The red flag missed Charles Leclerc’s chance to finish one of the biggest laps in Monaco at the end of Saturday’s qualifying.
Already 0.225 seconds into the field, the Ferrari driver had just 0.4 seconds past his time as he approached Tabak’s corner and the final part of the lap that had been his best stretch of the weekend when a red flag set was thrown to the porter for an accident, trailed him on the other side of the tunnel .
“I really wanted to finish this lap,” Leclerc said. “It was a really good course. Also on the plane [footage] It’s pretty much overdone so it’s nice on the plane. It’s been a great lap so far but it’s happening in Monaco so don’t be discouraged.”
However, the Ferrari driver was able to celebrate a second consecutive pole position as his first lap of the last lap was good enough to put him ahead.
But as Leclerc celebrated and focused on turning his pole into a much-needed win on Sunday, one question hung in the air – will he and F1 get another chance to enjoy Monaco next year?
Some commentators have ridiculed the idea that there might not be a Grand Prix in Monaco in 2023. But the possibility is very real.
Are you sure you can’t get rid of Monaco?
Monaco has always considered it irreplaceable, affirming its place as a symbol of all that is fun and exciting in Formula 1.
Magic, money, danger and even the slightest hint of evil. The apotheosis of Somerset Maugham’s image of a “sunny place for suspicious men”, a description that in some ways could apply to both Formula 1 and Monaco.
But even if Leclerc said on Thursday that stopping the race “would be an issue Bad move on both sides,” F1 is seriously considering the idea.
The sport’s owners, US group Liberty Media, will not comment publicly, but prominent sources say that while they recognize the race’s appeal and popularity to fans far beyond the usual Formula One, they tend to grow weary of the racing aspects.
Monaco has always been an anachronism. For a long time, the tight, winding circuit winding up and down the hills of this tiny principality seemed unsuitable for Formula 1 cars with all their modern speed, size and sophistication.
Watching the Grand Prix here remains one of the most exciting scenes in world sport, but doing so only underscores how crazy it is.
But this is not the crux of the problem.
As always, it is about money, but not as straightforwardly as one might imagine.
Monaco has always paid a fee to run the race. Now it is in the €10-12 million range, which is one of the lowest on the calendar. But that’s not the problem either.
F1 wants changes in a number of areas.
First, there is TV coverage. Monaco is the only one on the calendar where its local television company directs the images the world sees; Everywhere else is F1’s TV channel.
Most in F1 have felt for some time that this has led to a difference in quality, and that TV coverage of Monaco is weaker than anywhere else. Accidents are overlooked, extraordinary decisions are made and F1 is no longer willing to accept them.
Then there is the unique promotional arrangement of the race. Elsewhere, rings must use F1’s in-house advertising, which promotes the sport’s sponsors from private companies.
In Monaco these local stores are supplemented, leading to some glaring exceptions from a Formula 1 perspective. The most significant this year is that the luxury watch brand has important signage around the track – but it’s not the one who pays millions to F1 to be the sport’s official brand.
Then there is the racetrack itself, the no-overtaking in Monaco has long been accepted, which is unavoidable due to the location of the race.
But Formula 1 thinks small changes can make a difference – a wider curve here for example, a quay move there, possibly rethinking the front end of the port – but the Automobile Club de Monaco is reluctant to consider sketching the idea.
This feeds into the latter issue – what many within the sport see as frustrating the way the venue is run on various levels, questionable decisions regarding a number of aspects of the weekend and an unwillingness to share ideas for acceptance from the outside.
Many will feel that such matters are trivial compared to what they see as positive aspects of Monaco’s presence in the calendar.
But Liberty is encouraged by the rapidly growing popularity of Formula 1 around the world, the interest from other countries in hosting the races, the success of the historic new event in Miami, and the achievement of hosting a race on the famous strip next year to the grounds of Las Vegas.
Monaco is not the only historic race at risk. France will be junior. Many will be more concerned that Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps will also miss next year, although it could be saved if Covid continues to cause problems in China and hopes of racing at Kyalami in South Africa fade.
Could there really be no Grand Prix in Monaco next year? The facts of Monaco’s situation and the threat it faces were heard loud and clear in a comment from Mercedes F1 Team Principal Toto Wolff after qualifying.
“I’m biased,” he said. “I live here, I love it and what Monaco has to offer is amazing.
“F1 is important for Monaco and Monaco is important for Formula 1, but it needs a positive approach from both sides.
“Monaco must embrace the new realities that sport represents today and its impact on the world. At the same time, Monaco will always be respected as something special within Formula One.
“No one should take things for granted. If we don’t drive in Monaco, in my view as a team owner, it would be a shame.”
How about the race?
With Leclerc in pole position ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez in third, ahead of Leclerc’s title rival Max Verstappen, Ferrari looks set to lose the race.
The track position is king in Monaco and if they can hold their positions at the start, Ferrari should be able to control the race from the front.
But it is far from a foregone conclusion. For example, storms are expected overnight, and the official weather forecast requires a 60% chance of rain in the race.
Second, this year’s lifting of the vague rule requiring teams to start a race with the tire they used in qualifying two leads to more strategy, especially here.
Championship leader Max Verstappen looked confused so far this weekend, but before Perez triggered the red flag at the end of qualifying, there was a hint of his true pace as he set his fastest time in the sector at the weekend – second behind Leclerc. Too frustrating.
But there’s a reason Verstappen has won four races from just one pole and Leclerc only two wins from four poles this year ahead of Monaco. Red Bull is much stronger in the race.
Monaco is very tire friendly. Could Verstappen start with a harder tyre, really go deep and try to overtake Ferrari that way?
Verstappen turned his 46-point lead over Leclerc into a six-point lead in the championship in just three races. Leclerc urgently needs to stem this tide with a win.
But for Leclerc, the long-awaited home win is far from over.