Charles Leclerc has Monaco victory in his sight – as Max Verstappen bemoans Red Bull ‘go-kart’

Charles Leclerc has Monaco victory in his sight – as Max Verstappen bemoans Red Bull ‘go-kart’

Half the job is done. Nowhere on the 24-race Formula 1 calendar does qualifying matter so much and, most pertinently, for Monaco’s homegrown star. Twice previously, Charles Leclerc has been unable to capitalise on a pole position on the streets of Monte-Carlo: once in 2021 due to a drive-shaft issue which meant he was unable to start the race and second in 2022, when Ferrari blundered in their pit-lane strategy.

But as they say, third time’s a charm.

This seems a different Ferrari outfit now, too. Led by the cheeky but firm personality of team principal Fred Vasseur, the Scuderia are showing clear signs of progress both in car development and, perhaps more crucially, in the pitlane. So much so that Lewis Hamilton is gambling the end of his glittering career on a move to Maranello next year.

But 2024 may have some life left in it yet. As for Leclerc, he’s made changes too. Long-term engineer Xavi Marcos was ditched prior to the last race and it was his new man in the ear, Bryan Bozz, who informed the Monegasque of his pole position on Saturday, two-tenths clear of McLaren’s Oscar Piastri – a surprise name in second.

The typical thought process is that, in Monaco, pole position should mean the win is wrapped up. It is near-on impossible to overtake during the 78-lap grand prix, such is the narrow twists and bumps that make up this iconic track, and the whole grid did not downplay the importance of qualifying beforehand. Yet Leclerc was keen to emphasise that his past experiences show the job is not done yet.

“You go into qualifying knowing you’ve got everything to lose and if you don’t take pole position, you’re completely stupid,” Leclerc, the quickest man all weekend, said post-pole. “It was tense. The peak of the tension of the whole season is qualifying in Monaco. For the race you are more relaxed.

“But we have to focus on the start and the laps around the pit stop. Qualifying is a bit part of the job but previously we didn’t have the success we wanted. In the past there were some mistakes… [but] the team is a lot stronger now and I’m confident we’ll do a good job.”

Carlos Sainz, team-mate of Leclerc for the fourth and final year, also insisted he will do everything he can to support Ferrari’s pole-sitter tomorrow. It is an ideal opportunity for the Scuderia and their drivers to make up some ground in the championship, especially when you look down the leaderboard at where the runaway leader sits.

Charles Leclerc qualified on pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix (Getty Images)
Charles Leclerc qualified on pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix (Getty Images)
Max Verstappen will start Sunday’s race sixth on the grid (Getty Images)
Max Verstappen will start Sunday’s race sixth on the grid (Getty Images)

In contrast to Ferrari’s smooth weekend and McLaren’s rapid progress in the last month, it has been a struggle for Red Bull. Max Verstappen has complained throughout the practice sessions about the balance of the car and, while that is not unusual, this time around he was unable to pull out a lap for the ages.

On the contrary, the Dutchman spurned his final chance by locking up at turn one – Sainte-Devote – and hitting the wall. He starts tomorrow’s race in sixth, behind Mercedes’ George Russell and ahead of 2021 nemesis Lewis Hamilton. It is his worst starting position since Singapore last September.

“The car is like a go-kart,” he said afterwards. “It is like I am running without a suspension. The amount of times I almost jumped into the wall in the final corner was pretty incredible.

“We have had this problem since 2022 so it is not something new. For the past few years we have had a car advantage so it gets masked, but with everyone catching up, when you don’t improve your weakest point you get found out. And it is a fundamental problem so it will not get fixed in weeks. The last two or three races have been incredibly difficult, but this kind of track is the worst-case scenario for us.”


1. Charles Leclerc - 1:10:270

2. Oscar Piastri - +0.154

3. Carlos Sainz - +0.248

4. Lando Norris - +0.272

5. George Russell - +0.273

6. Max Verstappen - +0.297

7. Lewis Hamilton - +0.351

8. Yuki Tsunoda - +0.588

9. Alex Albon - +0.678

10. Pierre Gasly - +1.041

Under the blazing French Riveria sunshine, the shocks came from early doors. Two former winners in Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso were startlingly eliminated from Q1, with Red Bull No 2 driver Perez languishing down all the way in 18th.

The Mexican, who won in the rain here two years ago, is out of contract at the end of the year and it is performances like this which may well prompt Christian Horner to ponder a change of driver, with Sainz among the drivers on the market.

One man who is sure of his seat for the future is Aston Martin’s Alonso, who endured a rare off-day in the principality. He starts in 16th, a year on from coming so close to pole position. Both men have a gargantuan job on tomorrow to climb back into points, on a track where overtaking is near-impossible.

Leclerc will certainly hope it is a routine day come lights out. He has never finished on the podium at his home race in five attempts, let alone stand on the top-step in the royal box. This time, though, everything is set up for Ferrari’s main man to triumph for the first time in 22 months.

And should he do so, the hometown hero could trigger a title charge; a charge we all assumed would not occur but, gradually, Red Bull’s utter dominance looks to be fading. Leclerc trails Verstappen by 48 points, but, it does genuinely seem, that this is not a false dawn. The chasing pack really are catching up.