Leclerc dominates final Monaco practice

Charles Leclerc topped final practice at the Monaco Grand Prix with foreboding ease ahead of the most consequential qualifying session of the season.

Leclerc set the pre-qualifying benchmark at 1m11.369s with around 15 minutes still to run in FP3, a time that gave him a margin of more than half a second over the rest of the field until the final minutes of the hour despite a mistake in the final sector.

It took until the last five minutes for Max Verstappen to chip away at the margin and close to 0.197s of the Monaco native, but by then the comparison had become unrepresentative, the track having improved markedly with the extensive soft-tire running conducted by every team.


It was a taxing effort for the Dutchman, too, who had to wring the neck of his recalcitrant RB20 just to get to within touching distance.

“If I do more laps like that, I’ll end up in the fence,” he radioed his team.

Red Bull Racing is battling what appears to be a fundamental mismatch between its car and the street circuit, and earlier in the session Verstappen suggested that inherent issue remained at large.

“I know where we can gain time,” he said. “It’s just not possible. We know why.”

Verstappen will also face a post-session investigation for driving unnecessarily slowly in an encounter with heavy traffic that spoiled one of his flying laps late in the hour.

Teammate Sergio Perez, who finished fifth and 0.554s off the pace, was more blunt in his assessment.

“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “The car is nowhere.”

Lewis Hamilton continued his good form in Monte Carlo to lap 0.341s off the pace, while Oscar Piastri impressed for McLaren in fourth and 0.532s adrift of Leclerc’s headline time.

Perez struggled to fifth ahead of George Russell, who suggested the steering vibrations that afflicted him on Friday had been cured but was left battling a steering rack that was heavier turning right than left.

The Briton will also have to see the stewards for impeding Lando Norris on a fast lap. The Mercedes driver was crawling slowly out of the tunnel when the McLaren rushed up behind him and was forced to take evasive action to avoid what would have been an enormous crash at one of the fastest points on the circuit.

Carlos Sainz remained a way off his imperious teammate in the sister Ferrari. Despite clinging close to Leclerc early, by the end of the session he was blitzed by a whopping 0.61s.

Norris was eighth, just 0.009s behind Sainz and only 0.003s ahead of an excellent Yuki Tsunoda for RB.

Fernando Alonso completed the top 10, but yesterday’s third-placed driver slumped to 0.718s adrift, a time more representative of Aston Martin’s capacity at this circuit.

Pierre Gasly headed Alex Albon, Nico Hulkenberg, Keving Magnussen, Lance Stroll, Esteban Ocon, Logan Sargeant, Daniel Ricciardo and Zhou Guanyu down to 19th.

Valtteri Bottas completed just two laps before crashing exiting the Swimming Pool chicane, shattering his Stake Sauber’s right-front suspension. The Finn was able to crawl as far as Rascasse but no further, causing a brief red flag to recover his car.

His team will have little more than two hours before qualifying to fix the car, with marshals leaving it parked outside the track for the remainder of the session.


Story originally appeared on Racer