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Leclerc’s win removes Monaco millstone. Ferrari boss hopeful the gap to Red Bull is closing

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(AP) — Ferrari doubled its win tally from all last season and Charles Leclerc ended his barren two-year run in Formula 1 with victory from pole position at Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Eight races into this season, Ferrari and McLaren are looking like they might be able to challenge Red Bull. For F1 fans as a whole it offers hope of more competitive racing.

“It’s exciting and I hope it will be like this for the rest of the season,” Ferrari team principal Frédéric Vasseur said after Sunday’s race. “It will be up and down until the end.”

It wasn’t last season, when Max Verstappen beat his own F1 record with an astounding 19 wins for Red Bull. His teammate Sergio Perez got two victories, and the only non-Red Bull driver to win was Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr.

Leclerc and Sainz have one win each this year and so has McLaren’s Lando Norris. That makes it 5-3 to Red Bull so far — all Verstappen wins — while Leclerc’s Monaco pole on Saturday ended Verstappen’s bid for a record-extending ninth straight pole.

Vasseur feels the momentum could be shifting.

“You have a kind of snowball effect,” Vasseur said. “You have to continue like this.”

Ferrari’s Leclerc wins F1 Monaco GP after 1st lap crash takes out Perez and 2 other cars
The 55-year-old Frenchman has known Leclerc since they worked together at Sauber in 2018 in Leclerc’s F1 debut. They were reunited when Vasseur took charge at Ferrari in December 2022, but Leclerc didn’t win a race last year despite showing good pace in qualifying with five poles.

Some of Leclerc’s performances were inconsistent. He made some clumsy mistakes and he wasn’t showing the composure to go with his undoubted speed: Leclerc is considered the quickest in F1 along with Verstappen.

Vasseur felt Leclerc was putting too much pressure on himself, nowhere more so than in Monaco. It’s where Leclerc grew up and, much to his anguish, where he had failed to finish on the podium up until Sunday’s win.

With family and friends, including Prince Albert, watching him, Monaco was feeling like a curse for Leclerc.

He took pole in 2021, but could not even start the race due to a gearbox problem.

Exasperating enough, but worse was to come.

Leclerc led from pole in 2022 until Ferrari, under its previous leadership, made an erratic and incorrect call to change his tires after 22 laps and it cost him an odds-on victory.

Given all of this, Vasseur thinks that Leclerc’s win on Sunday will free him up mentally.

“It was an important one winning in Monaco, a weight off his shoulders. I think this one can help him a lot,” Vasseur said. “Last year he was a bit nervous. This time he was much, much more relaxed from the beginning.”

Leclerc agreed, saying he slept very well on Saturday night — although that was also down to what he ate.

When he got home, Leclerc made a quick decision, threw dietary requirements out the window and ordered a giant pizza.

“I ate like crazy yesterday night. I actually got too late at home and I couldn’t cook, so I ordered my favorite pizza, which is not the best preparation to race normally,” he said. “But I was like, ‘OK, maybe mentally it will help me to take the pressure off a little bit’. And yeah, that’s it. I slept really well.”

His favorite pizza?

Margherita, a traditional recipe of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil leaves, on which Leclerc likes to add his personal touch with “prosciutto crudo” (Italian dry-cured ham).

“Never pineapple,” he added.

Now, with the Monaco millstone lifted, a refueled Leclerc can focus on getting to the top. He is second overall, 31 points behind three-time F1 champion Verstappen.

Leclerc is confident his working relationship with Vasseur will prove successful.

“He’s got such a clear vision of what he wants to achieve and how he wants to achieve it. That’s his strength,” Leclerc said. “I’ve always been completely aligned with how he wants to do things.”

Next stop for Ferrari: the Canadian GP in two weeks’ time.

Montréal holds fond memories for Leclerc, who secured the second of his 34 career F1 podiums there in 2019.

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