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Charles Leclerc caused controversy with pole and crash in Monaco: it also happened to these former world champions

Charles Leclerc caused a Monegasque delirium on Saturday afternoon by scoring a very surprising pole position for his home race. Yet that is not what it was about immediately after qualifying, because with a few seconds left on the clock, Leclerc crashed his Ferrari. The competitors could therefore no longer improve their times, because the session was immediately stopped. Again controversy around pole position in Monaco: it is not the first time that has happened in recent years.

The qualifying session in Monaco has long been the most important – and therefore often the most beautiful – of the Formula 1 season. After all, in the narrow streets of the principality, overtaking during the race is almost impossible, making a good starting position even more important than in other Grand Prix’s. In addition, the pilots drive at a limit as thin as a razor blade: one mistake is often fatal in Monaco.

The latter turned out again on Saturday. During the last free practice, Nicholas Latifi (Williams) and Mick Schumacher (Haas) had already parked their cars in the crash barriers. Schumacher therefore even missed qualifying. And during the chrono rides, it was then the turn of the man who carries the hope of the entire city-state on his shoulders: Charles Leclerc.

What happened to Leclerc?

Charles Leclerc has been on the road quickly in Monaco all weekend and he just continued that line on Saturday. Shortly before the end of the last qualifying part, the home rider was on a surprising pole position. However, during Leclerc’s last fast lap, things went completely wrong.

On entering Turn 15, Leclerc sent in too early, hitting the wall on the inside. As a result, the suspension broke off on his right front wheel. Leclerc was a passenger as his car crashed into the guardrail at Turn 16. Fortunately, the young Monegask remained unharmed.

Leclerc hit the wall at Turn 16.
Photo: ISOPIX

The crash of the Ferrari had major consequences, as the session was immediately stopped by means of a red flag. Several of Leclerc’s competitors were therefore unable to complete their last fast lap. In addition, Max Verstappen (second) and Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. (fourth), neither of whom hid their frustrations.

For Leclerc himself, the crash could take a turn for the worse. The Monegask is not being investigated for the incident, but its gearbox may have been damaged by the impact. If a substitution turns out to be necessary, Leclerc will automatically be put back 5 places on the starting grid. After all, a gearbox must last 6 races. Ferrari said on Saturday evening that no major damage was discovered during the first inspections, but the team will only decide on Sunday morning whether the box should be changed.

Intentional or not?

After qualifying, some controversy arose around Leclerc’s crash. After all, cheaters immediately claimed that the Ferrari driver would have crashed on purpose to secure pole position. Whether any of that is true? The stewards present do not think so. And if we look at the past, we notice that countless pilots have made a mistake in that particular turn 15 in recent years.

Until 2015, turn 15 was a more perpendicular turn, but since 2016 it has been a bit straighter, so the riders take more speed into the corner. Many of them have since made the exact same mistake as Leclerc. Latifi’s crash in the last practice a few hours earlier was almost identical. World Cup candidate Max Verstappen even did it twice, in 2016 and 2018. And in 2017 it also happened to our own Stoffel Vandoorne during qualifying.

Why the controversy then?

Many of the conspiracy theorists will undoubtedly have reflected on two relatively recent incidents during the qualifying sessions in Monaco on Saturday. Qualifying for the 2006 Grand Prix, for example, is a dirty blot on the career of the great Michael Schumacher.

The seven-time world champion then held pole position in the final minutes, but suddenly parked his Ferrari in La Rascasse (the penultimate corner, ed.), according to him after a steering error. Title rival Fernando Alonso could no longer drive a fast lap as a result, Schumacher was certain of first place – an immense advantage in the narrow streets of Monaco.

What Leclerc does not have in 2021, Schumacher did carry with him: a dubious reputation when it comes to sportsmanship. And so it didn’t take long for the paddock to start talking about malicious intent. The stewards present took the matter under the microscope and, late in the evening, they dared: Schumacher was put back to last place on the grid for his parking maneuver.

The mystery surrounding Nico Rosberg

“Fortunately, because this was the lowest-level thing I’ve ever seen in Formula 1,” said former world champion Keke Rosberg about Schumacher’s antics that weekend. Ironically, 8 years later, it was Keke’s son Nico who was caught in a storm in Monaco for the same reason.

In qualifying for the 2014 race, there were only two top favorites: both Mercedes’. Lewis Hamilton had won all four previous races and so his teammate Nico Rosberg had to hit back. Rosberg, who has lived in Monaco since childhood, opened the final qualifying leg with the fastest time. But then things went wrong.

On his last attempt, Rosberg braked later than usual. The German tried to make the corner, then hesitated for a moment, and a split second later decided to choose eggs for his money and left the so-called escape road to enter. Rosberg was there for a while, but the yellow flag was displayed. And so everyone who came after Rosberg had to slow down. Improving a lap time was therefore no longer possible.

Among the ‘victims’ was Lewis Hamilton, who therefore missed out on a last chance to steal pole position from his teammate and title rival. “That was very good of him, really good,” was Hamilton’s sarcastic comment over the on-board radio.

Unlike Schumacher 8 years earlier, Rosberg escaped punishment. The day after, he also won the race, in front of a visibly irritated Hamilton. The incident would cause the first serious split between the two childhood friends. In the next 2.5 years, their relationship would cool to deep below freezing after several other mishaps.

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