Formula 1

Charles LeClerc: Miseries of Monaco

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The Monaco Grand Prix might be the most iconic venue in the entirety of motorsports with tight roads, unforgiving corners, and picturesque city streets. For Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc, it’s home.

One of the premier young talents in the sport, LeClerc occupies one of the most coveted seats in the sport as Ferrari’s top driver. Still just 23 years old, the phenom won the Formula 2 Championship in his debut season of 2017 before he made the jump to F1. In little more than three years as a Formula 1 driver, he’s won a pair of races, finished on the podium 12 times, and qualified pole position seven times in 2019 to claim the Pirelli Pole Position Trophy.

For all his prodigious success, however, LeClerc’s races in his home city of Monte Carlo have been far from fruitful. In fact, they’ve been downright frustrating, as he has yet to even see a checkered flag!

2017 – Charles LeClerc’s Monaco Troubles Begin

LeClerc’s native woes trace back beyond his time with the Prancing Horses and even beyond his time in Formula 1. In his epic run through Formula 2, LeClerc competed 22 times, in 11 feature races, and 11 sprint races. He took seven wins, finished on the podium 10 times, and finished worse than fifth place just seven times. Out of all 22 races, he didn’t complete a race four times: the 2017 Red Bull Ring Sprint Race, the 2017 Spa Feature Race, and both the feature race and the sprint race at Monaco.

LeClerc came to Monte Carlo with all the momentum in the world. He led the F2 driver standings by 26 points after a feature race win in Barcelona and a sprint race win in Sakhir, as well as two pole positions in two races. His qualifying prowess continued at home, with a 1 minute, 19.309-second lap enough for his third pole in a row.

His momentum ended there. LeClerc didn’t finish either the feature race or the sprint race, forced to retire the car after a mechanical issue. LeClerc wrote for after the race that his front left wheel seemed to not be attached correctly and moved while he drove, later discovering the camber shims broke to effectively end his weekend.

2018 – New Circuit, Same Charles Leclerc Monaco Struggles

LeClerc made the jump to Formula 1 in 2018 as a driver for Sauber and the heir apparent for Ferrari. The beginning of his season was uninspiring, but he seemed to be growing comfortable as Monaco grew closer. The Monégasque finished each of his first five races and drove his way into the points the previous two races, including a sixth-place finish in Azerbaijan. With the premiere of racing back in his childhood streets, LeClerc seemed well-poised to right the wrongs of his domain debut.

Instead, LeClerc’s struggles extended to qualifying. Monaco’s proudest son didn’t escape Q2 and finished 14th, over four-tenths of a second adrift of the top ten drivers.

The Sunday race went smoothly, if uneventfully, for the young star for most of the day. 70 laps into the race, however, a brake problem sent him barreling into Toro Rosso’s Brandon Hartley coming out of the tunnel, bringing loose one of his wheels and ending both driver’s days mere laps from the checkered flag. LeClerc was 0-for-2 at Monaco.

2019 – A New Car Can’t Solve Charles Leclerc’s Monaco Miseries

LeClerc’s third attempt on native soil seemed destined to be different from the first two. He was a Ferrari driver now, a member of maybe the most prestigious team in motorsport, and he lived up to the prodigy title.

He finished in the top five each of the five races leading into Monaco, and he put together the best weekend of his young career to date in Bahrain the second week of the year. He qualified pole position for the first time in F1, and he nabbed his first career fastest lap and podium with a third-place finish on Sunday.

LeClerc earned his second fastest lap two weeks later in Azerbaijan, and he rolled into Monte Carlo fifth in the World Drivers’ Championship standings with 57 points. Not only did the budding star seem poised to break his curse, but he also had to be considered among the favorites to lift a trophy Sunday evening. He authored the fastest lap time in final practice to add fuel to the fire.

In his five previous qualifying runs, LeClerc finished in the top five four times and never ended worse than ninth. His streak broke in stunning fashion. He failed to escape Q1, his 1:12.149 lap time merely 16th-best on the grid after he circled the track just eight times in part due to a team strategy failure.

The race somehow went worse, his dream form quickly snowballing into a nightmare. LeClerc’s car was retired after 16 laps, the only DNF of the race, after he made contact with Nico Hulkenburg.

For the third time in a row, LeClerc was left to watch the closing laps of his childhood Grand Prix from the pit lane with his helmet in his hand.

2021 – Charles LeClerc Monaco Redemption up in Smoke

Monaco’s street course hasn’t seen action since 2019 due to a patchwork 2020 schedule affected by COVID-19, so LeClerc’s had 24 months to stew on his most recent, and perhaps most frustrating, performance in Monte Carlo. The Monégasque driver arrives in a form reminiscent of two years ago, with no podiums but two fourths and two sixth-place finishes to position him in fifth on the driver leaderboard. He whipped around the track Thursday to record the fastest time in Free Practice 2.

The whispers turned to shouts Saturday. For the first time on the Formula 1 grid, LeClerc reached the final stage of qualifying in Monte Carlo, but he didn’t stop there. He sprinted around the narrow bends and curves of his native streets with grace and found himself atop the table with a 1:10.346 lap time. He would begin the race in front, his first pole in almost two years.

Saturday ended, unfortunately, as LeClerc ran his car into the wall after touching the wall at a chicane. The debris ended the session 45 seconds early, but he and Ferrari didn’t seem overly phased by the damage done to the car.

They sang a different tune that race morning. On his warm-up lap, LeClerc felt something was wrong with the car, his desperate pleas caught on his team radio. He returned the car to the pit lane, sacrificing his number one spot on the grid for the chance to ensure his car was in drivable condition.

It wasn’t. Ferrari found an issue on the left-hand side of the car, an area unexamined by the team after the crash the day prior since only the right side had been damaged. Ferrari team leader Mattia Binotto said the issue which forced the retirement may have not been related to the crash at all.

After his proudest moment, in prime position for a redemptive win, LeClerc instead needed to be consoled by his close friends on the grid before the race began. A race he couldn’t fight for.

LeClerc will get his moment at Monaco. But for now, a place he expected joy and success has brought nothing but pain, and 2021 continues a disappointing trend.

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Featured Image Credits to Embed from Getty Images

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