Monaco GP: Ferrari chases change of fortune for local F1 hero Charles Leclerc

Charles Leclerc and Ferrari will be desperate for a stroke of hometown luck when they race on one of F1’s toughest courses this week.

World champion Max Verstappen heads home this weekend hoping to survive the chaos and beat arch-rival and luckless local hero Charles Leclerc again in Sunday’s 79th running of the Monaco Grand Prix.

Just days after leading his team-mate Sergio Perez over the line in a Red Bull one-two last weekend in Spain, the 24-year-old Dutchman will bid for a repeat to consolidate his grip at the top of this year’s title race.

Verstappen took control of the championship by easing six points clear of Monegasque driver Leclerc of Ferrari, who was forced into retirement at the Circuit de Catalunya.

He seeks a fourth consecutive win and second in the classic contest in Sunday’s potentially rain-affected race.

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“Qualifying is critical, like always,” said the 2021 victor.

“Monaco is always a hectic weekend, but special. The track is old school, narrow and it makes your heart rate go so high it’s insane.

“We have to be constantly on the edge. It’s a pretty crazy place with Formula One cars. I finally won there last year — and it was a massive relief to cross the line.”

Like Leclerc, who was born and lives in the Mediterranean principality, Verstappen is based there — for climatic and tax purposes — along with several other drivers including seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.

Max Verstappen celebrates a race win.
Max Verstappen celebrates a race win.

As a result, they enjoy an intimate knowledge of the circuit regarded as the most iconic and glamorous on the F1 calendar, but also the rare luxury of sleeping at home during a race weekend.

For Leclerc, however, that comfort has yet to be of any help on the tight, unforgiving and sinuous barrier-lined street track that requires total concentration and extraordinary driver skills.

At just 3.337 kilometres, it is the shortest on the calendar, offers few overtaking opportunities, rapid and multiple gear changes and tricky changes in elevation and direction. Only 42 per cent of the lap is run at full speed, the lowest of the year.

Despite knowing all this and having gone by bus to school on the same stretches of asphalt, Leclerc has yet to finish his home Grand Prix in three attempts since 2018. Last year, after crashing on Saturday, he could not start Sunday’s race.

Charles Leclerc on the grid in Spain.
Charles Leclerc on the grid in Spain.

‘SMALLEST MISTAKE’

Before that, he had to retire after starting from pole in a Formula Two race in 2017 and, more recently, earlier this month, crashed a classic 1974 Ferrari, raced by Niki Lauda, at a historic demonstration event.

Yet he remains calm and optimistic, hoping a change to the classic Monaco routine this year — with practice starting on Friday, and not Thursday, as was once traditional — will help.

“I think it gives us the rhythm of the other races, which could be good so I am looking forward to that and giving it a go,” he said, deflecting any negative thoughts after a power failure in Spain, while leading, brought him his first DNF (Did Not Finish) of the season.

“My attitude is always the same, regardless,” he added. “Every point is valuable. We know that even the smallest mistake can make a bid difference.” After dominating practice and starting from pole in Spain, Leclerc and Ferrari will hope they can continue to set the pace, but they know Red Bull will be a threat and reliability a key factor.

“Since the start of the season, the team that has done everything perfectly was the one to win. We will do everything to be that team,” said Leclerc.

“We have the confidence that we can make it, which is a good starting point.” After returning to competitive form with a heavily upgraded car in Spain, where George Russell was third and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton fifth, Mercedes will also be hopeful, but realistic.

“We made a big step and halved the advantage of the frontrunners,” said team chief Toto Wolff.

“But there’s still a long way to go. And Monaco was not our happiest place in the past. My expectations are lower than at any other circuit.” Mercedes have won only once since 2016 after winning four in a row and the unique showpiece race has been Red Bull’s twice in three years since Ferrari’s last win in 2017, with Sebastian Vettel.

To many observers, another Ferrari win and an end to Leclerc’s agonies is long overdue.

Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen.
Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen.

RICCIARDO OPENS UP ON ‘SUFFOCATING’ F1 LIFE

Todd Balym and Rebecca Williams

Daniel Ricciardo has given an insight into the suffocating pressure of life as an F1 star at McLaren and as one of the most popular faces on the Netflix docu-series Drive to Survive.

The Australian F1 driver is in the midst of perhaps the most challenging period of his motor racing career, struggling for pace and getting regularly beaten by his McLaren teammate Lando Norris.

Making matters worse, McLaren CEO Zak Brown has now publicly questioned his performance as speculation continues to build that Ricciardo may not see out his deal in 2023.

And for Ricciardo, there is simply no escaping the scrutiny of what he is faced with every race weekend.

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Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc (L) and McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo spent much of their time surrounded by cameras and microphones. Picture: AFP
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc (L) and McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo spent much of their time surrounded by cameras and microphones. Picture: AFP

As one of the world’s most recognisable F1 drivers he is accustomed to the pressure that comes with the territory, but in a revealing interview with GQ Magazine the 32-year-old reveals just how suffocating the attention is in his position.

It’s not just the Netflix crew that are in his face tracing his every move behind the scenes, sometimes it’s the relentless content driven by his own McLaren team that is giving Ricciardo a tough time. There is no escape.

“Last year, McLaren had two videographers,” Ricciardo told GQ Magazine.

“Now they have four, and nearly every race there’s someone new to the content team. It’s a lot.

“What I’ve noticed now is unless you’re sitting in your room with your door closed, someone’s filming you. You just don’t get space anymore.”

McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo can’t escape the cameras.
McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo can’t escape the cameras.
Lando Norris (left) and Daniel Ricciardo (right) filmed a segment with The Late Late Show host James Corden during the F1 Grand Prix of Miami.
Lando Norris (left) and Daniel Ricciardo (right) filmed a segment with The Late Late Show host James Corden during the F1 Grand Prix of Miami.

The pressure on Ricciardo is building with every race. Brown’s comments to Sky Sports this week will no doubt increase the intensity within the McLaren garage as Ricciardo prepares to return to a Monaco circuit that he once tasted victory while at Red Bull but last year suffered the embarrassment of getting lapped by Norris.

“Lando definitely has an edge,” the McLaren CEO told Sky Sports. “We obviously would like to see Daniel much closer to Lando and have a good inter-team battle.

“Daniel is just not comfortable yet with the car.

“We are trying everything we can, again it was a disappointing weekend.

“Short of Monza (which Ricciardo won in 2021) and a few races, it has not met his or our expectations of what we were expecting.

“I think all you can do is keep working hard as a team, keep communications going, keep pushing and hope that whatever is not clicking at the moment, clicks shortly.”

Daniel Ricciardo is having a tough time blocking out the external noise over his performances.
Daniel Ricciardo is having a tough time blocking out the external noise over his performances.

Ricciardo revealed last year it was a midseason break where he travelled to Los Angeles that helped spark his season and figure out “what I was going to do to make me really love F1 again, and really want to race and compete and be the best I can be.”

That trip worked last year, but there’s been no such luxury between Barcelona and Monte Carlo with the back-to-back race weekends set to test his resolve.

Ricciardo and his team have buried themselves in the data since Barcelona, trying to figure out why they had no grip in the race and dropped further off the pace despite wind tunnel testing suching the upgrades would make them faster.

“I’m bouncing back from a difficult race and looking forward to getting stuck into the Monaco weekend,” he said.

“I have a lot of history with this race so I’m hoping to make a mark in the MCL36 this year and score some points for the team.

“Off the back of Spain, I’ve got my head in the data with the engineers to make sure we’re in the best position possible to fight for a top 10 finish.

“We learnt a lot about the car, particularly with the good upgrades, and I have great trust in the team for us to keep improving. Hopefully we can put together a solid weekend and fight for a top 10 finish. Let’s keep pushing.”

Originally published as Monaco GP: Ferrari chases change of fortune for local F1 hero Charles Leclerc

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