Formula 2 champion Charles Leclerc will partner Marcus Ericsson at Alfa Romeo-backed Sauber in 2018, the team have confirmed.
The announcement leaves just one seat at Williams left open on the 2018 grid.
Ferrari junior Leclerc replaces Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber, with Ericsson retaining his seat to spend a fourth season with the Swiss team. Antonio Giovinazzi, another Ferrari graduate, had been in contention for Ericsson’s seat but has been handed the role of third driver.
Sauber’s 2018 car will also run in Alfa Romeo-themed livery with an initial concept featuring the marque’s red, white and blue colours revealed on a car at the event.
Leclerc had been heavily linked with the drive since Sauber abandoned plans to switch to Honda power and signed a new multi-year engine deal with Ferrari in July.
Leclerc was a sensation in his debut season in Formula 2, winning the championship with three races to spare and finishing 72 points clear at the top of the standings.
The 20-year-old recorded seven race victories and three more podium finishes, while he also started a record eight races on pole – surpassing the achievements of former champions Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
2018 F1 driver line-ups Mercedes Lewis Hamilton Valtteri Bottas Ferrari Sebastian Vettel Kimi Raikkonen Red Bull Daniel Ricciardo Max Verstappen Force India Sergio Perez Esteban Ocon Williams Lance Stroll TBC McLaren Stoffel Vandoorne Fernando Alonso Toro Rosso Pierre Gasly Brendon Hartley Haas Romain Grosjean Kevin Magnussen Renault Nico Hulkenberg Carlos Sainz Sauber Marcus Ericsson Charles Leclerc
He is also well-known to Sauber team principal Frederic Vasseur having driven for the Frenchman’s ART team en route to winning the 2016 GP3 title.
Leclerc has driven in four Friday practice sessions for Sauber this year in Malaysia, USA, Mexico and Brazil, finishing ahead of Wehrlein and Ericsson in the timesheet in Malaysia and Brazil. He also drove for the team in the post-season Abu Dhabi tyre test.
Leclerc impressed on his Ferrari debut at August’s in-season test in Hungary, setting the fastest time on day one and the third fastest of the test, six tenths off Sebastian Vettel’s best time and bettering that set by Kimi Raikkonen.
Ericsson’s future at Sauber had been in question amid suggestions Ferrari may also look to place Giovinazzi in the team.
But Ericsson’s Swedish backers are linked to Sauber’s owners and he will now complete a fifth season in Formula 1.
The Swede was the only full-time driver on the grid who failed to score a point in 2017, his last top-10 finish coming at the 2015 Italian GP.
His best finish this season was 11th in Spain and Azerbaijan while he was involved in some close battles with Wehrlein, who scored all five of Sauber’s points.
Ericsson was out-qualified by the German 11-7 and trailed his team-mate 6-4 in races where both cars finished in 2017.
What now for Wehrlein?
Leclerc’s promotion leaves Mercedes protégée Wehrlein’s future in Formula 1 in serious doubt, with Williams the only team left with a seat available in 2018.
But Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted at the Abu Dhabi GP that there was only a “tiny possibility” of the 23-year-old joining the Grove-based team, with Robert Kubica the leading candidate to be Lance Stroll’s team-mate in 2018 following Felipe Massa’s retirement.
The Pole, seeking a full-time return to F1, completed a third test for the team at the post-season Abu Dhabi tyre test in which he drove Williams’ 2017 car for the first time. Kubica and Williams’ reserve driver Paul Di Resta also tested their 2014 car at the Hungaroring in October as the team assessed their options.
Former Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat and Renault reserve driver Sergey Sirotkin, who joined Kubica and Stroll at the Abu Dhabi test for Williams, are understood to be the other candidates for the seat.
Williams’ title sponsor Martini would also prefer a driver over the age of 25 for promotional reasons, although chief technical officer Paddy Lowe insisted that could be worked around as the team look to secure the best possible line-up.
Wehrlein said in Mexico that he was not yet considering options outside of Formula 1 for next year, but he has been linked with a return to DTM racing or a switch to Formula E.
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