Ferrari in Monaco a Red Bull threat? Leclerc warns against F1 euphoria

While Max Verstappen and Lando Norris duel for victory in Imola, Charles Leclerc, the best-placed Ferrari driver, had to settle for third place. After a period of pressure at the beginning of the second half of the race against Norris, the Monegasque driver had to let the McLaren driver go in the final sprint. Leclerc was almost eight seconds behind winner Verstappen at the finish.

Can things turn in favor of Leclerc, who has not won a win for more than 22 months, at his home race in Monaco? In the past, Ferrari has at least demonstrated an appealing performance in the principality time and time again. In both 2021 and 2022, Leclerc was able to secure pole position, which is often described as half the battle to victory given the sometimes seemingly impossible overtaking conditions in Monaco.

Leclerc last started from the Monaco pole in 2022, photo: LAT Images
Leclerc last started from the Monaco pole in 2022, Photo: LAT Images

Leclerc: I would be surprised if we don’t fight for pole

However, Leclerc has not been able to do this so far. And not only that: at his home race, the 26-year-old has not even made it onto the podium in five visits. In the 2021 season, Leclerc was unable to start the race despite being on pole after an accident on his final qualifying run, and in 2022, Ferrari’s strategy caused problems for the local hero.

But the fundamentally positive pace of the Ferrari cars in recent years also makes Leclerc hopeful for 2024: “We have always been competitive here. So I hope it will be the same this year.” Leclerc at least believes there is a chance of pole. “I would be surprised if we weren’t at least in the draw for pole,” says the Ferrari driver.

Surprises again in Monaco qualifying in 2024?

However, this is unlikely to be a walk in the park. Max Verstappen has secured pole position in every Grand Prix of the seven race weekends of the 2024 season so far. Norris was only able to beat the Dutchman in the rainy sprint qualifying in China.

But the Circuit de Monaco has also been good for surprises in the past. Last year, for example, Esteban Ocon in the Alpine secured third place on the grid after a penalty against Leclerc and finished the race on the podium – his only podium in 2023. Leclerc also remembers the potential for surprise – with reference to his own pole in 2021: “We were nowhere in 2021. But when When we came to Monaco, our car worked well.”

Verstappen: It won’t be a very easy weekend

Leclerc could gain further hope from Max Verstappen’s statements ahead of the eighth Formula 1 weekend in 2024. “If you look at the track layout, it probably won’t be the best track for us. Simply because our car usually stumbles when driving over bumps and kerbs,” said Verstappen.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen in the press conference
Max Verstappen doesn’t expect a walk to victory in Monaco, Photo: LAT Images

According to Verstappen, Red Bull has worked on this problem and improved performance in slow corners, but the reigning Formula 1 world champion still states: “I don’t think it will be a very easy weekend for us.”

Verstappen: I can see that it has become tighter

That’s why Verstappen is also hoping for the potential for surprises in Monaco. “Monaco is never straightforward, even if you have the best car. Red flags can appear on a qualifying lap, for example, and there are always a lot of interruptions. A lot of things can go right, but also wrong,” warns Verstappen of the pitfalls of Monte Carlo.

One thing is clear: a weekend like that in Imola, which ultimately ended with a victory for Verstappen after difficult training sessions, should not be repeated. “I wouldn’t want to have a weekend like that again,” says Verstappen. “It’s quite stressful and not nice, but we know that this is a more difficult track for us, even if we have won here in the past.”

Verstappen won in Monaco in 2023, photo: Red Bull Content Pool
Verstappen won in Monaco in 2023, photo: Red Bull Content Pool

But it’s not just the track in Monaco that gives Verstappen a headache. Overall, the Formula 1 top seems to have moved closer together after the extensive updates from Ferrari and McLaren. For Verstappen, this is even more reason why Red Bull should strive even more to get 100 percent from now on: “And in the last few races we may not have performed at this level, but we’ll try again and try to get the best possible setup for the car. But you can definitely see that it’s gotten tighter.”

Leclerc warns: Don’t jump to conclusions

According to Verstappen, the fact that the competition seems to be slowly catching up to Red Bull is not necessarily a sign of poorer work in Milton Keynes. “You can see that other teams are becoming more and more competitive, I suspect that this is naturally due to the rules,” says Verstappen. “Over time, people learn more and more in which direction they have to push.”

But Verstappen is by no means disapproving of the tighter field – on the contrary. “It’s good for the sport that more teams are fighting for victory,” says the 26-year-old. Verstappen receives encouragement from Leclerc, who is, however, much more reserved about the current balance of power: “I don’t want to spoil the excitement, but I wouldn’t jump to conclusions,” says the five-time GP winner.

Leclerc instead points to the special features of the Miami and Imola tracks. “And it’s also true that the next two races, Monaco and Canada, are very special, where driving over the kerbs is so important. And as Max said, it might not be the strength of their car. So we have to wait a little longer and try to find out where we are in terms of performance.”

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