Ferrari has confirmed Charles Leclerc will replace Kimi Raikkonen for the 2019 Formula 1 season, partnering four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

Leclerc, 20, rose through Ferrari’s junior programme before reaching Formula 1, winning titles in GP3 and Formula 2 ahead of his grand prix debut with Sauber at the start of the 2018 season.

A string of impressive displays for Sauber prompted Ferrari officials to decide on promoting Leclerc into a race seat for 2019, as announced by the team on Tuesday. 

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Replacing Raikkonen with Leclerc was known to be the favoured course of action for Sergio Marchionne, the Ferrari CEO and chairman who died suddenly at the age of 66 in July.

While incoming CEO Louis C. Camilleri said at the Italian Grand Prix that no decision had been taken regarding the 2019 line-up, it is understood that talks escalated over the Monza weekend, resulting in a final decision to stick to Marchionne’s original plan and promote Leclerc.

The decision means Raikkonen, who won Ferrari’s last drivers’ championship in 2007, will end his second stint with the Scuderia this year, with the Finn rejoining Sauber on a two-year deal from 2019. 

Leclerc has been one of the star performers of the season in his rookie campaign at Sauber, recovering impressively from a slow start in the opening three rounds to score points on five occasions since.

Standout drives to a sixth place finish in Azerbaijan to record his first points in F1 and a strong run to ninth in Austria, along with making three Q3 appearances, has helped a revitalised Sauber establish itself within the midfield and move off the bottom of the constructors’ championship.

Sauber has benefitted from closer ties with Ferrari – including receiving a current-spec power unit – following its collaboration with Alfa Romeo heading into the this season, while Leclerc has been on the Scuderia’s young junior programme since 2016.

It marks a bold change of direction by Ferrari, which has traditionally refrained from fielding young drivers in its line-up. It signed Felipe Massa to race alongside Michael Schumacher for 2006, though the then 24-year-old had already contested three seasons at Sauber, as well as numerous test outings with Ferrari.

Additional reporting by Lewis Larkam. 

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