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HOME SWEET HOME: AN UNFORGETTABLE VICTORY


Principality of Monaco Sylvain Sonnet/The Image Bank RF/Getty Images

Monaco. With stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea, luxury yachts, and the iconic Monte-Carlo casino, it's known as the playground of the wealthy. This picturesque setting provides the perfect backdrop for one of motorsport's iconic races, the Monaco Grand Prix.

Ayrton Senna piloting the car at Monaco - BONHAMS

The Monaco Grand Prix is the first of its kind, featuring a race across the twisting streets of Monte Carlo. The narrow layout with minimal run-off areas makes it one of the most challenging circuits for drivers. It is a test of a driver's precision and mental fortitude. There have been some memorable moments. From Senna's Lap of the Gods to Olivier Panis winning a chaotic rain-filled race where only three cars crossed the finishing line, there is always a story to tell.


The prestige that came with winning a Monaco Grand Prix meant winning here was every driver's goal. For Charles Leclerc, it meant a little more than that. For him, this was home.

Charles Leclerc at Formula 1 testing at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

While many current and former racing drivers live in Monaco due to its favorable climate and (more importantly) low taxes, Leclerc was a true local. Growing up, he watched the grandstands packed with people watching the races. The main straight where drivers start the race heading towards Saint-Devote was his school bus pickup point. On weekends, his family would drive up to his grandmother's house. His grandmother would help him with academics when he returned home from races. It was his childhood dream to win the Monaco Grand Prix.

Charles's career in racing is very heartrending. His father, Hervé, was a former racer who got him into karting. Jules Bianchi, a racer who drove for Marussia in Formula One, was his godfather. He was a mentor for him in his karting days. Leclerc was an accomplished karter, having won championships in France and Monaco. He raced alongside familiar names, including Max Verstappen, George Russell, Alex Albon and Pierre Gasly. He then shifted to single-seater racing and began to attract attention. He won the GP3 series for  ART Grand Prix before being signed up by Ferrari through their driver academy program.


However, with all the success came setbacks. In 2015, Jules Bianchi died of injuries that he suffered during the ill-fated Formula One Grand Prix in Suzuka the year prior. In 2017, his father was suffering from a long-term illness and was on his deathbed. Just two days before his passing, Charles lied to him about signing for a Formula One team. This lie turned true, however, as he signed with Sauber a month later.

Charles Leclerc wins 2017 F2 Championship - Skysports

Despite the painful losses, Leclerc stayed resilient and continued to display his talent. He won the inaugural season of the Formula Two championship. He was now more than ready for motorsport’s biggest and most daunting challenge.

Charles Leclerc with Sauber at Spa in 2018

In 2018, he made his Formula One debut for Sauber and immediately hit the ground running. He scored multiple points finishes in a weak car and was making heads turn. These performances didn't go unnoticed at Maranello, and soon, they decided to promote Leclerc to the Prancing Horse from the 2019 season onwards. The decision was a big one. Driving for the most iconic team in the Formula One grid was an exclusive milestone for champions in their prime. Charles was twenty-one, making him the youngest driver to drive for Ferrari since Ricardo Rodriguez. He would be replacing Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari's last World Champion.

When Charles joined Ferrari, expectations were high. Ferrari extended an exclusive contract to him, a deal previously reserved only for the legendary Michael Schumacher. They believed Leclerc could be the one to bring them back to title-winning dominance.

Charles Leclerc winning pole at Bahrain in 2019 - COLOMBO IMAGES

The Monegasque started strong. He took pole in Bahrain, only losing out on the race win when his engine lost power. He was already beating his teammate, Four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel. It was evident that he had the speed and the talent needed to become a champion. He garnered more support as the races went on.


Then came the Monaco Grand Prix. It was clear who the fans wanted to win when Leclerc took to the streets in first practice.


He took this time to figure out the limits of the track. Monaco was a circuit where the track evolved rapidly. The more laps you did, the better the grip, which resulted in faster lap times. The first two practices went uneventfully. However, in the final practice, things became a bit shaky. Sebastian Vettel crashed into the barriers at Saint Devote, which triggered the virtual safety car. Leclerc nearly joined him as he almost collided with Magnussen heading out of the tunnel. To settle the nerves, Leclerc posted the fastest lap of the session. Now feeling more confident, he rested and prepped himself for qualifying.

Charles Leclerc at 2019 Monaco GP

During qualifying, Leclerc slotted in P6 in Q1 after his first run. However, Ferrari chose not to send him out for a second run. As other cars on the track continued to set faster times, Leclerc fell to 15th place, in danger of being eliminated. Behind him, Vettel was setting purple sectors on a flying lap. When the chequered flag dropped, Vettel crossed the line in first place. Charles fell to P16, out of qualifying. The home crowd was shocked at what just happened. The team were stunned, having made such a schoolboy error. Leclerc himself couldn't believe it. He could only walk out of the pits in silence. Ferrari took an unnecessary risk, and it backfired. His chances of winning the race dropped to zero. Monaco's narrow layout meant that overtakes were difficult to achieve. What's worse, the 2019 spec cars were massive compared to previous designs. It meant that if teams got it wrong in qualifying, chances were, the race was basically all but over.

During the race, Leclerc did his best to catch up, but when he tried to pass Hulkenberg's Renault, he misjudged the space and hit his rear right tyre against the barrier at Le Rascasse. He got a puncture and ended up retiring from the race. Overall, it was a horrible weekend for Charles.

Charles Leclerc winning the Belgian GP in 2019.
Charles Leclerc wins back to back at Monza in 2019 - Motorsport Images.

Despite this, Charles showcased his toughness and resilience and bounced back during the season. During the race at Spa-Francorchamps, his friend Anthoine Hubert lost his life in a ghastly crash which happened in the F2 race. He overcame that loss and took home his first-ever race win for Ferrari. After the race, he dedicated the win to Hubert by pointing a finger to the sky. He then carried that form into Monza, where he held off a charging Lewis Hamilton to take home a brilliant win in front of the Tifosi. The crowd erupted in a deafening roar. The sounds of air horns, cheers and celebratory chants filled the air. The track was filled with enthusiastic fans, creating a sea of red and cheering on Leclerc as he stood on the podium. It was Ferrari's first win at Monza in twelve years, and it was an emotional one.


As the season went on, Leclerc continued to show decent performances and ultimately finished 4th in the standings. Whilst he had some memorable moments, the disappointment of Monaco still plagued his mind. Charles wanted to redeem himself and win at home. He came into 2020 hoping to improve upon last season, but then things changed.

Charles Leclerc driving the (16) Scuderia Ferrari SF1000 Scarperia, Italy. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Getty Images)

In 2020, the world went into lockdown due to the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic, which required everyone to stay home. Formula 1 was brought to a standstill when the McLaren team reported two positive cases in Australia. The FIA came up with a plan to hold a seventeen-race season. Despite this, Monaco still couldn't host a race, leading to its removal from the calendar. The streets remained empty, and Charles' opportunity for redemption would have to wait. As for the 2020 season, it was dreadful for Ferrari. The car was nothing more than a heavy slug and was nearly undrivable. As a result, they fell to 6th in the standings, while Leclerc finished eighth in the driver's championship. Another season went to waste.

Carlos Sainz (Left) & Charles Leclerc (Right)

2021 looked a lot better for Ferrari. The performance of the car was exponentially better compared to last year. With Carlos Sainz joining the team to replace Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari went into the season with cautious optimism. Charles was also very hopeful and was looking forward to his home race as it made a return to the Formula One calendar.

Charles Leclerc's crash during qualifying for the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix.

When Ferrari came to Monaco, they looked rapid. Leclerc and Sainz were flying through the streets during practice, much to the delight of the supporters. When qualifying came, they breezed through the first two sessions with no issues. In Q3, Leclerc claimed provisional pole after the first laps were in. During the second lap, he suddenly hit the barrier at the swimming pool section, damaging his front track rod and coming to a stop. The red flag came out, and with only a minute left on the clock, it effectively ended qualifying. Leclerc won pole position in unlikely fashion. Ferrari's mechanics spent the entire evening repairing the car in time for the race. It looked good from the outset, but the repercussions would only hit at a later stage. Leclerc detected something was wrong with the car as he did his warm-up lap on race day.

"No........No....... The gearbox guys", he reported. Ferrari then officially confirmed it. There was a problem with the left driveshaft. It meant Leclerc could not even start the race. It was the harsh reality of the sport. One mistake and all chances of victory were gone. It was a big blow for Charles. He was heartbroken. The rest of the grid consoled him, but all he could do was sit and watch from the sidelines. He'd have to wait another year for his chance.

Leclerc's second consecutive pole at home. - FORMULA ONE

In 2022, Ferrari once again came to Monaco looking competitive. Charles had picked up race wins in Australia and Bahrain and was once again a huge favourite to win. In the final parts of qualifying, another crash occurred. However, this time, it was Red Bull's Sergio Perez. He spun at Portier and collected Carlos Sainz behind him. Leclerc took pole position and made sure he didn't repeat his mistakes.

Charles' Pit-stop during the 22 Monaco GP.

Then came race day. The usually sun-splashed streets of Monte Carlo were soaking with rain. The race began as the safety car led the field out of the pitlane, with all drivers on wet tyres and a rolling start planned. The rolling start happened on lap 3, and Charles led the others with no issues. All he needed to do now was to put in the laps without losing control of the car in the tricky conditions. Ferrari needed to make sure they were on top of the strategy. However, in traditional Ferrari fashion, it all went completely wrong. On lap 19, Leclerc had pitted for the intermediate tyres. The conditions rapidly changed, and teams made the call to switch to the slick tyres. On lap 21, the race leader, Sainz, was instructed to make a pit stop to switch directly to the slick tyres. Bizarrely, Ferrari also instructed Leclerc to pit behind Sainz. The engineers suddenly realized their mistake, and before they could rectify it, Leclerc was already in the pits. The double-stack pitstop put Leclerc behind Sainz and Verstappen in fourth. He was apoplectic and made his feelings very clear on the radio.

Charles Post Monaco 22' - Getty

Eventually, the race ran its two-hour time limit. Leclerc could not improve his position and finished in fourth place. An unnecessary call ruined his best chance at victory. His quest for a home win continued. He lost a lot of ground in the championship, eventually finishing second behind Verstappen.

Leclerc hit with three-place grid penalty for impeding Norris in Monaco qualifying - FORMULA ONE

In 2023, Red Bull were in a league of their own. Max Verstappen stomped the competition and took home nearly every single race win. At Monaco, he secured pole position after an exciting qualifying session and converted that into a race win. Unfortunately, Charles didn't perform as well as he received a grid penalty after qualifying for impeding Lando Norris, which dropped him from P3 to P6. He didn’t achieve much during the race and eventually finished P6. It was becoming more frustrating, and he wondered if he would ever get that chance to win.

Lewis Hamilton (Left) & Charles Leclerc (Right)

The beginning of 2024 was eventful for Charles and Ferrari. They'd announce that he signed an extension, keeping him at Maranello. Then came a monumental announcement from Ferrari that they had signed 7-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton from Mercedes to drive for them from the 2025 season. All eyes were on the Scuderia as the season began. This time, Red Bull looked beatable. Ferrari looked to be on par with McLaren and Red Bull on performance. Sainz had already picked up a win at Australia after recovering from appendicitis. Charles also looked rejuvenated. He picked up four consecutive podiums and felt confident when they headed to his hometown.

Charles Leclerc back on the podium - Scuderia Ferrari

As the grid took to the streets, the energy was different. Leclerc, now in his sixth season with Ferrari, approached the race weekend with a newfound maturity and heightened awareness. In practice, the home hero was dominant. As he blasted through the tight and twisty circuit, he took each turn with precision usually found on a Swiss wrist. He had a sixth sense of where the grip was and made incremental gains in his lap times. Nobody was coming close to matching his outright speed on Friday.

Charles clinches pole at the 24' Monaco GP.

Then came Saturday. It was time for qualifying. The first two sessions went by smoothly. Then came Q3. This lap was the one that mattered most. The crowd was tense. The mechanics in the garage looked nervous as Charles crossed the line to start his final flying lap. He wasn't the quickest in the first sector, a tenth behind. Things changed as Charles came alive in the second part of the lap. He nailed the Nouvelle Chicane, smoothly navigated the swimming pool section and La Rascasse, and flew across the line in P1.


However, he did not celebrate and was calm during the interviews, saying his focus was on the race. He knew more than anyone that anything was possible on Sunday.


Race day arrived, and unlike previous races, the weather was bright and sunny. Track conditions were near-perfect. Leclerc looked more focused than ever. As they lined up on the grid, he concentrated on ensuring his tires were at the right temperature and that all his systems were working. The lights went out, Leclerc got the start right and got away from everybody. As he sped towards Massenet, chaos ensued at the back. Haas's Kevin Magnussen collided with Perez and his teammate Hulkenberg and caused a red flag to come out. All the cars headed back to the pits.

Sergio Pérez’s Red Bull crashes after a huge accident involving Kevin Magnussen. - Getty

Ferrari decided to change tyres during the stoppage, and some other teams followed suit. This meant Leclerc would not have to pit again during the entire race. The small track layout meant the hard compound tyres could last over seventy laps. The marshals cleared the wreckage, fixed the barrier and prepared the track for a restart. The cars then lined behind Leclerc for a second formation lap. Leclerc was a lot quicker on the restart and once again sped away in the distance from Piastri. All he needed to do now was to control the race at a steady pace.

The race itself was very uneventful. There was little action, and most drivers had already done their mandated pitstops during the red flag stoppage. Everyone was nursing their tyres to the end, making sure they didn't clip the barriers or damage their tyres. It was a sluggish race to watch. Charles couldn't care less about what happened behind him. He only focused on keeping the car away from the barriers and knocking down the laps. It became a mental battle, a test of patience and perseverance. His race engineer kept him updated on his laps.


No one came close to troubling him. From the cockpit, it felt long and never-ending. He ensured he wasn't caught unawares by the lapped cars. Slowly but surely, the number of laps remaining decreased, and more than two hours later, the final lap began. Leclerc took even more caution, staying as far away from the barrier as possible. He came through the tunnel and dealt with the Nouvelle Chicane as carefully as possible. As he went through the final sector, the fans cheered him on. Alex Jacques beautifully narrated the moment as Leclerc came around the final corner. He crossed the finish line knowing that he'd done it. F1's most iconic race, won by a local, driving for F1's most iconic teams. You could not write a better script.

It was a momentous occasion. It was the first time in 93 years that a Monegasque had won the Monaco Grand Prix. As Leclerc stepped out of the car, he ran and jumped into the arms of the jubilant Ferrari crew. Prince Albert II, the monarch, delighted with the result, embraced Charles as if he were his son. Then, the trophy presentation began. Charles took to the top step of the podium, feeling exhilarated.

As the national anthem played on, Charles smiled, knowing that Anthoine, Jules, and his father were watching from above, feeling proud. The trophy celebration felt even more special. The champagne tasted even sweeter. It was a moment that would be etched in Leclerc's memory forever. No one could take this away from him. As the sun settled down, the celebrations continued with the team. Leclerc made a cinematic dive into the Marina with team principal Fred Vasseur. All of the pressure now lifted off his shoulders. He had fulfilled his childhood dream.

Charles Leclerc's race victories always had a captivating story behind them. This one is no different. Years of disappointment and tragedy finally lead to triumph. This win is one Leclerc will remember for more years to come. 


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