles fighting with Seb so early in the season,” he said. “I thought it would take longer for him to be able to get there.”