Motor racing-Home hero Leclerc crashes to pole position in Monaco

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Monaco Grand Prix
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By Alan Baldwin

(Reuters) -Ferrari's Charles Leclerc took pole position at his home Monaco Grand Prix after crashing in the dying seconds on Saturday, with frustrated rivals unable to better his time after red flags halted qualifying for Formula One's showcase race.

The 23-year-old smashed into the barriers lining the street circuit with 18 seconds left on the clock, the impact raising fears that the car could need a new gearbox and incur a five-place grid drop.

"With the crash, I don't know where I'm starting tomorrow," said Leclerc.

"I'm not feeling well for now, I'm just waiting for mechanics to open the gearbox."

Ferrari raised his hopes some hours later by saying an initial inspection had "not revealed any serious damage". Further checks will be carried out on Sunday, however.

Red Bull's title contender Max Verstappen was one of those who had to abort their final flying laps, but qualified second and would inherit pole if the Ferrari is demoted.

"It was all going really well and the red flag ruined the chance for pole," said Verstappen.

Mercedes' world championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who leads Verstappen by 14 points after four races but had struggled through the session and in practice, qualified a distant seventh.

With grid position of critical importance at a slow and twisty track where overtaking is almost impossible, and a hard slog looming for Sunday, the seven-time world champion was hoping for rain.

"We go back to the drawing board now," added the Briton, who felt the team had not done "things that should have been done".

"There is a lack of grip, so that leaves you to overdrive the car and unfortunately it just didn't improve," he said

SCHUMACHER CRASH

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said it had not been a good day for the reigning champions.

"We need to find out why we couldn't get Lewis's car in a happier place," said the Austrian.

Leclerc was on provisional pole after the opening flying laps, 0.230 seconds quicker than Verstappen's best effort, but got it all wrong at the Swimming Pool chicane.

The speeding Ferrari swiped the metal barrier at the corner, bounced over the kerb with a broken suspension and smashed across the track and into the barrier before coming to a standstill.

"It's a shame to finish in the wall, it doesn't feel the same," said Leclerc of his eighth career pole and first in Monaco. He was last on pole in 2019.

For those who recall Michael Schumacher "crashing" his Ferrari at Rascasse in qualifying for the 2006 grand prix, ensuring nobody beat his pole time, Leclerc's looked real enough.

"Such a crash could put you in real jeopardy if the gearbox is broken," said Wolff, when asked. "It wasn't the tiniest of brushes, it was a real impact."

Leclerc, born and raised in the Mediterranean principality where many of the other drivers live, has yet to finish his home race, which was cancelled last year due to COVID-19, but is hoping for third time lucky.

Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas qualified third, also aborting a potential pole lap, with Ferrari's Carlos Sainz fourth and even more upset.

"It's not like every day of your life you get the chance to go for a pole lap around Monaco and to not even have that opportunity on your second run is tremendously frustrating," said Sainz.

McLaren's Lando Norris was fifth and AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly starts sixth. Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel qualified eighth for Aston Martin.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo, Monaco winner in 2018 with Red Bull, failed to get his McLaren into the top 10 and will start in 12th while two-time world champion and past Monaco winner Fernando Alonso lines up 17th for Alpine.

Mick Schumacher, son of the Ferrari great and seven-time champion, missed out on qualifying altogether after crashing his Haas in final practice.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Ed Osmond, Hugh Lawson and Pritha Sarkar)

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