Leclerc takes pole position for Monaco GP and ends Verstappen's bid for F1 record

MONACO (AP) — Charles Leclerc took pole position for Ferrari at the Monaco Grand Prix and ended Formula 1 champion Max Verstappen's bid for a record-extending ninth straight pole on Saturday.

Verstappen, who shares the F1 record with the late Ayrton Senna, starts Sunday's race from sixth place for Red Bull on arguably the most difficult track for overtaking in the series.

Leclerc secured his third pole in four years at Monaco, where he grew up overlooking the start-finish line, and took his career total to 24 poles.

He finished .154 seconds ahead of McLaren's Oscar Piastri and .248 clear of Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren's Lando Norris qualified fourth ahead of Mercedes driver George Russell.

“Really, really happy about the lap,” Leclerc said. “I know more often than not that qualifying is not everything in the race.”

Leclerc took pole in 2021, but could not start due to a gearbox problem. He led from pole in 2022 until Ferrari made an incorrect call to change his tires.

Verstappen won the race from pole last year but will be hard pushed to win his sixth race of the season.

But Leclerc is well set to end his run of nearly two years without a win, dating to July 2022 at the Austrian GP.

“I just need a good launch (from the start),” said Leclerc, who has won five F1 races in his career.

Traffic forced a couple of drivers to swerve around other cars struggling for space on Monaco's tight and sinewy 3.3-kilometer (two-mile) street circuit.

Spanish veteran Fernando Alonso narrowly avoided a piece of debris just before heading into the tunnel section during Q1, the first part of qualifying.

Alonso failed to make it into Q2 and so did Red Bull's Sergio Perez, who muttered an expletive on race radio. He is out of contract at the end of the season and Red Bull has yet to confirm he will get a seat for 2025.

Norris only just squeezed into Q2, but then found his rhythm.


AP auto racing:

Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press