It was the most dramatic moment of the Monaco Grand Prix – Charles Leclerc barrelling into the rear of Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso approaching the chicane on lap 70. But as the Sauber driver later explained to the stewards, there was little he could have done to prevent the spectacular clash from happening…
Hartley and Leclerc had been running nose-to-tail in 11th and 12th when, coming out of the tunnel at full speed, the latter was unable to slow his car under braking for the chicane and ploughed into his rival.
As carbon fibre littered the circuit, the stewards announced they would investigate what had happened, but after reviewing video evidence and hearing from all interested parties they quickly dismissed any notion of driver error, with a front-left brake disc failure on Leclerc's Sauber identified as the cause.
“Four laps before [the incident], I felt like the brake pedal was getting very, very long,” said Leclerc, who’d been racing on home soil for the first time.
“It was very inconsistent, even putting the same amount of [pressure] on the pedal, it was not decelerating and then decelerating, not decelerating and then decelerating. It was very difficult to manage and then at one point, they [the brakes] just gave up.”
The huge crash, which eliminated both drivers from the running, was not the first time Leclerc and Hartley had tangled during the race, with the Toro Rosso driver losing part of his front wing in an early exchange.
Retirement capped a disappointing weekend for Hartley, who showed impressive speed in practice but was unable to capitalise when it really mattered.
“It was an uphill battle [after the early contact]," said the New Zealander. "The tyres quickly faded with lack of front downforce, but we held on and made a big effort to make the ultrasofts last until the end. We pitted really early to make an undercut which was a good strategy, and towards the end of the race I was catching Carlos for P10, but then I got hit from behind.
“Charles and I spoke afterwards and he said he lost the brakes. It’s pretty frustrating, but that’s Monaco. We were strong all weekend apart from Q1, where we didn’t get it all together. I was happy with how I was driving today but ultimately it wasn’t meant to be.”
Despite recording the first DNF of his F1 career, Leclerc said he would take positives from his home race.
“It’s a shame, but again our race pace was really good," he reasoned. "Our quali pace also was better than expected, with a third Q2 in a row, so it’s looking positive for the future.”