'Leclerc prepares to fulfil childhood dream'

Charles Leclerc waves to the Monaco crowd
Charles Leclerc has been on pole position three times for his home race in Monaco [Reuters]

Charles Leclerc said after taking pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix that he had dreamt of winning his home race “since being a kid”.

The dream is close to becoming reality - they say that taking pole is 90% of the way to winning the race at Monaco, where overtaking is almost impossible.

But Leclerc knows better than anyone that is not necessarily the case - his and Ferrari’s job now is to make sure they do not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the manner they did the last two times he has qualified at the front of the grid.

This is Leclerc’s third Monaco pole in four races there. Both previous times something has gone wrong.

Will it be third time lucky, he was asked after qualifying on Saturday?

“I hope so” he said. “I hope you’re right. The best thing I can do for now is focus on all the process in order to be as ready as possible for tomorrow.

“I really hope it is the right one. We have been very competitive around here… forever and I never had the end result I have dreamt of since being a kid.

“I hope tomorrow is the day but in the meantime I have to focus on everything that will put us in the best situation to achieve that.”

Leclerc has been in magnificent form all weekend, looking more at home around the streets than anyone else, a fact demonstrated by the fact that his margin over McLaren’s Oscar Piastri in second d was bigger than that between Piastri and Max Verstappen’s Red Bull in an unfamiliar sixth place.

Ferrari find themselves in the same grid positions as in Singapore last year - when Carlos Sainz was on pole and Leclerc third, that time with George Russell’s Mercedes between them.

Like in Singapore, Verstappen is too far back to be a real threat in a normal race - and it is a race a driver can control from the front at the pace he wants, because passing is so difficult.

At Marina Bay, Ferrari set about the race with a strategy of doing everything they could to secure a Sainz win - Leclerc beat Russell off the line and then backed up the pack before the pit stops to ensure Sainz could not be passed. It sacrificed Leclerc’s race, but it was all about a Ferrari victory.

The plan will be similar on Sunday, whatever happens at the start, whether Sainz passes Piastri or not.

“The focus will be what we can do to win the race with Charles,” Sainz said. “He deserves to win Monaco after his run. He has been extremely strong all week and in the past. Tomorrow is the day to wish for that to happen.”

Leclerc said he was feeling the pressure before qualifying and that an engine change needed before it did little to calm him down.

But he delivered with style, with a lap 0.154secs faster than Piastri.

“The Monaco qualifying is always so incredibly special just because as a driver you have to put everything in it and not leave any centimetres away,” Leclerc said.

“And that means close to the wall. That means risk of crashing very, very high coming Q3. But that is what excites me.

“Whenever I get to Q3, I am so happy. As much as it is tense, I am pretty sure I have a smile on my face going around the lap, just because the feeling going around the lap is absolutely amazing.”

The pressure, he said, would not be the same before the race - he would ensure that by focusing on the start, on the strategy, and all the little details that need to go right to secure a victory.

“I cannot afford to think about how I would feel (if I won),” he said. “I have more to gain by focusing on the process of how to get there.”

He would hardly be human, though, if his mind did not at some point stray on to what went wrong the last two times he was in this position.

In 2022, he crashed on his final qualifying lap. The incident secured his pole by ensuring no one had the chance to beat him.

Ferrari checked the car over before the race and found nothing wrong. But somehow they had failed to spot a driveshaft failure and it broke as he left the pits to go to the grid.

The following year, he converted his pole into a lead at the first corner, and that should have been enough to win, even in a race that started wet and was moving to dry.

But this time Ferrari messed up their strategy, and allowed Leclerc to get passed by both Red Bulls and his team-mate Carlos Sainz, somehow converting a potential win to fourth place.

Ferrari are “a better team now”, Leclerc pointed out, a reference to the changes that have been obvious under boss Frederic Vasseur since he joined for 2023, since when he has very obviously improved many aspects of the team’s operations.

Still, though, Leclerc knows he can take nothing for granted on Sunday. The race is long and tactical, and even if overtaking is all but impossible on track, there are a myriad ways a win can be lost.

“We can only focus on what we can control,” he said. “If we don’t have a good start, we won’t keep the position into Turn One but I have had good starts recently so I am not worried.

“In the past we did not have the success we wanted but I don’t want to think about that any more and I am pretty sure we will have a good one tomorrow.”