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Charles Leclerc takes Monaco pole as Max Verstappen only sixth fastest

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc celebrates taking pole position (Luca Bruno/AP).
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc celebrates taking pole position (Luca Bruno/AP).

Charles Leclerc delivered under pressure to put his Ferrari on pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix.

Leclerc was the favourite heading into Saturday’s crucial qualifying session in Monte Carlo and the homegrown star held his nerve to take top spot.

The Monegasque saw off McLaren’s Oscar Piastri by 0.154 seconds, with Carlos Sainz third in the other scarlet car and Lando Norris fourth.

Max Verstappen, who was bidding to take a record ninth consecutive pole, could manage only sixth after he hit the wall on the exit of Sainte Devote.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton will start either side of the Red Bull driver after they qualified fifth and seventh respectively for Mercedes.

Leclerc has failed to convert his previous two poles in Monte Carlo into a victory. But, with overtaking notoriously difficult on the unique 2.1-mile course, he will still start as strong favourite to take the win.

Verstappen has been in a class of one over a single lap this season, but the triple world champion warned in the build-up to this weekend’s race that the street venue would not suit his machinery and his worse fears were realised.

On his final run, the Dutch driver struck the wall as he accelerated out of the opening corner. “F***, I hit the wall,” he said. “This car is slippery.

In the other Red Bull, Sergio Perez will line up a lowly 18th after the failed to haul his Red Bull out of the opening phase.

Max Verstappen could only qualify sixth fastest
Max Verstappen could only qualify sixth fastest (Luca Bruno/AP).

“What a joke,” said the Mexican over the radio. “F***ing hell.”

Perez, nicknamed the King of the Streets with five of his six career victories coming at temporary venues, will have his work cut out to salvage a respectable result on Sunday.

Mercedes might have hoped for more after Hamilton finished first, second and third in the three practice sessions.

However, the seven-time world champion will begin the race outside of the top six after he finished 0.351secs adrift of Leclerc and two positions behind Russell, who now holds a 7-1 qualifying record this season over his more established team-mate.

Fernando Alonso finished second here last year, but the two-time world champion also faces an arduous afternoon in the principality after he fell at the first hurdle, qualifying 16th.

Alonso was unusually out-qualified by his Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll, who will line up from 14th.

“It was nice,” said Leclerc as he reflected on taking pole. “The feeling after a qualifying lap is very special here. The excitement is so high. It feels really good.

“However, I know more often than not in the past, that qualifying is not everything.

“As much as it helps, we need to put everything together for Sunday’s race. In the past here we didn’t manage to do that, but we are in a stronger position and we are a stronger team. I’m sure we can achieve great things tomorrow and the win is the target.

“Hopefully Carlos can have a great start and follow me into turn one.

“If we are one-two, we can manage that as a team. That would be the perfect scenario. But whatever happens we need to bring that victory home.”