Charles Leclerc insists he feels no pressure at his home grand prix in Monte Carlo despite the streak of poor fortune that has plagued his performances here. The Ferrari driver believes this is the year he can see off his Monaco curse, a meeting where he has yet to make the finish line.
Leclerc is also aware that victory would help recover some of the momentum he has lost in a fierce title fight with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. The 24-year-old, who was born and grew up in the principality, was relaxed speaking before Sunday’s race, despite carrying the expectations of delivering a win in front of a home crowd.
“I honestly don’t feel the pressure, I am just really happy to be here,” he said. “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.”
Now in his fifth season in F1 this is Leclerc’s best shot at a win on the narrow streets of Monte Carlo. With Ferrari enjoying a competitive car, after the third meeting in Australia he had a 46-point lead over Verstappen but the Dutchman has since taken three wins on the trot. The last meeting in Spain was particularly painful. Ferrari’s upgrades had been successful and Leclerc had a comfortable race lead when his car suffered a turbo and MGU-H failure.
Verstappen’s 19-point championship deficit was turned into an advantage of six and Leclerc is committed to regaining his advantage, to winning and in so doing become the first Monegasque driver to win in Monaco, which has proven to be so frustratingly cruel to its most successful they are in the past.
On his first outing here in 2017 in F2, Leclerc was in a strong position to take the win until an ill-timed safety car proved costly, relegating him to fourth before he retired with a suspension problem. His attempt to come back in the following sprint race also ended with a retirement after a clash resulted in a bent wishbone.
His first F1 outing with Alfa Romeo in 2018 was looking promising for a finish in a solid 12th place with eight laps to go when a brake failure caused him to shunt heavily into the back of Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso, ending his race.
He might have felt his bad luck had run its course but worse was still to come. The following year he locked up on his first lap in qualifying and damaged his tyres. Ferrari kept him out for another lap with which he returned sixth. The team believed it was enough to see him through to Q2 safely but badly miscalculated. The times kept falling as Leclerc sat forlorn in his car as he was knocked out in Q1. Knowing he had to charge he duly took the risks but ultimately ran out of space, with a puncture from hitting the wall causing damage forcing a retirement.
Last year however was perhaps the bitterest blow. Having delivered a blistering lap in Q3 to take provisional pole, on his second and final run he crashed out, ending the session. The pole was his but on Sunday morning Ferrari discovered sustained damage to the car meant he could not start the race.
By the time Leclerc took to the track again this month he was at least able to bring a wry smile as the jinx struck again. Driving a demonstration of Niki Lauda’s 1974 Ferrari at the Monaco Historique event, the brakes failed as he entered the Rascasse corner and he was once more in the barriers.
So does the past weigh heavy on his mind? Not at all, maintains the young man who knows he has the talent to ensure his day here will come. “I don’t think about it, of course it has not been the luckiest track for me overall but it’s life, it happens, it’s part of motorsport,” he said. “Sometimes things just don’t go your way. Hopefully this year they will.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism