Charles Leclerc faces his Monte Carlo demons at a race now under threat

Ferrari ace is big favourite but history is not on his side in Monaco

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc has suffered a number of mishaps in Monte Carlo, but is still favourite. Reuters
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You could forgive Charles Leclerc the odd twinge of apprehension going into his home race in Monte Carlo this weekend.

But the 24-year-old Ferrari ace will not be unduly troubled to be starting favourite for the biggest race of the year. His chief rivals are unlikely to be the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen or Sergio Perez, but an unforgiving Monte Carlo jinx.

The Monegasque has crashed out every time he has been there, once in a virtual race and even, incredibly, when he was only doing a demonstration run.

In 2018 his brakes failed six laps from home and he careered off in a shower of rubber.

A year later it was a continuous tale of woe. A qualifying nightmare, barely escaping punishment for missing the weighbridge then hitting the barrier at Rascasse on race day. That wasn’t what destroyed his chances, though, it was his rush to pits on three tyres, shredding the underbelly, that did it.

There was no race in 2020 because of covid, so Leclerc took part in a virtual GP and crashed out of second place.

Last year he finally got it all right and collared pole - only to crash out seconds later.

He thought his luck had finally turned when the car was repaired in time. But not so fast Charles - it broke down on the way to the start grid and that was that.

As if that wasn’t bad enough this vindictive jinx has struck when there wasn’t even a Grand Prix, an ePrix or even a virtual GP to worry about.

That was just a couple of weeks ago during a demonstration run at the Historic GP in an iconic 50-year-old, ex-Niki Lauda, Ferrari.

The brakes exploded on the multimillion pound treasure he was driving and he was in the barriers again.

Leclerc Tweeted: “When you thought you already had all the bad luck in the world in Monaco and you lose the brakes into Rascasse with one of the most iconic Ferrari Formula One cars.”

Monaco, of course, is all about speed and Saturday qualifying because overtaking in the race is next to impossible and (jinx notwithstanding) Leclerc’s Ferrari tops the field on that score.

Verstappen has a superior race car but that means little when you cannot overtake.

For all that it is processional, Monaco is an utterly amazing event. Giant multimillion dollar yachts jostle for space at the track’s edge, the smell of the ocean, Ray Bans, Louboutins, streets lined with Lamborghinis that can’t get out of first gear anywhere.

As usual the nearby Cannes Film Festival week runs straight into Monaco so many of the world’s “beautiful people” will be making the short helicopter hop up the coast.

Monaco isn’t really a race so much as a symbol, a dream, a beacon of extravagant wealth, opulence and utter madness.

And yet for all that it is the very symbolism of F1, its future is threatened.

There is a growing feeling in F1 that it has traded on its history for too long while providing processional races and cramped facilities that are woefully behind the rest.

Monaco pays half the usual fee, controls the television coverage, while the chronic shortage of ultra-VIP hotel rooms are often an embarrassment to teams hosting their biggest clients.

That the circuit goes into the final week of its current contract without a new deal in place speaks of incredible brinkmanship on all sides.

Monaco qualifying 2021

F1 without Monaco is unthinkable, of course, but it would be a bad mistake to believe it isn’t replaceable as the sport’s crown jewel. Abu Dhabi’s lavish season finale is definitely a contender, Singapore too. Maybe Miami or, in the future, Las Vegas.

It is a sure shot across the bows that organisers Liberty have done away with the usual four-day schedule this year, denying Monte Carlo its money-spinning extra free day to siphon tourists’ wallets.

Meanwhile, Red Bull and Ferrari nervously glance at the growing spectre of Mercedes in their rear view mirrors after an impressive Spanish outing.

George Russell’s spectacular, albeit brief, duel with Verstappen on lap 24 made him my man of that weekend. Hamilton starred, too, with a gutsy drive from the back of the field to fifth.

The less said about the radio call to abandon the race after his lap one accident, the better.

So, could Russell or Hamilton be on the top of the podium come Sunday? It’s unlikely given the car’s slow corner grip but who knows. It is Monte Carlo after all.

Updated: May 26, 2022, 4:46 AM
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