Formula One 2022: Charles Leclerc ignoring past misfortune in pursuit of Monaco glory

Monaco, as a track, is a place of heartbreak for Ferrari's Charles Leclerc. Since his first appearance there in 2017, he has never finished a race on his home track. This year, he looks to right that record.

Charles Leclerc is looking to win his home grand prix for the first time. Picture: Maxim Shemetov/Pool/Getty Images
Charles Leclerc is looking to win his home grand prix for the first time. Picture: Maxim Shemetov/Pool/Getty Images

Monaco, as a racetrack, is a place of heartbreak for Charles Leclerc. Every year since his first home race there in 2017, when he was in Formula Two, he has been involved in an incident and not finished the race.

Back then it was suspension failure that cost him an almost certain win. The next year, Leclerc’s first in Formula One, when he raced for Sauber, he had brake failure and crashed into another car.

In 2019, now with Ferrari, a qualifying strategy error resulted in him being knocked out in the first session, before a collision ruined his Sunday. There was no Monaco Grand Prix in 2020 because of Covid-19 but last year that bad luck returned.

The weekend had started positively as he became the first Monegasque to clinch pole position in the principality for 85 years. But he crashed moments later and the damage to his car was so bad that he could not start the race on the Sunday. Not since 1931, when Louis Chiron took the chequered flag, has someone from Monaco won their home race.

Charles Leclerc secured pole position at Monaco last year only to crash out moments later. Picture: Clive Mason/Getty Images
Charles Leclerc secured pole position at Monaco last year only to crash out moments later. Picture: Clive Mason/Getty Images

There was more bad luck only weeks ago, when Leclerc crashed Niki Lauda’s 1974 Ferrari during the Monaco Historic Grand Prix. So is he jinxed at his home track?

“No, I don’t think so. I don’t want to believe in that,” the 24-year-old says before this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix. “The last few years haven’t been the best. And obviously, I’ve always had one thing or another that basically, we didn’t finish any races since I arrived in Formula One. And even before that, but I don’t believe in bad luck. And I’m pretty sure that things will go my way this year.”

He has reasons for optimism. Ferrari have provided him with a potential championship-winning car this season and for the first five races of the year he was leading the drivers’ standings – until Spain last weekend when his engine failed while he led and he was forced to retire from the race. In doing so, he handed the lead in the title fight to his Red Bull rival Max Verstappen, who went on to win. The gap is only six points, easily flipped with a win this weekend, if the luck can go his way, which is not so easy to come by for Leclerc, history suggests.

But if his experience on the Monaco street circuit has been pretty miserable, as a place to live he says it is “very special” and “different to what people would expect”.

“I don’t live it like the glamorous city that everyone sees it for during the grand prix,” he says. “But overall, throughout the whole year, it feels like a village. Everyone knows each other and the actual people that are staying there the whole year are real Monegasque and we all know each other. So it’s like a big, big family.”

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Louis Chiron was the last racer from Monaco to win their home race. Picture: Central Press/ Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Louis Chiron was the last racer from Monaco to win their home race. Picture: Central Press/ Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Of the nearly 40,000 residents in the tiny principality sandwiched between the south of France and the Mediterranean, just under 10,000 are actually considered Monegasque. The rest are foreigners who have mostly moved there for the tax advantages.

That side of his hometown does not bother him, he says – his grandfather ran a successful business, but his own parents were by no means wealthy – nor does it affect his enjoyment of living there. He tends to stick with his school friends and girlfriend, Charlotte Sine, an architecture student.

And it was not growing up in Monaco that led to his dream of being a racing driver, even though one of his earliest memories of the race is watching it from the balcony of a friend’s apartment at the exit of turn one at about the age of five.

By luck, the day he decided to pretend he was sick to miss school, his mother was working, so his father, Herve, had to take care of him. He was heading to the go-kart track in Brignoles owned by his best friend Philippe Bianchi – the father of former F1 driver Jules Bianchi, who died in 2015 from injuries sustained nine months earlier at the Japanese Grand Prix. Jules was Leclerc’s godfather.

That was Leclerc’s first real taste of karting and he was hooked. His father, who had been a Formula Three driver in the 1980s and 1990s, continued to play a crucial role in his son’s racing career until his early death after an illness in 2018.

At the time Leclerc was racing in F2 and his father’s death came only a few days before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Leclerc won both races that weekend (though was later demoted in one) and went on to win the championship.

Racing remains in the family, with his younger brother, Arthur, competing in F3 this season. The eldest brother, Lorenzo, acts as a manager/adviser for Arthur.

Racing runs in the family: Arthur Leclerc (left) is competing in F3. Picture: Joe Portlock/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
Racing runs in the family: Arthur Leclerc (left) is competing in F3. Picture: Joe Portlock/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images

Leclerc’s battle with Verstappen has dominated this season. The pair know each other well having grown up through the karting ranks at the same time, with only 16 days separating them in age. At that time they “hated each other”, Leclerc says, but that has changed now as they have got older.

“It’s nice to see how much the relationship has changed because obviously, in karting, we hated each other. We were kids. And everything was very different,” he says. “You had a dream to arrive in Formula One. Now we are, not more relaxed about it, but of course, we have both achieved one of our dreams, which is to be in Formula One.”

It certainly appears that they race hard but fair and treat each other with respect on and off the track, something that was missing in the latter stages of Verstappen’s battle with Lewis Hamilton last year. However, with only six races of this 22-race calendar done, Leclerc is under no illusion that their relationship is likely to change.

“Of course, there will be tension at one point, I’m pretty sure because we are fighting,” he says. “If we keep going and keep fighting for the championship, things might get tense, but there is still a big, big respect.”

Leclerc’s hope is that it will not be a two-way fight for the championship this season, but that Mercedes can build on their impressive outing in Spain last weekend to mount a fight. To be fighting Hamilton, Leclerc says, would be “special”.

“When you are fighting Lewis and know everything that he has achieved, it’s extremely special. I always dreamt to be one day fighting with him.

“Seeing the progress that they’ve made, obviously the race [last weekend], that was incredible so I’m pretty sure that it’s a matter of time before he gets into that fight too, which will be amazing because it will be since a long time that we had a fight with three, with three teams, and obviously having Lewis in the fight will make it even more special.”

Monaco has always been something of a bogey track for Mercedes, no matter how good their car. It is also one for Leclerc, but he is hoping his luck is about to change.

– The Times

Originally published as Formula One 2022: Charles Leclerc ignoring past misfortune in pursuit of Monaco glory