Interview with Charles Leclerc: “Monaco is the most exciting qualifying of the year”

As Charles Leclerc told Monaco Life, Scuderia Ferrari will be doing “everything possible to make pole position in qualifying” this weekend, but he says he’s not “fixated” on a Monaco Grand Prix win. Here are some other insights on the intense competition on the grid this season from one of Formula 1’s brightest stars. 

Just 24 hours after securing P3 in Imola in front of an adoring tifosi crowd, and a matter of days before taking to the streets for the Monaco Grand Prix, Monegasque driver Charles fielded questions on Monday 20th May from regional media, including Monaco Life’s Editor in Chief Cassandra Tanti.

Sitting in second place after the race in Imola with 113 points, Leclerc gave a candid assessment of his performance so far this F1 season and outlined the challenges and improvements that lie ahead. From his pride in representing Monaco to his thoughts on the vital role of qualifying in a strong position on the famous circuit, Leclerc gave us an insight into his strategy and mindset, his opinions on the technical upgrades to his car, and what the arrival of Lewis Hamilton at Ferrari in 2025 will mean for his career. 

You are currently in second place in the Drivers Standings. What are your thoughts on the first third of the season? Are you satisfied or did you expect to do a little better?

I think we couldn’t expect to be first in the championship after last year. We also had to be realistic; we know we still have a lot of work to do, but we also know that we have progressed a lot, and we are satisfied because we took the steps that we needed to. We have McLaren, which has been very strong for the last two Grands Prix. On the other hand, we have to wait a few more races before completely judging the improvements that we put in place at Imola. We’re a little behind compared to McLaren and Red Bull in terms of progress, but in the first part of the season, I think we have maximised the potential of the car. Now, we must work together to ensure that the potential is good enough to achieve victories.

Imola was an opportunity to finally put into play the new upgrades. What is your first impression of these developments, and in which specific areas do they allow you to progress? 

With Imola, it was quite difficult to judge the improvements because, like Monaco, it is very specific in itself. On the other hand, with the data we have today in Formula 1, we were able to see the figures, which were expected in terms of aerodynamics, so that’s always a good sign. It means that the upgrade is as expected and there were no bad surprises.

Charles Leclerc at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix 2024 with fans. Photo source: Scuderia Ferrari Media Centre

We saw three teams cross the finish line within seven seconds of each other on the weekend after more than 60 laps. Do you agree that this kind of racing is important to keep Formula 1 fans happy and hooked on the sport?  Does the result at Imola give the team hope for the rest of the season?

Although it is great to have three teams as close as possible, we must not get carried away because it is only one race, and there are other ones with very specific characteristics like Monaco and Canada, which could blur the lines a little. But hey, it’s great if we have three teams as close as what we saw going on at Imola, and it’s important for the Formula 1 fans because I think they are asking for that kind of action. It is not necessarily knowing who will be the winner, it is clear who always has the advantage overall. But we are more optimistic. McLaren now is very strong in qualifying and, quite frankly, we are too. It’s getting closer and closer and that’s a good sign for us and for the fans. 

“Monaco is the most exciting qualifying of the year for us drivers”

Frédéric Vasseur says that the pressure Ferrari is putting on Red Bull will force them to make mistakes. How do you plan to put pressure on them in Monaco? 

It’s easiest if we can be up the front because, in Monaco, we know how important qualification is. I think it’s the most exciting qualifying of the year for us drivers and because it’s on the Monaco circuit, it’s just incredible. If we start behind in the race, its guaranteed to be difficult because there aren’t a lot of opportunities to overtake. So, we want to be as close as possible and as competitive as possible on Friday and Saturday and put absolutely everything [into the driving] in order to be in pole position. 

Charles Leclerc racing at the Emilia Romagna GP 2024. Photo source: Scuderia Ferrari Media Centre

What’s your opinion on the whole season? 

We’re going to have to do absolutely everything perfectly so that we’re as close as possible to Red Bull, and put them in a situation where they can’t afford to make mistakes. Last year, they had such a lead over us that they could sometimes even make an extra pit stop and still win the race. Now, we are in a situation where we are much more comfortable as drivers and a team.

Let’s go back to 2018, your first year in F1. If you were told that year that you would have to wait at least six years to hope to climb on to the podium in Monaco, how would you have reacted? How important is a podium finish in Monaco to you? 

I had no idea how my career would have been made in the sense that I didn’t know then that I was going to join Ferrari in 2019. The Monaco Grand Prix is particularly special for me because it’s at home, but it’s not about winning a podium. Of course, we think about the victory, but we are not “fixated” on it. It’s more about the process of achievement; that the work carried out during the weekend is the best possible with my new track engineer Bryan Bozzi. I also have Jerome d’Ambrosio who is taking over as Deputy Team Principal. So I have two people who are in new positions and that’s really what we’re focusing on. Then I’m convinced that once the job is done well, victory can be achievable at the end of the weekend.

Charles Leclerc racing for Scuderia Ferrari at the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix. Photo source: Scuderia Ferrari Media Centre

What do you like about the Monaco Grand Prix circuit?

The Monaco circuit is my favourite circuit of the whole year because I’m at home. But also, quite simply, because I’m a big fan of city circuits. The fact of not having the option of making a mistake, of going 200% in qualifying and not necessarily thinking about the risks or anything, is really an incredible feeling and it gives a lot of adrenaline. It’s a circuit that I love and which I think is appreciated by all the pilots. 

“I look forward to having Lewis next to me in 2025”

What do you and Lewis Hamilton talk about when you come across each other in the paddock, for example? Are you already talking about 2025? 

We’re talking a little bit about 2025, but we mainly talk about the interests that we share together like music, for example, like we always do. But, certainly, now that everyone knows that Lewis will join Ferrari, it makes more noise when we talk together. We have always had a lot of respect towards each other and we have a good friendship. 

And your thoughts on the impact his arrival will have on your career trajectory? 

What I like about Formula 1 is having the opportunity to fight against the best of the best drivers on the grid today. Seb (Sebastian Vettel) had won multiple world champions and I learned a lot from him so yes, I look forward to having Lewis next to me in 2025 because, with all the success he has had, he is certainly doing extremely well and I could learn a lot next to him. But the goal will be to beat him, clearly.

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