Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Monaco, 2019

Will Leclerc’s luck change at home? Seven Monaco GP talking points

2021 Monaco Grand Prix

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Since retiring from the lead of his home event in 2017, Charles Leclerc has had lousy luck in Monaco. Will that change on F1’s return following its Covid-enforced absence?

Here are the talking points for this weekend’s race.

A change of luck for Leclerc?

Charles Leclerc used to watch the Monaco Grand Prix from an apartment above the pit straight. He might never have imagined he would get to race in it one day, and if he did, he surely would have hoped for better luck.

A brake disc failure sent him into the back of Hartley during his 2018 debut. One year later, he looked in good shape during practice, yet Ferrari made the unfathomable decision not to send him out for a second run in Q1, and he was eliminated. Condemned to starting near the back, he retired early on after contact.

His luck was no better in Formula 2, where he led his first race at the track from pole position, until his team failed to fit one of his wheels properly during a pit stop.

Verstappen’s shot at a vital win

Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Monaco, 2019
Verstappen chased Hamilton in Monaco two years ago
By Formula 1 standards, Monaco is an excruciatingly slow track. Pirelli will bring the softest tyres available for this race – and they will likely prove on the hard side for the limited grip available.

In the nip-and-tuck fight between Mercedes and Red Bull, this could tip the balance in the favour of the challengers. So far this year Red Bull have generally been quicker on softer compounds, which is also why Mercedes have tended to be more competitive on race day.

Max Verstappen therefore has a vital opportunity to cut Lewis Hamilton’s 14-point lead at the top of the standings. If the Mercedes driver takes a fourth win from the opening five races, at a track which on paper should suit their rivals well, this championship fight will start to look a lot more like past Mercedes routs.

Verstappen has flown at this circuit in the past, yet has never made it to the podium. He finished second on the road last time, but a five-second penalty relegated him to fourth.

Traffic and ‘team mates’

Monaco traffic jams are a regular problem
The other defining feature of the Monaco circuit is it cramped confines, and the enormous difficulty this poses when cars arrive upon traffic. This will figure in teams’ calculations not only when they come up to lap slower cars, but also when they have to plan their pit stops and emerge into the midfield.

This is going to put the strategists under serious pressure. At other tracks they have the luxury of knowing they can pit slightly early, come out behind a slower car, and lose little time passing them with fresh tyres and DRS. That’s not the case in Monaco – getting bottled up behind another car is just too costly.

The relationships between supposedly rival teams could play a significant factor, however. Three years ago Hamilton and Verstappen’s progress was eased when they emerged from the pits behind ‘brand mates’. Mercedes junior driver Esteban Ocon gave Hamilton little trouble, and Brendon Hartley of Red Bull junior team Toro Rosso put up little fight against Verstappen.

Williams driver and Mercedes junior George Russell recently described Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas as his ‘team mates’, so they can presumably expect an easier path past his FW43B on Sunday.

Four Monaco rookies

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Autodromo do Algarve, 2021
Tsunoda faces his toughest challenge yet in an F1 car
Four drivers will tackle Monaco in a Formula 1 car for the first time this year – and one of them is a complete newcomer to the venue.

AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda has never raced at Monaco before. He’s hoping his experience in the Macau Grand Prix counts in his favour, though that may provide a better frame of reference for the much quicker Baku circuit which will hold round six. His 2019 Pau Grand Prix experience, where he finished on the podium behind Billy Monger and Nicolai Kjaergaard, may be more useful.

“There are many unusual factors about this weekend,” he says. “It was only while we were in Spain that I learned that you practice on Thursday with no track time on Friday. I will have to make sure I do not lose focus or concentration, but I’m sure I can adapt. I have spent a lot of time on the simulator to prepare.”

Haas pair Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin can at least fall back on their Formula 2 experience from 2019. So will Williams driver Nicholas Latifi, having missed the chance to race in Monaco during his rookie campaign as it was cancelled due to the pandemic.

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Slower cars, better race?

Formula 1 cars don’t race fantastically well on purpose-built tracks – hence the drastic new aerodynamic regulations coming into force next year. Around Monaco, overtaking is virtually impossible.

As Formula E demonstrated two weeks ago slower, narrower cars can put on a better race around the same layout. Food for thought for F1?

All aboard

George Russell, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 2021
Williams reach a milestone race, but need some points
As F1 cars can’t pass anything like as easily at this track than their Formula E counterparts, this venue presents an opportunity for someone to qualify well and lead a train of frustrated rivals to the chequered flag. So who has been ‘out-qualifying the car’ so far this year?

George Russell is an obvious candidate, having repeatedly taken his Williams into Q2. The team will run a special logo on their car for this weekend’s race, marking their 750th start, so what better time to finally end their longest ever point-less streak?

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon has also qualified well in recent races and believes Monaco could be their best chance to put one over the likes of McLaren and Ferrari.

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The return to normality?

McLaren 2021 Monaco Grand Prix Gulf livery
Analysis: The change which allowed McLaren and other F1 teams to run one-off liveries
Monaco is the first venue Formula 1 has visited this year which was unable to hold a round of last year’s championship due to Covid-19. It will also see the welcome return of fans in significant numbers – the stands will be at 40% capacity this weekend.

It’s a welcome move in the right direction, even if it won’t feel quite like a normal Monaco Grand Prix, says Lando Norris.

“I think it’s the first street track we’re going back to since Covid,” said the McLaren driver. “In some ways we’ve used to not many fans being there now.

“But it’s the first street track so I guess when you go to Monaco 50% of the excitement is everything else Spa bar actual going around the track. So I’m sure it’s not going to be as glorious and spectacular as normal, but it’s still going to be one of the best races.”

In another change, McLaren will run a special, one-off Gulf livery for this weekend, which will extend to their cars, motorhome, drivers’ overalls and more.

Over to you

Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Monaco Grand Prix? Have your say below.

And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:

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2021 Monaco Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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44 comments on “Will Leclerc’s luck change at home? Seven Monaco GP talking points”

  1. Looking at that rookie list, There Will Be Incidents.
    Should be a Red Bull track, but easy to mess up in any number of ways, as they know.

    1. Should be a Red Bull track, but easy to mess up in any number of ways, as they know.

      I still can’t see Perez lining up on the front two rows of the grid. I think one or two midfield drivers will beat him in Qualifying and probably finish ahead on the raceway as well. Max will be battling two Mercedes’ alone. Let’s see if he can do enough to still take a win.

      1. I don’t recall Perez ever really shining at this track anyway @todfod. Could just as well be one of those binning it!

        1. @bascb

          He took a podium in either 2014 or 15, but was lucky to do so as the Hulk was ahead of him and just got the inferior namaste strategy in that race.

          But you’re right.. It’s never been one of his strongest tracks… And I just can’t see him being a serious podium contender despite having the car for it.

          1. Don’t ask me how ‘namaste’ came as autofill.

          2. I was already trying to find out what a ‘namaste strategy’ could be. I was at something where he was greeted politely by his team, but them failing to do a quick turnaround.

          3. That namaste strategy shows the Indian variant is spreading quickly.

        2. @bascb he did get a podium in 2016.

        3. @bascb with regards to Perez’s fortunes at Monaco, this is how he has done and, for balance, how his team mate did in the same race.

          2011
          Perez: Qualified 10th, Did Not Start (due to being injured in Q2 crash)
          Kobayashi: Qualified 13th, Finished 5th

          2012
          Perez: Qualified 20th, Finished 11th (started at back due to Q1 crash, possibly linked to damaged steering from Maldonado ramming him in FP3).
          Kobayashi: Qualified 12th, Did Not Finish

          2013
          Perez: Qualified 7th, Did Not Finish (brake failure) – was running 5th at time
          Button: Qualified 9th, Finished 6th (was in 7th when Perez retired)

          2014
          Perez: Qualified 10th, Did Not Finish (collision)
          Hulkenberg: Qualified 11th, Finished 5th

          2015
          Perez: Qualified 7th, Finished 7th
          Hulkenberg: Qualified 13th, Finished 11th

          2016
          Perez: Qualified 8th, Finished 3rd
          Hulkenberg: Qualified 5th, Finished 6th

          2017
          Perez: Qualified 7th, Finished 13th
          Ocon: Qualified 16th, Finished 12th

          2018
          Perez: Qualified 9th, Finished 12th
          Ocon: Qualified 6th, Finished 6th

          2019
          Perez: Qualified 17th, Finished 12th
          Stroll: Qualified 18th, Finished 16th

          His qualifying performances have been reasonable, and it might surprise some to see that he’s actually out-qualified his team mate more often than might be remembered.

          For all the complaints about him “lucking in” back in 2016, he’s had a few races where he’s had a fair bit of bad luck – the 2013 race saw him retire with a brake failure when in a decent position, whilst 2018 saw him running in the points in the early stages, but then being dropped to near the back of the field due to a very slow pit stop.

          1. Thank you Anon for filling in the reality to my feeling about Perez driving. I’d say he does not look like one of those drivers who really seem thrilled to be here, but not horrible either. I guess having a lot of DNFs does add to my memory of him not being great here.

      2. Perez could surprise us @todfod but, no, I don’t see it happening either. It will be fiercely competitive and it’s also a track Bottas does well at, in qualifying anyhow, plus I can see other drivers and cars doing well, pushing Perez down the grid.

        1. Perez could surprise us
          I guess that’s exactly the problem for RBR, @david-br; if he does well it will be a surprise to many of us.

      3. Sergio has the same chances of Pole Position as anyone else. Qualifying will all be about who makes the least mistakes and who can maximise the opportunities presented to them, so with the right strategy Sergio should be close to the front. This is really the place for teams to shine, even Alfa Romeo or Aston Martin have a chance of being near the front row. I’m expecting very small margins of time between proceeding to the next Qualifying round and being eliminated.

  2. Monaco is the first venue Formula 1 has visited this year which was unable to hold a round of last year’s championship due to Covid-19. It will also see the welcome return of fans in significant numbers – the stands will be at 40% capacity this weekend.

    This! After the last 12-15 months that the world has had (not just F1), it is heartening to see something which is as pre-pandemic as can realistically be possible.

    Hope this is a sign that the world can go back to an almost-normal routine.

    1. sumedh, the ACM is allowing a maximum of 7,500 people per day – whilst it might be more than the 1,000 we saw in Barcelona, it’s not a great deal more than the 4,500 who were allowed in to watch the Bahrain GP.

      I am curious where the figure of 40% comes from though – Monaco is normally said to have a seating capacity of 37,000, so 7,500 per day would suggest it’s operating at only 20%, not 40%, of their seating capacity.

      1. I would guess there is quite a few people looking from balconies, terasses and boats too Anon. Maybe that is how they add up to about 40% of normal crowd numbers?

        1. @bascb I’m not sure that is the answer, as the figures seem to be talking specifically about the grandstands themselves, not those who might be watching from those other locations.

  3. Hopefully, his luck changes, and he’d at least reach the chequered flag as he hasn’t managed that in F1 yet. BTW, the apartment of his reference is above the uphill straight towards Massenet.

    QLF is, of course, also where traffic is an issue, not only the race. I expect a traffic fest in Q1. If someone qualifies out-of-position higher than they should, a chance of finishing relatively high is decent.

    Was Tsunoda truly unaware of Thursday being a practice day in Monaco until the last race weekend?

    Slower cars, better race? – Zero difference, and the same for car width. F1 cars have been narrower, and still overtaking on merit was next to impossible. Passing has never been and never will become any easier irrespective of aero, cars, tyres, DRS, anything.

    Maybe, maybe not yet concerning normality.

    Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Monaco Grand Prix?
    – Mercedes or more like Lewis.

    1. Did you actually see the Formula E race @jerejj? Or the historics event before that?
      Both events had way more overtaking and tighter racing than F1 has produced there for decades.

      F1 cars have never really been built for racing – that’s the real problem.
      Making them smaller and slower would certainly help a lot, though – along with getting the driver more involved and more responsible for the total performance.

      1. But that wouldn’t be F1 according to all the purists.
        They are still waiting for some magical Harry potter wand to get rid of turbulence at F1 speeds.

    2. QLF is, of course, also where traffic is an issue, not only the race.

      Especially when Rosberg decides to reverse out of his garage ;)

  4. This is probably Ferrari’s best chance to get on the podium on merrit this season. Their car is very good in low speed corners and there are almost no other corner types in Monaco (except three medium speed corners: Massenet, Casino & Tabac). Plus they aren’t disadvantaged by their weaker PU, as power and straight line speed/drag are irrelevant at Monaco.
    They and Alpine are going to be the dark horses this weekend.

  5. Ah yes… we return to the origin of the Bonomian Rhapsody composed by Lewis Hamilton… lol

  6. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
    18th May 2021, 13:24

    he didn’t have bad luck in 2019. He hit hulkenberg in a clumsy overtaking attempt and then caused his own retirement by wrecking his own car as he drove back to the pits far too quickly. He was the only driver to retire this race, and it was all down to him, not bad luck.

    1. @thegianthogweed Yes, but he wouldn’t have had to take risks had he not started out-of-position through no fault of his own.

    2. @thegianthogweed
      I think what Keith meant was Ferrari’s decision to keep him in the garage, despite the track quickly improving, thus resulting in Charles dropping out in Q1. His crash with Hülkenberg was the result of his disappointing qualifying, having to try risky moves in places you won’t usually overtake. His retirement was definitely Charles’ own fault, but the reasons for him being in that position certainly weren’t.

    3. This is true, Leclerc ruined his own race by crashing out (something he’s done quite a few times already). It’s fair to say his race was already severely compromised by his bad starting position, which wasn’t really his fault but unfortunately yet another example of Ferrari finding it difficult to manage less than straightforward sessions. Even so, Leclerc is Ferrari’s lead driver and seen in that light he came up short. Alonso finished 6th after starting 24th in 2010, and Schumacher finished 5th after starting 22nd in 2006.

      Hopefully Ferrari as a whole does better this time around.

      1. True, I remember well schumacher’s comeback in 2006, his speed was pretty good and I thought without the penalty he could’ve beaten alonso with a faster renault at that point of the season, I didn’t know alonso did one too cause I wasn’t watching in the vettel era, however both drivers were far more experienced than leclerc when they did that. Couldthard even had a good one in 2001.

        1. Jonathan Parkin
          18th May 2021, 19:55

          Which makes his little incident at La Rascasse so unnecessary. He could have got a lot more points from that race even from a 2nd place start

  7. @thegianthogweed You conveniently overlook the reason why he was behind Hulkenberg in the first place. Thanks to his bad luck on Saturday, he had to try ambitious overtaking moves or he would have finished outside the points anyway.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      18th May 2021, 16:35

      @racer

      The attempt wasn’t the main problem. Other drivers have managed to do this successfully though. The problem was the manner in which he drove after this.

      1. Mohit anand
        19th May 2021, 4:35

        It’s ok this time I am sure he will qualify fine somewhere within top 10 . He is the kind of driver learning from his mistakes .

  8. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
    18th May 2021, 17:39

    I see Mazepin not crashing this weekend

  9. I think this race comes down to 1. qualify on pole, 2. don’t bin it in traffic, 3. don’t mess up your pit stop, and 3. pray that the SC doesn’t come out at the wrong time for you. You can avoid the undercut by just driving super slow to save your tires and then just speed up when you rival stops, even if he somehow gets a clear track when he stops.

    But to me the tension of just the driving at speed without errors is fascinating. It’s like making 78 free throws in a row, where a miss means you are out. Or walking on a tightrope for 2 hours. Even playing a video game, it’s mentally exhausting after 10 laps trying to go fast without brushing a wall. I think we get spoiled from watching these drivers and think it’s just easy and boring to drive 180mph in a public street, slam on the brakes, and turn into a crowned, painted intersection at highway speeds, and do it with 1 foot of room for error, over and over again.

    1. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
      19th May 2021, 3:21

      @dmw you said it! Every year people complain about Monaco gp being processional, but the sheer difficulty of driving within the narrowing confines for 78 laps is maddening! A world champion should show his ability to drive across all types of circuits. Monaco provides variety to the calendar, along with Singapore and Baku (partly).

      1. @asleepatthewheel Monaco represents a huge challenge for the drivers and it’s not surprising that they regard winning there a a massive feather in their cap.

        Monaco is, in order – a social event, the pinnacle of corporate entertaining, very exciting for an hour on Saturday and a joke of a race for a modern F1 car.

        The last few years we’ve seen the lead car driving as slowly as possible in the first stint in order to run as long as possible on the softs to ensure a one-stop race. I certainly didn’t miss it last year.

        1. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
          21st May 2021, 9:57

          @scbriml Monaco tends to produce boring races. Granted, but it is at least a challenging circuit where one mistake sends you off packing. Compare it to French, Abu Dhabi and Spanish gps, where the layout is not as tight as and overtaking is close to zero.

          For having such a narrow layout which tests a driver’s skill and concentration, it should stay on the calendar; irrespective of the snoozefest it produces on Sundays and the corporate shenanigans it comes bundled with.

    2. That’s a really good point Dave👍

  10. ..conveniently forgetting Mercedes’ strong point is slow corners..

    1. ..or that race tyre really matters here

    2. Yeah, especially this year it might actually be a solid track for Mercedes relatively compared with RB.

    3. @balue
      Is it though? Hamilton was consistently slower than Verstappen through S3 at Barcelona (at least in FP3 and the qualifying sessions). Even if there wasn’t a huge deficit (about 0.15 on average), I don’t see Mercedes having the upper hand in low speed corners over RB at Monaco. If anything, it could be the other way around.
      The cooler temperatures (forecast predicts around 17-18°C for all the sessions) might also handicap the Mercedes a bit, since their car is fairly easy on its tyres and getting enough heat into them for a single lap might be a bigger issue for them in qualifying.
      Mercedes biggest strength seems to lie in medium speed corners (which is why they were mighty through S2 at Barcelona – 0.2 quicker than Verstappen), but there are only three corners of that type in Monte Carlo.
      I’d say it looks like advantage RB, but who knows?! It comes down to whoever puts in the best/cleanest lap in Q3.

      1. @srga91 Mercedes said outright after Bahrain: Andrew Shovlin: “I don’t think we’re good enough in the high-speed, and there’s plenty of that in Imola and in Portimao, and that’s one area where they’ve got an advantage on us at the moment. No doubt they have caught up in fast corners as well, but those are the inherent nature of the cars. Using S3 in Catalunya is misleading as that’s a lot to do with the chicane and drive out of the last corner, and not just T10. As you well point out, in the more twisty bits S2, Mercedes was better.

        Monaco is likely to be a Mercedes circuit, and it doesn’t really matter what race tyre they are on since it’s all about qualifying and strategy, but the spin must of course be that Mercedes are underdogs.

        As for qual track temp, that’s virtually irrelevant with the new tyres as you can do plenty laps to get them working, and as for Mercedes, they can even qualify well on the harder compound.

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