Leclerc claims Monaco GP pole as Verstappen says car like a ‘go-kart’

<span>Charles Leclerc rounds a corner on his way to qualifying on pole position in <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Monaco;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Monaco</a>. </span><span>Photograph: sportinfoto/DeFodi Images/Shutterstock</span>

Charles Leclerc once more held his nerve on his home circuit to claim pole for the Monaco Grand Prix despite the pressure and an intensity of competition that made the outcome impossible to predict.

Theoretically qualifying is the hardest part of the weekend in Monte Carlo but Leclerc knows only too well he and his Ferrari team must now execute with absolute precision on Sunday if the 26-year-old is finally to see off his Monaco curse.

Related: Nigel Mansell: ‘Ayrton could block like a double-decker bus at Monaco’

This is Leclerc’s third pole here, the principality where he was born at the meeting he wants to win over all others but one where he has still not managed to finish on the podium in his five previous appearances.

In 2021, he was on pole but a crash in qualifying damaged his driveshaft and the car was retired before the race began. Then in 2022, once more starting from the front of the grid, Ferrari blew his chances with a miscalled strategy. Fickle mistress fortune it seemed has repeatedly abandoned him on his very doorstep.

Third time lucky might be the charm but Leclerc was not willing to so much as consider fate a factor in the events set to unfold on Sunday. Asked if he might do something different to previous Saturday nights when he had claimed pole here, he laughed it off.

“No, no, no, nothing different,” he said. “You do the job on the Saturday and then you try and focus on the Sunday race and do the best we can do as a team. In the past there was mistakes, the team has got a lot stronger since then.”

He had indeed done the job but was pushed hard. He had been on top on the circuit all weekend but the margins were tiny and the pressure intense. By the end of Q2 less than a tenth of a second separated the top six as they entered the decisive laps.

Leclerc set the pace on the opening runs with a 1min 10.418sec lap, followed by McLaren’s Oscar Piastri, just two-hundredths down, while Max Verstappen, on his run of eight consecutive poles, continued to struggle with his Red Bull and could manage only third but just one tenth back.

As the track reached the peak of its grip on the final runs Leclerc went quicker still, while Verstappen touched the wall, his lap had to be aborted leaving him flailing in sixth, while Piastri could not improve, finishing second as the Monégasque driver brought it home more than a tenth clear with a 1min 10.270sec lap.

In so doing he had successfully conquered what he considered the hardest qualifying session of the season and it left him calm about the task to come on Sunday, even given his hometown hoodoo.

“The peak of the tension of the whole season is qualifying in Monaco,” he said. “Then for the race you are relaxed, because in the race you are focused on the start, the laps around the pit stop. Qualifying in Monaco is a big part of the job. It is true in the past we did not have the success we wanted but I am not thinking about that anymore.”

While this is the first time Verstappen has been denied the top spot this season, struggling with the car’s handling all weekend, he was disappointed but remained unconcerned that even a difficult afternoon on Sunday would prove a serious dent in his title ambitions while he still enjoys a 48-point lead over Leclerc in the championship.

As has been repeatedly noted this weekend, with the current generation of F1 cars so wide and heavy, overtaking at Monaco has become all but a distant dream. Qualifying has assumed absolutely vital importance and Leclerc had it nailed on Saturday, threading the needle in Monte Carlo with extraordinary verve. That place is sealed then and with it the genuine advantage that should be converted to victory on Sunday but he knows only too well nothing is a given in Monaco.

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Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was in third, Lando Norris was fourth for McLaren, with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton in fifth and seventh for Mercedes. Alex Albon was a superb ninth for Williams and Yuki Tsunoda in eighth for RB, with Pierre Gasly in 10th for Alpine.

Nico Hülkenberg and Kevin Magnussen qualified in 12th and 15th for Haas but both the rear wings of their cars were found to have breached regulations and they were disqualified. They will start from the back of the grid.

Esteban Ocon was in 11th for Alpine, Daniel Ricciardo in 13th for RB and Lance Stroll in 14th for Aston Martin.

Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez, who is fighting for his seat with the team next season, suffered a shocker, going out in 18th place in Q1. Fernando Alonso was in 16th for Aston Martin, Logan Sargeant 17th for Williams with Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou in 19th and 20th for Sauber.