The Malta Independent 18 July 2024, Thursday
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Ferrari's Leclerc wins F1 Monaco GP after 1st lap crash takes out Perez and 2 other cars

Associated Press Sunday, 26 May 2024, 19:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc won the restarted Monaco Grand Prix from pole position on Sunday for his first Formula 1 victory in nearly two years.

Leclerc was on pole for the third time in four years, but had previously never finished on the podium at his home race. His first win since Austria in July 2022 took his career tally to six, all with Ferrari.

“Tonight's going to be a big night,” he told his team over the radio.

A Monaco victory felt extra special for him, having grown up in a flat overlooking the start-finish line watching cars zooming past below.

“No words can explain that. It was the race that made me want to be a Formula 1 driver one day," the 26-year-old Leclerc said. “Seeing so many of my friends on the balcony, so many people I know. It means a huge amount to me.”

The last 15 laps were the most difficult as the realisation of how much winning would mean dawned on him.

“I must say I was thinking about my dad,” Leclerc said of his late father. “It was a dream of ours for me to race here and win, so it’s unbelievable.”

Championship leader Max Verstappen is bidding for a fourth straight F1 title and saw his lead trimmed to 31 points over second-place Leclerc — 169-138 — with eight races completed.

Verstappen started and finished the race sixth for Red Bull, whose other driver Sergio Perez went out of the race after a big first-lap crash.

The crash also took out Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg, and caused it to be interrupted by a red flag for 40 minutes. The drivers were not hurt.

The race restarted on Lap 3 of 78 and the drivers pulled away cleanly but slowly, with Leclerc managing his tires on a track notoriously difficult for overtaking.

Leclerc finished about 8 seconds ahead of McLaren's Oscar Piastri and 9 seconds clear of Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. in third.

McLaren's Lando Norris was fourth and Mercedes driver George Russell held off Verstappen to take fifth place.

Seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton was seventh, with Yuki Tsunoda (Racing Bulls), Alex Albon (Williams) and Pierre Gasly (Alpine) completing the top 10. It was the same order as the starting grid, reflecting Monaco’s reputation as the hardest track to overtake in F1.

“The pace at the beginning was incredibly slow,” Piastri said. “But it’s been a great weekend for the team.”

All of the drama came at the start.

Perez’s right rear wheel was clipped by the front left tire of Magnussen behind him and put Perez into the crash barrier. Perez’s car almost split in half and also sent Hulkenberg’s Haas spinning as he followed behind.

A red flag came out with debris littering the track to allow Perez’s mangled Red Bull to be cleared away by a crane. The Mexican driver walked back accompanied by two race marshals. His team said he did not need medical checks.

Then, two Alpines tangled near the tunnel with Esteban Ocon’s front nose sending teammate Pierre Gasly’s car up in the air. With other cars just behind and the tunnel approaching, a serious accident was avoided. Ocon will serve a five-place grid penalty at the next race, the Canada GP on June 9.

“Today’s incident was my fault,“ Ocon said. “The gap was too small in the end.”

Governing body FIA ordered a standing restart with Leclerc in pole ahead of Piastri and Sainz going from third, despite puncturing moments after the start. He was trying to pass Piastri and had to use a run-off area at Casino Square.

French soccer star Kylian Mbappé and FIFA president Gianni Infantino were among the guests enjoying the bright sunshine.

But the race proved a processional affair.

Following the restart, cars trundled around the 3.3-kilometer (2-mile) narrow street circuit as Leclerc seemed determined to make his tires last until the end.

Piastri sat on his tail, and by the halfway point he was around 1 second behind, but Leclerc picked up the pace.

“To be honest Charles has been mega all weekend,” Piastri said. “It probably would have taken the best lap of my life (in qualifying). I’m happy with P2.”

There was not much action to entertain fans, some of whom spent thousands on VIP tickets.

Lance Stroll’s left tire came off as he entered the pit lane on lap 50, but little else happened as Leclerc gradually extended his lead and ended his barren run.

“It’s just impossible to get past on the streets of Monaco,” Sainz said. “But I’m very happy for Charles.”

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