Leclerc heartbreak as damaged Ferrari forces last minute Monaco withdrawal

·2-min read
Prince Albert II of Monaco consoles Leclerc

Pole-sitter Charles Leclerc was a shock last-minute withdrawal from the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday as Ferrari announced a problem with his car.

With Leclerc, who had damaged his car in a crash at the end of Saturday qualifying, out and his front-row spot vacant, Max Verstappen for Red Bull was left leading the grid for this fifth leg of the Formula One season.

For Monaco-born Leclerc it was a cruel end to his dream of winning his home grand prix.

News that his car would not be leaving the pits came just minutes before the 1300GMT start time.

"Charles will not start the race due to an issue with the left driveshaft which is impossible to fix in time for the start of the race," Ferrari explained.

It was all the more unexpected as a couple of hours earlier Ferrari had announced repairs had been carried out without a change of gearbox which would have incurred a five-grid penalty on the damage from the accident in the Swimming Pool section 24 hours earlier.

For Leclerc, 23, it was just the latest misfortune at Monaco.

Despite his familiarity with the narrow, unforgiving street circuit his record at his home race remains bleak and pointless.

His ill luck at the Mediterranean jewel in F1's crown had already resurfaced on Thursday after gearbox problems ruined his opening practice session.

From then on his fortunes flipped. He topped FP2, then qualified in pole for the first time since Mexico in 2019.

But his crash, which ended qualifying prematurely left him anxiously waiting for the all-clear from the mechanics working on his damaged car.

That came on Sunday morning, only for heartache to follow as he made his way around the circuit to the start when he came on the team radio reporting he had a problem, saying "No, no, no - the gearbox guys".

Back in the pits Ferrari mechanics pounced on the car to see if anything could be done to even allow him to start from the pitlane.

When it became obvious that wasn't possible, a dejected Leclerc emerged from his stricken car's cockpit to head for the grid and the pre-race ceremonies, receiving a consoling hug from Prince Albert II of Monaco.

Leclerc's absence will have come as a bitter disappointment to his supporters in the 7,500 crowd allowed to watch the race from the grandstands as coronavirus restrictions are gradually lifted.

His withdrawal left Verstappen, who is 14 points behind Lewis Hamilton in the drivers' standings, with the all-important pole position.

With overtaking opportunities hard to come by on the narrow twisting circuit pole has an increased importance with 12 of the last 16 winners having set off from the front of the grid.

nr/pb