Match made in Portofino: F1 driver Charles Leclerc takes Ferrari's newest convertible for a spin
When Charles Leclerc was invited to spend a day in Portofino the young Ferrari Academy driver didn't need asking twice. But he wasn't there just to admire the attractive pastel-coloured houses clinging to the steep slopes overlooking the little harbour.
Instead the promising 20 year-old's challenging task was to put the spanking new Ferrari Portofino through its paces around the tricky coastal roads surrounding the convertible's glamorous namesake, the impossibly pretty little fishing village tucked away on Italy's Ligurian coast.
Even though Leclerc had already notched up a considerable amount of Academy time behind the wheel of an envious array of cars - the 458 Italia, the 488 GTB, the F12tdf and the 812 Superfast - he was mightily impressed by the new Portofino. "I love the way it looks", he enthused, "it's more chisselled and aggressive than the Ferrari California T."
Despite the Portofino boasting a 3.9litre twin-turbo V8 engine that produces 600hp, Maranello engineers laboured long and hard to create a new chassis designed especially to reduce the car's overall weight.
For his part, Leclerc has racing in his blood. He was born and raised in the Principality of Monaco on France's Cote d'Azure, where he grew up marvelling at the annual Formula One extravaganza that transforms the city's winding streets into arguably the world's most testing racetrack.
Clearly eager to follow in the footsteps of his father Hervé, who himself had a respectable pedigree as an amateur driver in Formula 3, Charles recalls first climbing into a driving seat as a precocious four year-old.
But, tragically, in June last year Hervé died at the age of 54. For the Ferrari youngster the devastating personal loss also represented an enormous test of temperament and of his dedication to the sport, coming as it did just three days before he was due to compete in the fourth round of the Formula 2 Championship in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Leclerc opted to drive. Despite the enormous pressure he was under, he started on pole, won the first race and came runner-up in the second. It was an impressive show of composure, something which undoubtedly augurs well for his future driving career.
Leclerc went on to become the youngest winner of an F1 support series, being the first 'rookie' champion since Nico Hulkenberg back in 2009. When pushed to name his racing hero he nominates Ayrton Senna, and recalls childhood memories of pestering his father, Hervé, to learn all about his idol.
"I liked Senna's philosophy," he says, adding, "... sometimes when you need to take points instead of making a dumb move where you are taking a massive risk, I know how to calm down and bring the points home." It seems a sure bet that this is one promising Academy talent we shall be hearing a lot more of in the near future.
In the meantime, as he swept the Ferrari Portofino around the challenging bends overlooking the glittering Mediterranean he couldn't contain his enthusiasm for the car: "This is unbelievable! It's loud when you want it to be loud, but when you switch to regular mode, it's comfortable and quiet. Driving any Ferrari is an experience but I absolutely love this."