Charles Leclerc grabbed the center stage for his home race after a chaotic finish to qualifying at the Monaco Grand Prix.
The consistently dominant Ferrari driver finished 0.225sec over teammate Carlos Sainz.
Leclerc was on a faster lap at the finish before Red Bull’s Sergio Perez hit Portier, was picked up by Sainz and the session was abandoned.
Perez came third, ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, while Leclerc finished fourth.
Fernando Alonso also crashed his car in the Alps at the end of the Mirabeau session, slipping to seventh behind McLaren’s Lando Norris and Mercedes’ George Russell, both of whom the veteran Spaniard drove after the first few qualifying.
Perez’s crash also prevented Hamilton from entering a lap on new tires in the latter part of qualifying and he finished only eighth, ahead of Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and Esteban Ocon in the Alps, both of whom were also hampered by a red flag.
Chaos denies potential greatness
Leclerc started the weekend as the favourite and looked like he was the most likely to take pole, looking like he would achieve one of Monaco’s greatest qualifying laps ever before vortexing at the end of the session.
Just a quarter of a second before the start of the field after the first lap, the second lap threatened to take him to another dimension, but he could not complete it.
Leclerc: “It’s something very special. I’m very happy. It’s been a very smooth weekend so far. I knew the speed was in the car and I just had to do the job, it went perfectly.
“The last lap before the red flag was really, really good. It was really on the border. The back was loose but it was a good lap. I think I was 0.4sec before the red flag. And it’s great to have Carlos with me in the front row.”
There were ludicrous similarities to last season in the way the session ended.
2021 also saw Leclerc take the starting position – the position was secured when he himself fell, this time at the exit from the pool section.
It ended up ruining the weekend. When Ferrari reassembled the car, it didn’t realize that the left shaft had broken and the car had collapsed while trying to get onto the grid before the race started.
Leclerc has always been fast in Monaco but has never finished a race at his home circuit. With Sainz on his side at the start, he has a golden opportunity to make up – a result he desperately needs after seeing a 46-point lead turn into a six-point deficit in the last three races.
Perez looked like the man most likely to threaten Leclerc ahead of the final part of qualifying but his first lap in the final session didn’t go as he had hoped and Sainz crawled onto the field.
In an attempt to compensate, Perez pushed hard on Portier, the right-handed who entered the tunnel in front of the straight, and hit the hurdles where he was caught by Sainz, who was on his last lap and was trying to fall behind to improve.
Although Leclerc continued to improve up front as the lap progressed, the driver most affected by Perez’s mistake was Verstappen.
He was upset during qualifying and had just scored his best performance. It wasn’t a Leclerc match, but it looked like the world champion might have a chance to jump into the front row, only to be thwarted by giving up training.
Norris is superior, but Hamilton loses
Norris and Russell in particular benefited from the red flag. A little earlier, Norris had set a stunning lap to finish fifth, 0.248sec slower than Verstappen, while Russell jumped to sixth, 0.263sec slower than his compatriot.
They both fell behind Alonso, who was outstanding even in his first match for fifth.
But Hamilton, Vettel and Ocon didn’t run new tires by the last heat wave and they all lost.
Rain is expected later in the afternoon with thunderstorms so the track will be in a different condition even if it’s dry for the race which is far from certain.