Crazy day in F1 as Charles Leclerc Slams Wall, Wins Pole for Monaco Grand Prix05/22/2021
Down on the waterfront at Monaco, as the cars go into the high-speed Swimming Pool complex there is a statue of Louis Chiron, the only Monegasque driver to ever win his home Grand Prix.
That was 90 years ago, in the third Monaco Grand Prix. If statues could turn their heads, Chiron would have been able to see his spiritual successor Charles Leclerc clip the wall at the exit of the Swimming Pool on Saturday in during qualifying for the F1 Monaco Grand Prix, breaking the car’s right front suspension and skating across the road into the wall. It’s a crash that happens to some driver or other just about every year in Monaco.
But in crashing, Leclerc brought out a red flag and that meant that Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas, who were on their final flying laps, could not complete their runs. And that meant that Leclerc was on pole. Should the car be deemed unfit to race, Leclerc would start the race in a back-up car at the rear of the field on Sunday.
Fifteen years ago, back in 2006, Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher set the fastest time in qualifying and then locked up in Rascasse corner and nudged into the barriers, blocking the track and stopping his challengers from beating his time. It looked like a deliberate act. Later the FIA stewards rules that to be the case. Schumacher was sent to the back of the grid. Ferrari team boss Jean Todt was upset at the punishment, but no-one cared. Former F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg called it “the cheapest, dirtiest thing I have ever seen in F1.”
The difference in 2021 was that no one thought Leclerc had crashed on purpose. He doesn’t have that kind of reputation, and the damage he did to his car was significant and may mean that Ferrari will have to replace parts and take a penalty, which will mean that he won’t be able to start from pole position.
“For now I am just worried about the rear of the car,” Leclerc said. “I hope that the car isn’t damaged enough to mean I have to start from the back. I was pretty happy before the crash but the last lap was not a great one. I tried to do a little more in the last sector and I hit the wall and broke the suspension. I think it is pretty obvious what happened.”
Did anyone expect Ferrari to be as competitive as they were in Monaco? None of the team’s rivals were overly surprised. The Ferrari has been very quick in medium and low speed corners so far this year, but it has lost out in fast corners and on straights. But Monaco is a slow circuit and suited the Ferraris.
There will always be conspiracy theorists who will question such a performance and the crash that ended qualifying early, but Ferrari’s rivals did not. Even the Ferrari team were a little surprised after the team came through the first day or practice fast off the trailer.
“It’s only Thursday,” said sporting director Laurent Mekies, after Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were first and second on the first day of practice. “Let’s wait to see on Saturday.”
Sainz wasn’t sure either.
“We definitely look very close to being a genuine threat,” he said, “but I think we need to wait until FP3 because things here change a lot from Thursday to Saturday. There’s some drivers that sandbag a bit on Thursday then suddenly on Saturday they are super-quick. We’ll see. It’s nice to see that we are at least close to the front. It’s encouraging.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff suggested on Thursday that his team had not shown its full potential.
“We have a little more,” he told Autoweek, but even he wasn’t sure if it would be enough.
It appeared Saturday was going to be a three-way fight between Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari for pole. And so it was. We’ll never know if Verstappen or Bottas could have beaten Leclerc’s time. It looked possible, but neither questioned Leclerc’s pole.
The pole was the eighth of Leclerc’s career and first since Mexico City in 2019.
“It’s different when a guy makes a mistake and when a guy who does it intentionally,” Verstappen said. “He hit the wall and ended up where I have ended up twice in the past. That’s life. I don’t think the lap should be deleted.
“We are all trying so hard, and it’s not easy round here. We’re all on the limit. The red flag came out. It is what it is. I did a quite decent lap on my first set. I knew pole position was on, but I couldn’t finish it.”
Bottas said that Mercedes has been struggling but felt that he might have done still had enough for the pole.
“It is not quite what it has been been in recent races,” Bottas said. “But there was a chance for pole position.”
The red flag ended those hopes.
It has been a strange Monaco GP week thus far, with Ferrari’s sudden upturn in fortunes, but only a few spectators being allowed, and a city that is much quieter than usual. It doesn’t feel like the Monaco GP should feel, but with the local driver on pole position there was excitement.
Ferrari’s race pace this year has not been very good and so we can expect to see Red Bull and Mercedes challenging for the win. But passing is very difficult.
No doubt Chiron will be watching with interest.
F1 Monaco Grand Prix
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