MONACO (AP) — Charles Leclerc positioned himself to reclaim the Formula One points lead from reigning champion Max Verstappen by winning the pole for the Monaco Grand Prix.
Leclerc was already atop the leaderboard Saturday when a crash by Sergio Perez stopped the session with about 30 seconds remaining. Leclerc said had Perez not crashed, his final flying lap would have been even better.
“I was about four tenths quicker and it was a really good lap,” Leclerc said. “But what happened to Checo happened to me last year, so no frustration.”
Perez spun his Red Bull on his own final qualifying lap and was blocking the course, and Carlos Sainz Jr. saw him too late to avoid hitting Perez.
Perez said “I could feel the rear tire was not gripping,” ad the damage ”looks bad from the rear.” He expected Red Bull to repair the car in time for Sunday.
Sainz said he saw the yellow flag for Perez, but wasn’t aware of where Perez’ car was located as he came upon the Red Bull.
“I was coming from a blind corner,” he said. “It would have been a pretty good save.”
Despite the contact with Perez, Sainz qualified second as Ferrari locked out the front row for Sunday’s race.
“I think we are in a great position to score points,” Sainz said.
For Leclerc, he must actually finish a race on his home circuit.
He won the pole a year ago but was unable to start the race because of damage to his Ferrari. He’s never finished an F1 race in Monaco.
“Hopefully we can have a clean race,” said Leclerc, who was fastest in all three practice sessions. He noted the forecast called for rain on Sunday but he was decent in wet conditions at Imola.
“City tracks are very tricky. In the wet I’m sure Monaco is even tougher,” said Leclerc.
Leclerc, winner of two of the first three races of this F1 season, lost the championship lead to Verstappen in Spain last week when Verstappen won his third consecutive race.
Verstappen will start fourth on Sunday alongside Perez, who was third-fastest before his late spin in qualifying.
Lando Norris of McLaren qualified fifth, one spot ahead of George Russell for Mercedes. Russell’s teammate, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, qualified eighth and was unable to improve his position because of the red-flag brought out by Perez’s spin.
“I feel sorry for Carlos and the rest of the guys but that’s Monaco,” Perez said.
Fernando Alonso qualified seventh, while Sebastian Vettel and Esteban Ocon were ninth and 10th.
As the sun splashed the circuit, stars were rushing to the circuit in time for qualifying. F1′s iconic race is as much about bling and glamor as the racing itself, and celebrities flock here every year.
It’s close to Cannes, where the film festival is held, and over the years Star Wars creator George Lucas has been a regular. Seen in Monaco ahead of Sunday’s race have been: actor Ryan Gosling, NBA scoring great LeBron James, singer Ricky Martin and UFC star fighter Conor McGregor.
The controversial McGregor was already in full-on showman mode on Saturday as he walked — or rather swaggered gunslinger style from side to side — wearing large sunglasses and his pink Versace shirt wide open as he carried a full glass.
McGregor stopped for a few moments to dance in front of a singer, took another sip of his glass and then slipped through the harbor gate.
Barcelona striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also wore some eye-catching clothing in the paddock, and former France soccer great Zinedine Zidane was set to arrive Sunday.
Zidane had other business first: watching his old team Real Madrid facing Liverpool in the Champions League final Saturday night, 600 hundred miles north in Paris.
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