Hometown Hero Charles Leclerc Says, 'Formula 1 without Monaco for Me Is Not Formula 1'

·5 min read
Photo credit: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC - Getty Images
Photo credit: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC - Getty Images

The majority of Formula 1 drivers have what they could call "home races," but few fit the mold so well as Ferrari's Charles Leclerc when it comes to this week's F1 Monaco Grand Prix.

Leclerc is a bona fide Monegasque, born and bred in the tiny principality, the only nation in the world where international residents outnumber locals in their own land.

Every year the roads he used to go to school, catch up with friends, or go to the shops are converted into Formula 1’s most iconic street track. It was on a friend’s balcony that Leclerc first caught a glimpse of Formula 1 and was attracted to the red cars that he is now employed to drive.

Photo credit: Mario Renzi - Formula 1 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mario Renzi - Formula 1 - Getty Images

He pursued the dream—Leclerc’s family was not flushed with wealth in spite of his nationality—and opened the right doors to eventually become a Formula 1 driver.

And yet there is a curse he surely craves to break.

Lewis Hamilton has won his home Grand Prix at Silverstone eight times, Max Verstappen mastered his in his first attempt at the Dutch Grand Prix in 2021, but Leclerc… he hasn’t even yet managed to finish a Monaco Grand Prix.

It is a peculiar trend that stretches back to Leclerc’s Monaco debut in Formula 2 in 2017. Having dominated the opening part of the season Leclerc scored pole position and led comfortably, until a mistimed Safety Car period dropped him to fourth. A suspension failure then put him out. In the following day’s shorter race he collided with a rival and retired due to an electrical issue.

On his Formula 1 Monaco debut with the mid-ranking Alfa Romeo-branded Sauber team in 2018, Leclerc arrived in Monaco following back-to-back points finishes. Leclerc qualified 14th, but his race concluded eight laps from home when he spectacularly cannoned into Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso due to a brake failure.

Leclerc’s first year in red promised a breakthrough in 2019, and he led final practice, but matters unraveled in qualifying. Ferrari felt Leclerc’s Q1 banker was good enough and kept him in the garage to save tires for the business end of qualifying—only Leclerc never got that far. So quick was the track evolution that Leclerc tumbled down the order to 16th and was eliminated. In a blinding rage on Sunday Leclerc’s impetuousness gained him ground but then backfired as he clipped the wall and sustained a puncture. In his haste to return to the pits, the tire shredded and destroyed the floor, leaving the car undriveable, and prompting Ferrari to retire him.

Leclerc didn’t even have a chance in 2020 due to the pandemic, and Monaco’s Grand Prix did not take place for the first time since 1954.

Monaco returned to the Formula 1 schedule in 2021 and Leclerc had rapid machinery as the circuit layout masked Ferrari’s weaknesses. Leclerc set provisional pole before crashing on his second Q3 push lap, with the red flag bringing an end to the session, sealing him top spot. Ferrari undertook extensive repairs, cleared the gearbox, and evaded a penalty.

Photo credit: Clive Rose - Formula 1 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Clive Rose - Formula 1 - Getty Images

Surely a golden chance? No. When Leclerc accelerated out of the hairpin on his reconnaissance lap a cracked left-rear wheel hub—which had not been checked as it was on the opposite side to the impact—failed, causing terminal damage to the driveshaft. Leclerc toured back to the garage and was a non-starter.

Surely… surely… this is the year?

“I don’t think about it,” he said of the setbacks. “Of course it has not been the luckiest track for me overall but it’s life, it happens, it’s part of motorsport, sometimes things just don’t go your way. Hopefully this year they will. I will take the same approach I have in the first races of 2022 because it has been successful up until; now and hopefully it will be successful at home.”

Leclerc enters a round of the 2022 season trailing for the first time; having led the standings from the outset in Bahrain his retirement in Spain permitted reigning champion Max Verstappen to take a slender six-point advantage into Monaco.

“I honestly don’t feel the pressure, I am just really happy to be here,” said Leclerc. “To be back on this amazing track it is very special for me having grown up here, on these roads I know so well.

“There is no added pressure, I know that the performance is in the car for a great result this weekend. I just have to get into the car and do the job and hopefully the results will be there at the end of the weekend.”

For the first time in memory, the future of Monaco’s Grand Prix has been placed in doubt, owing to Formula 1’s expansion, Monaco’s alleged cheaper-than-most, race-friendly deal with F1, and a layout that is not conducive to racing. But local racer Leclerc is understandably vehemently defensive of the Grand Prix

“I think Monaco without Formula 1 … I’ve never known Monaco without Formula 1 apart from 2020 for COVID reasons,” he said. “Formula 1 without Monaco for me is not Formula 1. Formula 1 has a history, some historic tracks like Silverstone and Monza and like Monaco too, and I think they should stay on the calendar.

“Monaco is one of the best race tracks out there in terms of qualifying there are no places I enjoy as much as I do here and as much that the driver can make a difference. The guardrails are so close, the danger, you can still feel it because you have really go the sensation of speed. In terms of qualifying, it is probably the most exciting qualifying of the year.

"I agree that in the races there might be some things that you can change here and there to try and help overtaking because cars have changed and evolved and it might not be the best track to overtake, but in terms of challenge for the driver it is one of the toughest challenges for us throughout the year. I think a track like this should stay on the calendar.”