What is Leclerc’s Monaco Grand Prix curse, and can he end it in 2023?
Charles Leclerc’s bad luck at his home race, the Monaco Grand Prix, has become the stuff of Formula One legend.
Leclerc has seen three golden opportunities to win the famous event slip through his fingers. The Ferrari superstar was born and raised in Monte Carlo, one of the nine districts that makes up the Principality of Monaco. As a child he caught the bus to school from a stop at what is the final corner of the city’s famous street race.
But Monaco’s favourite son has never won or stood on the podium. Heartbreak seems to follow Leclerc around his hometown streets and he has finished just once in four F1 attempts, and a further two Formula 2 races earlier in his career.
“I do not believe too much in luck, but it’s true that when you see the records, it’s not always been easy on race day,” he said on Thursday ahead of this weekend’s race.
The causes of Leclerc’s bad luck has been mixed. While Ferrari’s questionable strategy calls have been blame for two of the incidents on this list, a big mistake from Leclerc in 2021 ensured the curse lived on.
So why has Leclerc’s luck been so bad? And can he reverse ‘Lecurse’ in 2023?
2017: Double DNF
Leclerc’s bad run at the Principality started in what was otherwise a dominant Formula 2 championship-winning season. Having beaten Alex Albon to pole position Leclerc breezed away into the distance to start Saturday’s feature race, only to be caught out by a mid-race safety car which shuffled him down to fourth position. A mechanical issue then forced him to retire and meant he started Sunday’s sprint race from 17th. Progress at the narrow street circuit was hard going and after a collision with Norman Nato he retired again.
It was a rare off-weekend for Leclerc — his F2 season is widely considered one of the most impressive in the F1 feeder series in recent history.
2018: Double DNF
Now an F1 rookie with Alfa Romeo, Leclerc impressed by dragging his car into Q2 and out-qualifying teammate Marcus Ericsson. A top finish was always unlikely given the machinery but Leclerc was denied a finish when a front-left brake failure while running 12th with six laps left saw him drive into the back of Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley.
2019: Ferrari qualifying blunder ruins weekend
Leclerc, promoted to Ferrari for 2019, arrived at his second Monaco Grand Prix with a very real chance to win. Ferrari’s early-season form had been good and Leclerc would have won the Bahrain Grand Prix without a late engine issue. Leclerc had been the breakout star of the opening races and had not finished outside the top five since joining Ferrari.
Leclerc topped final practice on Saturday but qualifying quickly unraveled. Ferrari was confident the time Leclerc set at the start of Q1 would be enough to advance him to Q2 – it was not. In the closing minutes, Leclerc’s name dropped down the order – with his car in the garage, he was powerless to stop himself falling into the elimination spaces. Starting 16th, a fired-up Leclerc barged past Lando Norris and Romain Grosjean early on but collided with Nico Hulkenberg at Rascasse, with the damage ending his race.
2021: Gets pole, does not start
Easily the toughest of all Leclerc’s Monaco setbacks, as he earned pole position but then made an unforced error which prevented him from starting the race. After Ferrari’s winless 2020, Leclerc was in good form when F1 arrived back at the Principality in 2021 following a Covid-19 cancellation the year before.
Heartbreak would follow again in qualifying, but this time blame could be laid squarely at Leclerc’s feet. Having gone quickest in Q1 and Q2, Leclerc set the quickest time at the beginning of Q3 to put himself provisionally on pole position. As is customary, he went out again at the end of the session to attempt to set an even quicker time, only to clip the wall on the inside of the Swimming Pool chicane. The contact broke the Ferrari’s front-right suspension and sent his car into the wall on the exit of the corner.
Ferrari opted against changing Leclerc’s gearbox as a precaution, something which would have come with a five-place grid penalty. On his first lap out of the garage on Sunday, while on route to the grid, Leclerc’s Ferrari stuttered and stalled with what was later revealed to be a driveshaft failure.
2022: Ferrari blunders away pole advantage
Leclerc looked set to finally end the curse last year, having qualified on pole position and avoided any repeat of the 2021 mistake which prevented him from starting. Despite a delayed start due to a rain shower things were going perfectly for Leclerc as he led the opening 17 laps, only for Ferrari’s strategic failings to be laid bare once again.
As the track dried Red Bull’s Sergio Perez seized the initiative and pitted for intermediate tyres on Lap 17. Leclerc and Ferrari waited another two laps to do the same but kept Sainz out until Lap 21, when he swapped straight from the wet tyre to the dry tyre. Had Ferrari done that with Leclerc’s car, he likely would have retained the lead.
However, as he’d moved onto the intermediate like Perez, he still need to pit again. The two extra laps on that tyre proved to be the race-winning moment in the race for the Mexican driver and once he and Leclerc had moved onto the soft tyre, the Red Bull was in the lead.
By the time it was all done, the order was Perez, Sainz, Max Verstappen, Leclerc, which is how they would remain until the finish. Leclerc had a few desperate looks at the gaps either side of Verstappen’s car in the final laps but there was no way through.
Leclerc later said he had “no words” to describe his emotions in the aftermath.
Can he end the curse in 2023?
On the basis of the opening five races, Leclerc is more of an outsider for victory this year than he was in 2019, 2021 or 2022. But the tight and twisty Monaco circuit often removes big performance differences between cars and is likely to scale back some of the huge advantage Red Bull has enjoyed so far this year.
Monaco’s race is notoriously low on overtaking and Leclerc is considered by many to be the best qualifier in Formula One. Ferrari’s car has been much closer to Red Bull over one lap so far this year — Leclerc got pole at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, also held on a street circuit, in April.
A third straight pole position for Leclerc would put him into a wonderful position to finally end his bad luck around his hometown streets.
Red Bull certainly feels like Ferrari has a shot at winning on Sunday.
When asked who he saw as Red Bull’s toughest competitors this weekend, last year’s race winner Perez said: “I think Fernando [Alonso], the Ferraris, I do expect them to be quite strong as well, like they were in Baku.
“Obviously over one lap around this place they will be strong. So yes, I do expect them to be quite strong.”