Leclerc powers to Monaco pole

Leclerc powers to Monaco pole

Charles Leclerc will start the Monaco Grand Prix from pole position after a Sergio Perez crash ended qualifying early.

Perez was pursing the dominant Leclerc for pole when he lit up his rear tires at Portier, spinning his car and rear-ending the barrier. His broken car came to rest blocking the track, triggering the red flags that brought qualifying to a premature close.

But Leclerc already had the session well in hand. Not only had he put 0.225s on the field after the first flying laps, but he opened his final attempt with a purple first sector that put him another 0.2s up on everyone else before the red flags flew and called off the session.

“It is very special,” said the home favorite. “I’m so incredibly happy. It’s been a very smooth weekend.

“I knew the pace was in the car. I just had to do the job.”

Carlos Sainz qualified second and 0.225 adrift for a Ferrari front-row lockout, but the Spaniard could yet come under steward scrutiny after hitting the crashed Perez at Portier.

The Ferrari driver appeared to pass a yellow flag and a yellow light board before making a similar mistake to Perez. He struck the stranded RB18, suggesting he hadn’t slowed enough to avoid the incident.

The stewards will have to decide whether he had enough time to react to the caution.

“I saw the yellow flag coming into Turn 8,” he said. “I had to hit the brakes and I obviously tried to avoid him as best I could.”

Perez will line up third assuming there is no serious damage to his car. He’ll share the second row with teammate Max Verstappen, who’s been off the Mexican’s pace all weekend, the Dutchman 0.29s off pole.

Lando Norris was a strong fifth for McLaren, 0.473s slower than Leclerc, but it was more than enough to keep George Russell’s Mercedes at bay with a 0.263s margin.

Fernando Alonso crashed his Alpine head-on at Mirabeau at the end of Q3 but nonetheless qualified seventh. He split Russell from Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, who will line up eighth.

Sebastian Vettel was excellent to qualify ninth for Aston Martin, while Esteban Ocon completed the top 10.

Yuki Tsunoda was knocked out 11th for AlphaTauri ahead of Valtteri Bottas, whose lack of track time on Friday bit Alfa Romeo’s hopes of a strong weekend.

Kevin Magnussen will start 13th for Haas ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, who was unable to recover from losing all of FP2 to a crash – he was 0.7s slower than Q3-bound teammate Norris.

Mick Schumacher will start 15th alongside Alex Albon.

Pierre Gasly was 17th after being particularly badly affected by an odd red flag triggered by his AlphaTauri teammate, Tsunoda.

The Japanese driver picked up a front-left puncture, taking a bite out of the inside barrier at the chicane, but his car was otherwise undamaged, and he was able to limp back to the pits.

But the marshals in the area waved red flags regardless, suddenly stopping the session with 2m and 25s left on the clock.

There wasn’t enough time for the whole field to set a final lap, and Gasly was one of those who missed the cut.

Lance Stroll was 18th in the frenetic final minutes, wasting his team’s hard work to repair his car after an FP3 crash earlier in the afternoon.

Nicholas Latifi will start 19th, while Zhou Guanyu will bring up the rear of the field, the Chinese driver likewise unable to set his fastest lap thanks to the red flag.

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