Leclerc takes Monaco GP pole with crash-damaged Ferrari
Charles Leclerc will start on pole for his home Monaco Grand Prix after setting the fastest time in qualifying Saturday despite crunching his Ferrari into a wall which could yet lead to a grid penalty depending on the extent of the damage.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will set off alongside the locally-born Leclerc on the front row of Formula One’s iconic street race with world champion Lewis Hamilton in unfamiliar territory back on the fourth row.
Qualifying was red flagged at the end after Leclerc’s smash, depriving the likes of Hamilton and Verstappen a chance to better Leclerc’s time with a flying lap.
Leclerc, who has a pointless record in his local race, admitted he was “worried” about a penalty for a change of gearbox.
“It’s a shame to finish in the wall, it doesn’t feel the same but I’m incredibly happy about my lap.
“I could feel I was quite emotional in the car – now it’s Q3, now it’s time to put everything together. I managed to do so and I’m incredibly happy.”
With his team-mate Carlos Sainz on the second row alongside the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas after posting the fourth quickest time Ferrari were confirming their impressive form in practice.
“It’s tomorrow that we score points but we are incredibly surprised to be on pole and fourth place for the race tomorrow,” added Leclerc who has given Ferrari a real shot at their first grand prix win since 2019 after a sharp slump last season.
Verstappen, who trails Hamilton by 14 points in the drivers’ world championship, bemoaned the red-flag suspended conclusion to Q3.
“The red flag ruined the chance for pole. Nevertheless, a good weekend and we recovered well from Thursday so not too bad.”
Hamilton, who has won three of this season’s four races, said it was a case of going “back to the drawing board now”.
“There is a lack of grip, so that leaves you to overdrive the car and unfortunately it just didn’t improve,” said the seven-time world champion.
With overtaking difficult on Monaco’s tight and twisting circuit, Hamilton’s chances of moving up to 99 grand prix wins look compromised.
“I guess the minimum will be hopefully finish seventh, and then hope we can get higher,” he said.
Monaco’s mythic circuit is back on the F1 menu after last year’s race was dropped from the coronavirus-disrupted season.
The presence of 7,500 fans is also an indication that gradually a degree of normalcy is returning to the sport’s landscape.
The same could be said about Ferrari’s return to form.