F1 2018 Driver Battles: Ericsson and Leclerc provide solid start for Sauber

(REUTERS/Albert Gea)

Sauber’s surprisingly good start to the season has seen them amass a solid points score already. After a dismal 2016 and 2017, things are looking up for the Swiss team who now have Alfa Romeo financial backing and a star in the making in one of their cars. 

Here’s how their two drivers, Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson, have fared in 2018 their head-to-head battle.

Season So Far

Qualifying head-to-head

Leclerc 3-2 Ericsson

Respective points

Leclerc 9-2 Ericsson

After many, including myself predicted Sauber to struggle once again in 2018, Formula One's only Swiss manufacturer have taken us all by surprise after the first five rounds of this season. They’ve closed the gap between themselves and the back of the midfield and have established themselves as genuine points contenders. 

After a lacklustre Grand Prix at the season-opener in Australia, Ericsson shocked the F1 world by taking his first points in over two years in Bahrain. Having half of the top six retiring from the race no doubt helped, but the Swede earned his ninth place through legitimate pace, out-muscling the likes of Force India during the race. This result was even more impressive when you consider that Ericsson was expected to be the whipping boy again this season as Leclerc is touted by many as being destined for Formula One greatness. 

Shanghai didn’t suit the Sauber's characteristics, but Baku was a different story. Last year, Leclerc dominated the Azerbaijan rounds of the Formula Two championship, taking the victory in the feature race before finishing second in the sprint race. Even with that considered, nobody would’ve predicted what happened on the tight and twisty streets of Baku in 2018. Thanks in part to the Red Bulls taking each other out and Valtteri Bottas’ puncture, Leclerc crossed the line in sixth place, Sauber’s best result since 2015. 

The Monegasque driver then followed this up with a solid tenth place in Spain, again out-performing his car, leaving Sauber in ninth place in the constructors' standings, seven points better off than at the same stage last year.

Leclerc’s Potential

Charles Leclerc is one of the most exciting talents in the sport right now. It's hard to believe the Ferrari Academy driver is only 20-years-old, as he's already battled with drivers like Fernando Alonso in a more formidable manner than some seasoned veterans. I watched Formula Two in 2017 and the man from Monaco was the standout driver. It didn't seem fair that the drivers were in equal cars; he was a cut above the rest. The last driver I can remember dominating the junior categories to that degree was Lewis Hamilton, and we all know how well he's done since joining the elite. 

Can he win a championship? A lot of factors have to fall in place for any driver to win the title, but it's something that can't be discounted. With Ferrari backing him, he's got every chance of being in the red car come 2019, and from there, the sky's the limit. What I admire most about him is his attitude. It's easy to make the comparison, but he reminds me a lot of the late Jules Bianchi. 

Moving forward

How Sauber develop the C37 will be vital to how the remaining 16 Grand Prix will go for them. Traditionally, they struggle the longer the season goes on, as funding has always been difficult to find. However, with Ericsson's continued investment and the new Alfa Romeo partnership, Sauber should be able to maintain their place in the pecking order come Abu Dhabi in November. 

To his credit, Ericsson looks improved this season, but whether he deserves a seat in F1 is still unclear. The Swede's financial backing means that unless something unprecedented happens, he will maintain his place as one of the 20 Formula 1 drivers in 2019. Leclerc meanwhile, will probably move up the grid next season, courtesy of his undoubted talent and his place in the Ferrari Driver Academy. There's already been rumours of him replacing Romain Grosjean at Haas, after the Frenchman's abysmal start to 2018, so that shouldn't be ruled out. 

How do you think Sauber's drivers have performed in 2018 so far? And do you think they will get on for the rest of the campaign? Let us know in the comments below!

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