Motor racing: Charles Leclerc staying at Ferrari F1 team until end of 2024 after 'a dream year'

Charles Leclerc won two races this year, his first season with Ferrari, and took more pole positions than any other driver. PHOTO: AFP

(REUTERS) - Ferrari have extended Charles Leclerc's Formula One contract to the end of the 2024 season, the Italian team announced on Monday (Dec 23).

The 22-year-old Monegasque won two races (back to back in Belgium and Italy) this year, his first season with Ferrari, and took more pole positions (seven) than any other driver.

He finished fourth in the drivers' championship behind Mercedes' six-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, also of Mercedes, and Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

But he was ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel, a four-time F1 champion whose contract expires at the end of 2020, in the season's standings.

"I am very happy to be staying on with Scuderia Ferrari. This past season, driving for the most illustrious team in Formula One has been a dream year for me," Leclerc said in a statement.

"I cannot wait to enjoy an even deeper relationship with the team after what has been an intense and exciting 2019. I'm keen to see what the future holds and I can't wait to get going again next season."

The decision makes Leclerc central to the team's long-term plans, with Vettel's future far from certain after seeing his authority steadily eroded in a 2019 campaign clouded by mistakes.

It also means he will be a teammate to whoever succeeds Vettel, with Hamilton the subject of plenty of speculation about his plans after Mercedes. The Briton's contract also expires at the end of next year.

Team principal Mattia Binotto indicated that the decision to commit to a graduate of the Ferrari Driver Academy, who made his F1 debut with Sauber (now competing as Alfa Romeo) in 2018, had been obvious.

"With each passing race this year, our wish to extend our contract with Charles became ever more self-evident and the decision means he will now be with us for the next five seasons," he said.

"It demonstrates that Charles and the Scuderia have a firm future together...I'm sure that together, we will write many new pages in the history of the Prancing Horse."

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