This weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix marks a home race for Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc – but the 23-year-old has so far had woeful fortune around the streets where he grew up.
Leclerc did not race in single-seater machinery in his home streets until 2017, his title-winning Formula 2 campaign, and initially he starred.
A thrillingly on-the-edge qualifying effort behind the wheel of the GP2/11 machine featured an enormous lock-up into Sainte Devote and a wall-tap in the tunnel but he edged future F1 rival Alexander Albon for pole position.
But it all went wrong in the Feature Race; Leclerc slipped to fourth through an ill-timed Safety Car and then retired amid a suspension issue. The Sprint Race then featured a clash with friend Norman Nato and an electrical failure.
In his Formula 1 rookie year with Sauber Leclerc scraped through to Q2 but cannoned into the rear of Brendon Hartley eight laps from the end of the race due to a brake disc failure.
Hopes were high in 2019, having moved from Sauber to Ferrari, but the squad made a tactical error in Q1. Ferrari kept Leclerc in the garage, in order to save tyres, but he slipped down the timing order and eventually fell into the drop zone. His race lasted 16 laps after an aggressive charge was scuppered by a puncture and consequent extensive floor damage following contact with Nico Hulkenberg.
Ferrari in 2021 is not yet in a position to contend for victories on merit but it has firmly emerged as a candidate for third place, along with McLaren, behind the Mercedes/Red Bull title fight.
Ferrari had its strongest display of the season so far in Spain, having struggled with tyre wear in Bahrain and Portugal. Across one-lap Leclerc has been a standout performer, taking a second-row spot at three of the four events so far.
Bookmakers have installed him as fifth-favourite, behind the Mercedes/Red Bull quartet, for overall honours.
“We are not yet where we want to be, because we want to be fighting for the first place,” said Leclerc.
“By making everything perfect [in Spain], which is a great job by the team, we managed to get fourth but we want to be fighting further,
“I’m really looking forward to Monaco, obviously it is a very special weekend for me. And a weekend I have not been very, very lucky in the past so I hope we can have a good weekend, as a team.
“And also looking at the third sector [in Spain] we were quite competitive so of course it’s different but we seem to have a strong car so hopefully we can be competitive at home.”
The recent run has provided reason for optimism in the wake of Ferrari’s disastrous 2020 campaign, in which it slumped to sixth in the standings, and failed to get anywhere near the points at some events.
“Last year was definitely a difficult season to accept where we were,” said Leclerc. “I think the team has done a great job accepting pretty quickly that we are going to step back and then we’ve been working in the best way possible
“It shows that all the work that the people have made back in Maranello and all that we have done also here at the track is paying off.
“We can see from the track, [that] the road is still long, and we want to be fighting for the first positions very soon but I think the way we work is the right one. And we are just doing a good job as a team so we need to keep going like this.”