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

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

Verstappen, who shares the Formula 1 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.

“This weekend has been incredible,” he said.

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 followed by 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.”

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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.

“The team has got a lot stronger since then,” said Leclerc, who also led the second and third practice sessions.

Verstappen endures a rare bad day in F1 but it’s worse for Red Bull teammate Perez
He 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.

McLaren is in good form, with Norris winning the Miami GP three weeks ago and almost catching Verstappen at the end of last weekend’s Emilia Romagna GP.

“The pace was good,” Piastri said. “We came into this weekend pretty confident that we could be in the fight for the pole and the win again.”

Sainz, however, was not completely satisfied with his Ferrari.

“When you’re so close to the walls it immediately takes away confidence,” Sainz said. “Losing the rear (of the car) in places you don’t expect to lose it.”

Lewis Hamilton starts from seventh place, with Yuki Tsunoda (RB), Alexander Albon (Williams) and Pierre Gasly (Alpine) completing the top 10.

“I’ve been pushing the limits everywhere and the qualifying laps felt good,” Hamilton said. “The car is feeling much better than it has in Monaco in previous years.”

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.

Alonso starts 16th with Perez in 18th.

“I got traffic on my lap, enough to lose a couple of tenths. That will have changed the lap dramatically,” Perez said. “Unfortunately, we just didn’t put it together, and this is the result of it. Unfortunately we are out.”

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

Before the third practice, he chatted with Liverpool soccer player Virgil van Dijk as they enjoyed the sunshine on the rooftop of Red Bull’s motorhome.

The two Dutchmen used binoculars to view the scenery; such as the armada of giant yachts and Prince Albert’s palace perched over the track.

Perhaps they chatted about the upcoming European Championship, where Van Dijk captains the Netherlands as it hopes to win its first international trophy since Euro 1988.

Verstappen’s winning habit saw him clinch an F1 record 19 victories last year — beating his own record from 2022 — and he is already third on F1’s all-time list with 59 as he chases a fourth straight world title.

But he did not lead in any of the three practice sessions in Monaco. He was even called to the stewards for driving unnecessarily slowly midway though the final session, and received a warning for it.

Early in P3, the red flag came out after Sauber driver Valtteri Bottas scraped a wall exiting the swimming pool chicane.

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