Charles Leclerc took a surprise pole position for Ferrari at the Monaco Grand Prix despite a crash in his last qualifying round.
Lewis Hamilton only managed seventh for Mercedes as title rival Max Verstappen took second for Red Bull.
Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas finished third, ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.
Leclerc’s first flying lap in final qualifying was enough for pole, but his crash reduced what had seemed like an exciting highlight for the session.
It was Ferrari’s first pole since October 26, 2019, when Leclerc was fastest at the 2019 Mexican Grand Prix.
The Ferraris were up to speed all weekend and qualified to fight for pole position with Verstappen and the Mercedes drivers.
Leclerc delivered his team’s potential with a strong performance in his home race. He was the fastest in the second qualifying, then 0.24 seconds faster than Verstappen in his first lap of the final session.
The drivers had one last chance to shoot for pole, but with Verstappen on the verge of beating Leclerc’s first time as Red Bull exited the tunnel, Leclerc misjudged the entrance to the second chicane around the pool section and hit the wall. , ending the session.
It was the classic crash in this corner – Leclerc cut the wall with his inside wheel on the first section on the right, bounced off the sidewalk on the second section on the left and crashed into the wall on the outside.
Leclerc said: “It’s a shame to end up in the wall. It’s not the same but at the same time I’m incredibly happy with my first timed lap. The first sector didn’t go well but I did. passed the second and third sectors.
“It’s a big surprise to be on pole and in fourth place.”
However, there is still a risk that it will lose its place. If his gearbox is damaged enough to need to be replaced, he will be assessed a penalty of five grid places.
Ferrari said on Saturday evening that an initial inspection of the gearbox did not reveal any serious damage. Further checks will be carried out on Sunday morning, when a decision will be taken on its use in the race.
Leclerc said he brushed against the wall in the same spot on the lap that secured him pole and went too far on his next attempt.
“I was 0.15 seconds or something (at that point),” he said. “I took too much inside on my quick lap – if you look at it I think I hit the wall too, but not as hard as on the second timed lap. I tried to go a bit more on the second round and I basically bounced back, but that was a mistake in judgment. “
The crash rekindled memories of an infamous incident in 2006, when Michael Schumacher pretended to crash and parked his car at Rascasse in an attempt to secure pole, but was then demoted to the back of the grid .
Leclerc said, referring to the serious risk to his position on the grid of potential damage to the gearbox: “If I had done it on purpose, I would have made sure to hit the wall a little less hard.”
Verstappen said: “It was unfortunate with the red flag. I felt really comfortable with qualifying.
“(On my last run) I was 0.15 seconds away and I knew I had made a mistake on the first T10 run which cost 0.1 seconds. So the pole was on. But it was on. is so, but, maybe. “
He stressed that he had made mistakes in the same turn as Leclerc on two occasions in Monaco: “There is a difference when a driver makes a mistake or does it intentionally, but he just cut the wall and finished there where I ended up. I’m disappointed that I didn’t have a pole shot but that’s life. “
Bottas said he was “drained” of not having a last chance to improve in third place.
What happened to Hamilton?
Hamilton never looked quick at any point in qualifying, lagging behind his teammate throughout and struggling with a lack of grip, especially with difficulty getting the front tires up to temperature.
He finished the session more than 0.4 seconds behind Bottas, and also behind Lando Norris of McLaren and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, and faces the real prospect of seeing Verstappen take much of his championship lead.
Hamilton enters the race 14 points ahead of Verstappen, but with such difficult overtaking around Monaco the Dutchman has a great chance to eat away at Hamilton’s advantage considerably.
“Today it was all about the tires that weren’t working,” said Hamilton. “I was just sliding. I didn’t feel bad Thursday. I think we were closer to the front on Thursday. But we didn’t go in the right direction in the last day and today is the result.”
Struggles continue for Alonso and Ricciardo
Further back, the struggles in 2021 continued for two F1 giants.
Daniel Ricciardo was only able to qualify 12th for McLaren, more than 0.5 seconds behind his teammate Norris in second qualifying, and Fernando Alonso did not even manage to get out of the first session in his Alpine.
The two-time Spanish world champion, back in F1 this year after a two-year absence, finished 17th.
Alonso was 0.465sec slower in Q1 than his teammate Esteban Ocon, who finished 11th.
George Russell was 15th for Williams as the team celebrated their 750th Grand Prix.