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Charles Leclerc certainly had the feel for his home streets with some fine touch and judgment to secure pole for the Monaco Grand Prix. He has every chance to see off the curse that has blighted his luck here. Better still for Ferrari’s Monégasque driver, qualifying ended with the track reminding his rivals that it punishes the tiniest of errors, with a two-car crash ending the session and preventing title rival, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, from doing better than fourth on the grid.
Leclerc beat his teammate, Carlos Sainz, into second, with Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez in third but only after the two had gone out on their final hot laps.
Pérez had been pushing hard but lost the rear and flicked into the barrier at Portier. That left him sideways on the track and Sainz could do nothing as he turned into the corner and hit the Red Bull. A red flag was immediately issued ending the session.
Mercedes struggled, with their car a real handful, running stiff suspension and a low ride height on the bumpy circuit. George Russell and Lewis Hamilton are in sixth and eighth.
Qualifying left the seven-time champion once more rueing his ill-fortune. Hamilton has suffered some unlucky safety car calls this year and here he was on a new set of soft tyres and on course to improve his final lap when the session was stopped. Hamilton knows a long slog lies ahead on Sunday.
“I am hoping that the weather plays up and creates opportunities, it would be nice to have some luck for once,” he said. “I’ve been having that [bad luck] all year. At some stage it’s bound to stop.”
In a race where grid position is all, Pérez’s accident was most costly for his teammate, Verstappen, who was putting in his final lap and also improving when the session was stopped. Starting from fourth with overtaking set to be all but impossible, he faces an afternoon where Leclerc is in position to once more retake the championship lead.
Pérez held his hands up to the error. “The rear tyre was not gripping and I lost it,” he said “It was shame what happened and I feel sorry for Carlos and the rest of the guys but this is Monaco.”
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The day, however, belonged to the hometown boy, looking to beat his poor run at Monaco. He has failed to finish any of his races here, two in F2 and three in F1, and with the form he and Ferrari have displayed this is surely his best shot yet.
Leclerc, quick across the weekend, has shown intent from the off. He had gone out early to set the pace on his first hot run in Q3, pushing hard and going quickest with a 1min 11.376sec. He was completely hooked-up, barreling around the chicane and taking immense pace through the swimming pool. It was magnificent, a full two-tenths clear of his teammate, Sainz.
The final runs were set to be dramatic but with 30 seconds remaining, the circuit descended into chaos. Pérez and Sainz were off and moments later Fernando Alonso went straight on into the wall at Mirabeau. The track at its most punishing when drivers know everything is at stake on a Saturday.