Leclerc heads home in desperate need of happier return

Finley Crebolder
Charles Leclerc crashes out. Monaco May 2021.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc shunts into the wall on the exit of the Swimming Pool section. Monaco May 2021.

Charles Leclerc has had a torrid time of things on home turf since joining the grid; for the sake of his title chances, he needs that to change at the Monaco Grand Prix.

The Ferrari man has failed to score a single point on the three occasions he has raced on home soil, and hasn’t even finished one.

That’s not entirely due to bad luck either. While his brakes failed him in 2018, he crashed out of the race in 2019 and out of qualifying last year, which prevented him from even starting on the Sunday.

He simply can’t afford to make such mistakes this time around given what happened last time out at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Set to take victory with ease, he was forced to retire with an engine failure. To make matters worse, Max Verstappen went on to win and take the lead of the World Championship.

The momentum is very much with the Dutchman and Red Bull at the moment, and Leclerc and his team need to halt their charge quickly if they don’t want to be left behind in the standings.

There’s reason to believe they’ll be able to do so. While Verstappen and co have been faster in a straight line this season, the Ferrari has been strongest in low-speed sections. Given that, the Italian team will have their sights set on claiming their second 1-2 of the season.

If they are to do so though, they need Leclerc to improve on his previous performances at the circuit and Carlos Sainz to improve on his previous performances this year. The Spaniard made yet another mistake in Barcelona, spinning early on, and while he was able to recover there, he won’t be able to get away with such an error on the streets of Monte Carlo.

Red Bull have no such concerns with their drivers. Verstappen won in Monaco last year with a flawless showing, and Sergio Perez has done well there in the past too, claiming a podium while at Force India, and is looking better than ever thus far this season.

The fact that Checo is able to match Verstappen’s pace is starting to cause some headaches for Christian Horner though, with the Mexican unhappy with team orders last weekend. Given overtaking in Monte Carlo is near impossible, if he finds himself ahead of his team-mate again and doesn’t want to play the team game, things could get feisty.

Fighting the Red Bulls at the front in the last race was George Russell with Mercedes taking a big step forward. The German look to comfortably have the third-fastest car now and could well be in the mix for a podium at the least in Monaco if they can beat at least one Ferrari or Red Bull in qualifying.

We wouldn’t bet against Lewis Hamilton doing so looking at how he drove in the last round. After dropping to the back of the field at the start, he was at times the fastest man on track for the rest of the race and ended up finishing in P5.

Russell wasn’t bad either and has now beaten his team-mate five races in a row. The seven-time World Champions’ primary goal will be putting that run to an end.

Zhou Guanyu will have a similar objective. He has been outclassed by the immensely impressive Valtteri Bottas this year, beating comfortably beaten in every race and scoring just one point compared to the Finn’s 38.

With the Alfa Romeo perhaps the strongest of the midfield cars, the Chinese driver will be disappointed if he doesn’t add to his tally in his sixth F1 race, while Bottas will be looking to leapfrog Lando Norris in the standings, currently trailing the McLaren man by a single point.

At the British team, it’s been a similar story to last season in terms of drivers. Norris continues to impress while Daniel Ricciardo continues to struggle.

The streets of Monaco used to be the Aussie’s stomping ground, but he was lapped by his team-mate last year in one of the lowest points of his F1 career. Whether that was a one-off or the man who was once one of the best on the grid at the track is long gone will become clearer this weekend.

The Honey Badger isn’t the only man to taste victory in Monaco in the past that’s in need of a strong result in the upcoming race.

After a start to the season full of misfortune, Fernando Alonso enjoyed an excellent Sunday on home turf, fighting his way up to P9 after starting from the back of the field. He’s still a long way behind his team-mate and others he’ll be looking to beat in the standings though and so needs to follow up on it with another top-10 finish.

Sebastian Vettel is currently level on points with the Alpine driver but won’t fancy his chances of keeping up with him or maintaining his rather impressive track record at the circuit.

Despite Aston Martin introducing what was effectively a new car last time out – one that looked a lot like the Red Bull – both the German and Lance Stroll were knocked out in Q1. If that happens again, they can wave their hopes of scoring points goodbye.

AlphaTauri and Haas are the teams they’ll be aiming to beat to avoid such a fate but both have cars that look quite comfortably quicker than the British team’s.

The former have scored points in all but one race this year with Yuki Tsunoda taking P10 in Spain. The Japanese driver is starting to impress and look like a match for Pierre Gasly.

While their 2021 rookie is doing well though, Haas’ is not with Mick Schumacher still yet to score points in F1, despite having a car capable of doing so this year, shown by the fact that Kevin Magnussen has 15.

As a result, the American team sit in P8 in the standings despite being towards the top of the midfield in terms of pace, but they at least don’t have to worry about dropping any further down with Aston Martin nine points behind and Williams trailing by 12.

It’s unlikely to be a particularly happy weekend for Alex Albon and co, with their machinery quite clearly the slowest on the grid in the last race.

That being said, if they can gain a few places in the pits via a smart strategy or Safety Car, they’re unlikely to lose them on such a narrow circuit with cars wider than ever. The new regulations have improved the action at a few races this year, but are unlikely to do so in Monaco.