Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc secured pole position for his home Monaco GP despite dramatically crashing on his final lap, in an accident which prematurely ended the qualifying session and denied his closest rivals a chance to beat him.
But Lewis Hamilton, the world championship leader, was unusually not among those to be in the thick of the pole fight and qualified a shock seventh on the hardest F1 track on which to overtake.
Max Verstappen, 14 points adrift of Hamilton in the standings but now with a big chance to make inroads into his Mercedes rival in Sunday’s race, took second for Red Bull with Valtteri Bottas third in the second Mercedes.
But both Verstappen and Bottas had been on stronger final attempts before having to abandon them when the red flags came out for Leclerc’s heavy crash at the Swimming Pool section.
Leclerc admitted he was now worried about whether the damage sustained to his SF21 would be sufficient to trigger a gearbox change and subsequent pole-losing grid penalty ahead of the race.
“It’s a shame to finish in the wall, it doesn’t feel the same,” said Leclerc, who has yet to finish his home race. “But at the same time I’m incredibly happy about my first timed lap.
“It’s a big surprise for everyone to be on pole for the race.”
Whether or not the Monegasque holds on to the coveted pole position, the big story of Monaco 2021 has been Ferrari’s sudden return to front-running form.
Carlos Sainz was fourth in the second car, which has been unexpectedly strong since the start of the weekend to gatecrash Red Bull and Mercedes’ hitherto exclusive duel in F1 2021.
Leclerc’s pole is the Scuderia’s first since 2019. They had qualified one second away from Hamilton two weeks ago in Spain on a more traditional track.
Lando Norris was a brilliant fifth for McLaren, while Pierre Gasly was also ahead of three-time Monaco victor Hamilton. The seven-time world champion will share row four with Sebastian Vettel, delivering his best result for Aston Martin so far with eighth.
But on a difficult day for a number of former winners of F1’s blue-riband event, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo was knocked out in Q2 in 12th, while Fernando Alonso fared even worse and qualified 17th in a Q1 exit for Alpine.