Is Charles Leclerc really unbeatable in Monaco? The training analysis

Formula 1 has had to deal with Charles Leclerc’s performance in the first two training sessions for the Monaco GP on Friday. By the evening, it was clear: every single team, whether Red Bull, Mercedes or McLaren, had pushed Ferrari into the role of clear favorite. The training analysis by can’t help but join this rut. Why the competition isn’t good enough and Leclerc’s problems only seem to be bad news.

In his second free practice session, Leclerc bizarrely failed to clear the air. His long run on old medium tires with full tanks – in his own words “a disaster, so slow” – was simply not good. And then there is the story of Lewis Hamilton, who took second place, 0.188 seconds behind Leclerc, but has good arguments for why he actually drove the best lap.

Tire saver Hamilton vs. traffic victim Leclerc: Who is fastest?

So what’s the story behind Hamilton? We need to take a quick detour to the weather report. Dark clouds hovered near the track all day Friday. Several teams, including Mercedes and McLaren, therefore opted for an aggressive FP1 strategy. Instead of splitting the tires evenly between the two Friday practice sessions, they used three fresh sets in the first session. As a result, these two teams had no new soft tires for a qualifying simulation in FP2 – when no rain came after all.

So Hamilton rode his attack on Leclerc at the halfway point of FP2 on old softs that had already been through a heat cycle. Getting within 0.188 seconds of Leclerc is respectable. Lando Norris, who tried the same, got 0.675 seconds. George Russell and Oscar Piastri are not important. Russell struggled with a steering problem throughout the entire session. Piastri didn’t even put the old softs on.

Hamilton complemented the performance with due optimism, speaking of the best day of the season. He was the only one able to limit the time lost to Leclerc in slow corners. All the others fell noticeably behind, especially because of Rascasse. But appearances are deceptive. Leclerc has by no means used up all his ammunition yet.

“Too much traffic,” complained Leclerc after training and was quick to point to the individual sectors. He did not manage the perfect lap. Unlike Hamilton, whose only attempt was a good one. Leclerc made four attempts on the same set of tires, but something (or rather someone) always got in the way. The theoretical best times paint a different picture.

driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3 Time Residue
Leclerc 18,468 33,670 18,866 1:11,004
Hamilton 18,667 33,838 18,961 1:11,466 0.462
Alonso 18,683 33,823 19,119 1:11.625 0.621
Verstappen 18,690 34,010 19,045 1:11,745 0.741
Sainz 18,833 33,853 19,078 1:11,764 0.760
Norris 18,849 33,861 19,221 1:11,931 0.927
Perez 18,962 33,928 19,173 1:12,063 1,059

Leclerc’s theoretical lead over Hamilton is almost half a second. On a short track like Monaco, that’s half an eternity. The competition is faring even worse. Not least Max Verstappen, who managed to pull pole out of the hat in Imola after a similarly difficult Friday.

Verstappen is slowly running out of qualifying ammunition

Red Bull’s motorsport advisor Dr. Helmut Marko is actually in a better mood in Monaco than in Imola: “Yes, there was progress from FP1 to FP2. If you take that into account, and Alonso, Hamilton, they all revved up the engines, including Leclerc.” And in the long run, the first explanations were found for the stubborn behavior of the RB20 on the bumps. With the additional weight of the full tanks, the problem was reduced.

Only Verstappen himself does not have a positive outlook: “Imola was completely different. There were other problems that you could solve with the setup. These problems here you cannot solve with the setup because they go back to how the car was built. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

“Lots of waves, kerbs, changes in inclination that are practically impossible for us,” explains Verstappen, who has already given up. The engine mode doesn’t make much difference in Monaco, and no setup change in the world is enough in his eyes to eliminate the hypothetical seven tenths gap to Leclerc here. While Marko continues to insist: The Red Bull looked better on the long run.

Leclerc-Ferrari in racing trim a disaster: What’s behind it?

What is certain is that the Red Bull was not the fastest car in race trim. But – again – the Ferrari. But the other one. Carlos Sainz underlined the potential of the car with full tanks. But in qualifying trim it was lost in terms of balance. The Red Bulls were behind with fairly respectable times. Leclerc clearly lacked pace.

There is just one problem with the classification of the long runs. We are in Monaco. Leclerc slid straight into the emergency exit of Ste. Devote on his first lap. He then had to slow down behind Perez to get some air. A disastrous way to start the long run. It could well be that he locked himself out of the working window of the tires.

Pirelli noted that some teams were struggling with the temperature of the front axle. This caused graining, especially on the medium tyres. The victims of this in the long run were Hamilton and also Leclerc. The fact that he began his long run by going off and slowing down behind Perez could also be the reason for his large deficit relative to Sainz.

Pirelli also expects that graining will practically disappear in the event of a dry race. This is because the Monaco track builds up grip very quickly. The problem also gets worse when you’re stuck in traffic. A pole would make Leclerc’s life a lot easier. And he remains the clear favorite for that.

Can Leclerc be beaten? Or will Hamilton pull off the sensation? (09:34 min.)

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