Leclerc was already at the top of the standings when a crash by Sergio Perez ended the qualifying session with about 30 seconds left. Leclerc said if Perez hadn’t crashed his last flying lap would have been even better.
“I was about four tenths faster and it was a really good lap,” said Leclerc. “But what happened to ‘Checo’ happened to me last year, so no frustration.”
Perez spun his Red Bull on his own final qualifying lap and blocked the track, and Carlos Sainz jnr saw him too late to avoid hitting Perez.
Perez said “I felt the rear tire had no grip”, and the damage “looks bad from the back”. He expected Red Bull to repair the car in time for Sunday’s race.
Sainz said he saw the yellow flag in front of Perez but did not know where Perez’s car was when he encountered the Red Bull.
“I came out of a blind spot,” he said. “It would have been a nice save.”
Despite the contact with Perez, Sainz qualified second as Ferrari closed the front row for Sunday’s race.
“I think we’re in a great position to score points,” Sainz said.
For Leclerc, he actually has to finish a race on his home circuit.
He won pole a year ago but was unable to start the race due to damage to his Ferrari. He has never finished an F1 race in Monaco.
“Hopefully we can have a clean race,” said Leclerc, who was fastest in all three practice sessions. He noted that the forecast for Sunday was raining, but he was passable in wet conditions at Imola.
“City routes are very difficult. In the rain I’m sure Monaco is even stronger,” said Leclerc.
Leclerc, winner of two of the first three races of this F1 season, lost the championship lead to Verstappen in Spain last week when Verstappen won his third consecutive race.
Verstappen will start fourth on Sunday alongside Perez, who was third fastest for his late spin in qualifying.
George Russell qualified sixth for Mercedes. Russell’s team-mate, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, qualified eighth and was unable to improve his position due to the red flag of Perez’s spin.
“I feel sorry for Carlos and the rest of the guys, but that’s Monaco,” said Perez.
Fernando Alonso qualified seventh, while Sebastian Vettel and Esteban Ocon were ninth and tenth.
As the sun splashed onto the track, the stars rushed to the track in time for qualifying. F1’s iconic race is as much about bling and glamor as the racing itself, and celebrities gather here every year.
It is close to Cannes, where the film festival is held, and over the years Star Wars creator George Lucas is a regular. In Monaco ahead of Sunday’s race, features include actor Ryan Gosling, LeBron James NBA scorer, singer Ricky Martin and UFC star fighter Conor McGregor.
However, the racing is not that exciting and most of the action takes place in qualifying. Come on race day, passing is nearly impossible on the narrow 3.34 kilometer street circuit.
And with cities around the world clamoring for a Formula 1 race and willing to pay astronomical fees to land a Grand Prix, the big Monaco event is in jeopardy.
FF1 is as much a part of the small principality’s image as Grace Kelly and Monaco’s famed casino. But while Monaco F1 promoters pay a penalty fee, it is believed to be nominal and about $15 million a year. Other cities pay closer to $60 million a year. F1 is in the final year of its contract with the Monaco Grand Prix and if financial negotiations do not improve, the circuit could be dropped from the 2023 calendar.
“I think Monaco has forever had a very beneficial commercial agreement with Formula 1, and I think Formula 1 is just trying to achieve a commercial agreement that is more in line with the other venues, while keeping its importance on the calendar, McLaren Racing boss Zak Brown said.
“I think Formula 1 is now so big that it is bigger than any team, bigger than any driver and bigger than any race. Of course I don’t think any of us would want to see Monaco leave, but also understand that as a commercial rights holder they need an arrangement that is more consistent with the other venues, given the demand for circuits that want to host Grands Prix. †
Drivers are not in favor of a departure from Monaco.
“I think it would be a bad move. F1 without Monaco is not F1 for me,” said Monaco-born Leclerc. “F1 has historic tracks like Silverstone, like Monza, and I think they should stay.”
The reigning world champion also weighed in.
“I think today if they proposed the plans with what the track layout is like, it probably wouldn’t be on the calendar,” said Verstappen. “But I think it belongs on the calendar because of its historical value.