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A curse no more: How Leclerc beat the emotions and odds to win Monaco

Written by Vyas Ponnuri

They say home victories taste sweeter than others. Few feats can trump victory around your home track — celebrating success with the loyal fans and well-wishers who passionately root for you all through your racing career. For Charles Leclerc, this was a victory in the offing for as long as you could imagine. 

Leclerc had finally done it; he’d won at home; Credit - Formula One

As sweet as they are, winning at home is no easy feat. Some drivers achieve it in the early years of their Formula One career, like Lewis Hamilton’s sensational Silverstone win in 2008, or Prost winning his home race in only his second season for Renault — a patriotic moment for driver and manufacturer. 

However, even the biggest names do not have the rub of the green go their way at their home races. As renowned and famous he was, triple world champion Ayrton Senna finally triumphed at his home event in Brazil only in 1991 — his triumph made even more special as he was forced to drive around the 4.3 km (2.6 mi) Interlagos circuit in sixth gear. 

His McLaren’s gearbox lost gears late in the race, eventually leaving only sixth available, and saving Senna’s race. Yet, the home hero finally made it past the chequered flag, screaming both in delight and in pain, and even unable to lift the trophy, suffering from muscle cramps. 

It showed how nothing could stop Senna from winning on that day. Despite taking six pole positions, an invisible force always stood between Senna and victory, often hanging over his head like a dark cloud during Brazilian Formula One races. 

Another driver to break a wretched run at home with a victory, Senna; Credit - Formula One

It was almost as if he was cursed when he raced at home, and it took Senna until his eighth season to win his home race. Three decades later, another driver experienced the same high of winning at home, breaking a growing curse standing between him and the home victory. This time, though, the circumstances varied, but the parallels can still be drawn. 

Born and raised in Monaco, Leclerc remembers the streets like the back of his palm, taking the bus to school, passing by the famous Casino, dreaming of zooming past the famous landmark in a bright red, Formula One car one day. Yet, the streets of the Principality were never kind to him during his racing days. 

Leclerc was always jinxed every year he came to Monaco to race a single seater, be it in Formula 2 or Formula One, never being able to take the chequered flag first. An improperly fitted tyre and a suspension issue derailed his chances in the Formula 2 feature race in 2017, while electrical gremlins would deny Leclerc any shot at points in the following day’s sprint race. 

Nevertheless, he was able to win the title, and received an elevation to Formula One the following year, racing for Ferrari-powered Alfa Romeo Sauber. 

Having qualified 14th, and sitting in 12th, chasing down Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso ahead for 11th, Leclerc’s brakes failed as he went into the Nouvelle chicane on lap 72, his Sauber clattering into the Toro Rosso ahead. First Monaco Grand Prix, no points for Leclerc. 

This tale of Monaco would continue even as he was promoted to Ferrari in 2019, a dream he’d always yearned for. A costly miscalculation by the team meant Leclerc was eliminated in Q1 on Saturday, qualifying a shock 16th for Sunday’s race, around a track where overtaking is near-impossible, let alone difficult. 

Yet, Leclerc would not be discouraged, making up places in the opening stages of the race, until he tagged the inside barrier at the Rascasse right-hander, resulting in a puncture, and dropping him to the rear of the field. He would later be held up in another ‘car park’ at Rascasse once again, before calling it a day and returning to the pits to retire from the race. Two Monaco races, no points. 

With the Principality not hosting a Formula One race for the first time since the inception of the sport, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Leclerc’s next chance to change his home race jinx would be in 2021. With the SF-21 proving to be a pace-setter around Monaco’s tight and twisty streets, Leclerc certainly fancied his chances of breaking the Monaco curse. 

He would take pole, albeit after slamming into the barriers at the swimming pool chicane, damaging his Ferrari. More heartbreak was to follow for race day, as he would lose out on his pole position start, his gearbox giving up on the way to the grid. A gutting way to lose out on what would be a special home victory. 

However, Leclerc would be unfazed, returning in a more competitive Ferrari to take a stellar pole position in 2022, this time he wouldn’t be the one bringing out a red flag in Q3. A second consecutive pole at Monaco, would he convert this into victory?

The answer would be no, as the heavens opened up on Sunday, the race getting underway on a sodden track. Despite Leclerc starting on pole, Ferrari’s poor strategy on race day would catch them out, marking the first time a team didn’t win the Monaco Grand Prix after locking out the front row, since Ferrari themselves in 2008. 

An exasperated Leclerc would come home fourth, left to draw solace from scoring points for the first time on home soil. Even still, the home hero wore a disappointed look, having failed to win from pole around the tight and twisty street circuit. 

Leclerc had taken pole, but would fall to fourth in the race; Credit - Peter J Fox

It’s no easy feat to win at Monaco, more so in the turbo hybrid era, with chances of overtaking dwindling due to the wider cars in use today. 

With only a handful of races won from outside pole at Monaco, the pole-sitter holds the best odds of victory on race day, the rest of the grid having to pray for misfortune for the pole-sitter ahead, or a problem in the pits, two aspects that have improved by leaps and bounds in present day Formula One.

You’d wonder if Leclerc had lost his best shot at a home victory, as the events of last year unfolded once again, leaving him to salvage eighth on the road. 

At this point, you’d wonder if Leclerc would even make it to the podium in his home race, let alone win it. The racing gods are only so kind to you, and you rarely get an opportunity to win a race as storied as Monaco. Moreover, losing at Monaco after securing a pole position can sting for a driver, making them regret the missed opportunity.  

Coming into the weekend, Leclerc spoke of these missed opportunities, and how they were extremely difficult to manage. This was the race Leclerc always dreamt of winning, to win in front of the passionate crowd who rooted for his success as he ascended the motorsport ladder. 

Winning his home race would put the ‘Monaco curse’ to bed, and eliminate the butterflies in Leclerc’s stomach too. 

Being the race that ignited his Formula One dream, it would have an emotional touch too, a perfect tribute to the people who helped him reach this stage, including his late father Herve, and his godfather, the late Jules Bianchi, who referred Leclerc to the stalwarts at Ferrari. 

With Monaco being a small country having a low population, the entire country would turn up and cheer for him. 

Charles would take pole at his home race once again; Credit - Scuderia Ferrari

Having topped two of the three practice sessions on the weekend, Leclerc grew in confidence as qualifying approached. Taking a cautious approach to make it past Q1 and Q2, the home hero turned up the wick in the final part of qualifying, setting a staggering time of 1:10.270. 

Only two other drivers have lapped the streets of Monaco quicker: Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas for Mercedes back in 2019, with Hamilton setting the outright lap record. Considering how much slower Formula One cars have gotten ever since, it was a staggering lap. 

However, taking pole is one part of the road to victory. Ahead lie 78 laps around a circuit with the barriers in close proximity, with even the slightest of errors being punished. You’d also need to ensure not to trip up over any backmarkers along the way. Driver and team would also have to execute pinpoint strategies and pit stops going off without any hitch, something not lost on Ferrari and Leclerc. 

However, incidents at the rear of the field induced a red flag period, allowing Leclerc and the rest of the grid to complete their mandatory tyre change, taking one factor out of the equation. It would be an uninterrupted drive to the chequered flag, and Leclerc played the team game, managing his pace to ensure his teammate Sainz maintained the podium position. 

Leclerc even set lap times in the 1:15s towards the end of the race, showing just how much pace he had in reserve, as he extended the gap to second-placed Piastri to over nine seconds in the closing stages. 

However, for anyone with such a storied history as Leclerc at Monaco, every lap would feel longer, and emotions would start to kick in, as they did for the Ferrari driver towards the end of the race. 

On this day, though, nothing would stop Leclerc from achieving a childhood dream, and despite tears in his eyes almost preventing him from seeing out of the famous Monaco tunnel, or his infamous Monaco curse, he would control the entire race, taking the chequered flag to trigger widespread celebrations. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, but this would be difficult to describe; Credits - Scuderia Ferrari

Only a few things can top winning at Monaco. Every driver dreams to have their name etched into the list of winners at Monaco, the crown jewel on the Formula One calendar. Another dream any driver has is winning their home race, celebrating the triumph with their loyal fans. 

It’s reflected by Italian commentator Carlo Vanzini repeating the phrase “A casa tua, Charles,” translating to “At home, Charles,” as the Monegasque rounded the final corner, reiterating Leclerc’s motivation to finally win a race at home. 

Leclerc had gotten three for the price of one, though. He could finally bask in the glory of winning his home race, and the Monaco Grand Prix. He’d done it wearing scarlet red overalls, racing for the most storied team in the sport, something he’d always dreamt of doing ever since he peered over the balcony of his apartment and watched Formula One cars tear up the streets of Monaco. 

An emotional podium in Monaco; Credit - Scuderia Ferrari

Not often do you see Prince Albert II pop open a bottle of champagne and engage in the festivities on the podium, or break into tears seeing one of his own countrymen win. Such was the magnificence of the triumph, and the level of celebration, immense. Unprecedented. 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but photographs on the day would take more than words to describe and comprehend. The man from Monaco had finally done it. He’d beaten heartbreak, personal loss, and multiple missed opportunities. He’d beaten the infamous Monaco curse standing between himself and victory at home. 

He’d given his loyal fans plenty of reason to celebrate, an unmatched high, much like Brazilians when their beloved hero Senna crossed the line on that day in Interlagos. 


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