Leclerc beats Verstappen to sensational Monaco pole as late crash prevents others improving
Charles Leclerc delivered on Ferrari’s shock Monaco Grand Prix pace to take a brilliant pole position in his home race – but his delight was tempered slightly when he ended the session in the barriers.
The Monegasque put together the fastest lap of the weekend with his first run in Q3 but pushed a little too hard on his second run, clipping the Armco as he turned into the chicane, which broke his front suspension sending him across the kerb and into the barrier on the other side.
That incident brought out the red flag with less than a minute to go, ending the session prematurely and preventing anyone – including Max Verstappen who was purple in sector one – from completing their final lap.
As a result, Leclerc held onto pole, Ferrari’s first since the 2019 Mexican Grand Prix, making him the first Monegasque on pole in Monaco since Louis Chiron (whom Leclerc’s helmet for this weekend is dedicated to) in 1936.
However, it remains unclear how significant the damage is to his Ferrari and whether or not he will incur grid penalties for the changing of parts.
FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX DE MONACO 2021
|1 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari
|2 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing
|3 Valtteri Bottas BOT Mercedes
|4 Carlos Sainz SAI Ferrari
|5 Lando Norris NOR McLaren
Verstappen ended up second, in what is his first front row in Monaco, with Valtteri Bottas the leading Mercedes and completing the top three. Reigning world champion and championship leader Lewis Hamilton ended up down in seventh, starting outside the top six for the fist time since the 2018 German Grand Prix.
Carlos Sainz, who was one of the drivers who had to abort following his team mate’s crash, was fourth – his highest grid slot in the Principality. However, it is the first time he has been outqualified by a team mate around the streets of Monaco.
Lando Norris in the Gulf Oil liveried McLaren was sixth, the team’s best Monaco start since 2012, with Pierre Gasly making it three top six starts in five Grands Prix.
Sebastian Vettel has looked the strongest he has all season this weekend – and he continued that momentum with eighth on the grid, having only escaped Q1 by 0.018s. Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi completed the top 10.
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Schumacher fails to take part, as Bottas sets pace
Mick Schumacher was forced to watch qualifying from the side-lines after losing the rear end of his Haas coming out of Casino Square, which caused so much damage, there wasn’t enough time to repair it.
Sainz, who has been in the top two all weekend, set the early pace, before being usurped first by his former team mate Lando Norris, then by Max Verstappen, before Valtteri Bottas pumped in a lap that was good enough for him to end this segment of qualifying fastest.
His Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton struggled to get in a rhythm, and completed 14 laps – more than anybody else – on his way to the seventh fastest time in what was a very competitive session that saw seven different teams inside the top 10.
At the other end of classification, Fernando Alonso set his best time on his final run, but it wasn’t enough to get through as he was eliminated from Q1 for the first time since the 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix.
He was joined in an early finish by Yuki Tsunoda, who endured his third Q1 exit in four races, with Nicholas Latifi – whose Williams team did a great job to get his car ready after an FP3 crash – and Nikita Mazepin plus of course Schumacher the other drivers who failed to progress.
George Russell maintained his record of reaching Q2 at every race this season, while four-time world champion Vettel – who has looked more comfortable in Monaco and outpaced his team mate Stroll – scraped through by just 0.018s.
Knocked out: Tsunoda, Alonso, Latifi, Mazepin, Schumacher
Q2 – Leclerc rises to the top, as Giovinazzi makes it into Q3
Sainz once again set the early pace in Q2, the Spaniard the first driver into the 1m10s in qualifying, but the track continued to improve as the session went on, with Verstappen taking top spot after the initial runs.
However, it was local boy Leclerc who ultimately ended up setting the pace, demoting Verstappen to second, with Bottas third and Sainz holding on to fourth.
Giovinazzi left himself with everything to do, sitting in the drop zone with only a few minutes to go, but the Italian delivered one of the best qualifying laps of his career to give Alfa Romeo their first Q3 appearance in 2021.
It wasn’t such good news for Daniel Ricciardo, the two-time Monaco pole-sitter failed to reach Q3 in the Principality for the first time since 2012, as he was once again comfortably outqualified by team mate Lando Norris who ended up sixth.
Lance Stroll will start a career-best 13th on the grid, having kissed the barriers with his front left tyre, but it wasn’t enough to progress to the top 10 shoot-out. His team mate Vettel had no such problems though, the four-time world champion making it 12 consecutive Q3 appearances in Monaco.
Knocked out: Ocon, Ricciardo, Stroll, Raikkonen, Russell
Q3 – Leclerc crashes but still takes pole as Verstappen is forced to abandon his lap
Coming into the final segment of qualifying, Ferrari were very much in contention for pole position, with their greatest threat appearing to come from Verstappen and Bottas.
Leclerc set the initial pace, with Sainz having a small slide into the final corner and slotting into third, which became fourth when Bottas nipped one place ahead.
Hamilton had a big lock up into Rascasse – and could only manage sixth, which soon became seventh, bringing to an end the first runs.
As they headed back out for a second run, Leclerc was among the first on the road, with his team mate Sainz opting to hang back. Despite having provisional pole, Leclerc continued to push, but went over the limit at the chicane and crashed.
With the red flag brought out quickly, the session was neutralised and the rest of the field had to back off – giving Leclerc his first pole of 2021. The Monegasque now faces an anxious wait to discover the damage on his car, and whether he will be hit with a grid penalty if he is forced to change his gearbox or other major parts.
The key quote
“A shame to finish in the wall,” said pole-sitter Leclerc. “It doesn’t feel the same, but at the same time I’m incredibly happy about my first timed lap. The first corner was quite tricky, I didn’t do a great first corner, but then the second and third sector, I nailed it and just very, very happy to be on pole obviously.
"It was very, very difficult to manage myself mentally after Q2. I could feel I was quite emotional in the car but I told myself, now it’s Q3, now it’s time to put everything together and I managed to do so, so I’m incredibly happy.”
The 2021 Monaco Grand Prix kicks off at 1500 local time, which is 1300 UTC. Leclerc finished quickest, but will Ferrari need to change any parts that will incur grid penalties and thus promote Max Verstappen to pole? Keep an eye on F1.com for all the latest news.