Ferrari is shocking the Formula 1 competition. After lean years, Charles Leclerc could lead the Scuderia to its first drivers’ title since 2007. Fifteen years ago, Kimi Räikkönen made the Italians proud. But the road to a repeat is still very long.

It’s not that Charles Leclerc doesn’t know this feeling at all. Of course, he has led a championship before, he says. “But in the junior classes,” said the new Formula 1 dominator after his second win of the season in Australia. But the fact that he is 34 points ahead of second-placed George Russell of Mercedes and even 46 points ahead of hapless world champion Max Verstappen after three races is then a new situation – and puts him in pole position for something really big. “We have a car that is fast enough to win races and maybe the title. Now it’s up to me,” said the 24-year-old Monegasque.

“Imola awaits the red king”

It wasn’t long ago that nobody believed in Leclerc’s Ferrari team. For years, ambition and reality did not match at the Italians. Until this season began. The Scuderia implemented the new aerodynamics rules best and built a car that shocked the competition. “Tuttosport” already renamed Leclerc “Charlemagne” after his first name, “Corriere della Sera” saw the “total dominance of Ferrari” and the “Gazzetta dello Sport” judged: “Ferrari is like a rocket. Leclerc is a cannibal. Imola awaits the red king. No one is catching up with him now. And the world championship is no longer a dream.”

The dramaturgy could hardly be better. The Ferrari home race at Imola is just under two weeks away, Leclerc arrives in the red racer with a comfortable world championship lead. “It’s going to be crazy,” he said himself, “But I don’t want to think too much about the championship lead or even a title, the season is still so long.” He said he wants to drive in Italy as he always does, but the atmosphere should still be unique.

Verstappen struggles with his Red Bull’s reliability

Leclerc has managed to not only join Verstappen and record world champion Lewis Hamilton in the titanic duel, but even steal the show from the superstars. Verstappen is struggling with the reliability of his Red Bull after two retirements and has already had to retire twice while lying in second position. Briton Hamilton is a long way from title number eight and has problems with his Mercedes. But he still finished fourth in Australia and is fifth overall (28 points), well behind Leclerc (71) but still just ahead of Dutchman Verstappen (25).

Much is currently reminiscent of 2014, when Mercedes began its triumphal march at the start of the new hybrid era after a rules revolution. The Silver Arrows replaced Red Bull at that time. Sebastian Vettel had won the world championship four times in a row for the team from 2010 to 2013, after the drastic changes in the regulations Mercedes dominated and won the Constructors’ World Championship eight times in a row. Is Ferrari now also starting such a series with Leclerc because they have implemented the complex specifications best?

Binotto: “The performance density is high”.

“We are not thinking about the championship yet, because there are only three races over. We are focusing on every single race,” said Ferrari’s team boss Mattia Binotto. “The power density is high, so we have to get it perfect.” That’s exactly what the traditional racing team is doing right now. And not only is Leclerc not making any mistakes, his car is holding up, unlike Verstappen’s. “If you want to win, the first thing you have to do is finish,” Binotto said: “That’s why reliability is as much a key element as performance itself.”

Red Bull has a weight problem

And Ferrari has another advantage in its duel with Red Bull. “We don’t just have the reliability problems, the other thing is the weight problem. We are well above Ferrari’s weight,” said Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s motorsport adviser. The Verstappen team urgently needs to slim down, but that costs money and time. “It’s a difficult situation now,” Marko said.

That is why there is much to suggest that Ferrari can continue to dominate in the coming weeks unless their rivals quickly improve their own cars. “There is no reason to believe in the title at the moment,” said Verstappen, who dramatically beat Hamilton last year, “If you want to fight for the world championship, you have to be ahead of Ferrari. But they are superior to us in many ways.”