Leclerc's Monaco win brings emotional end to home-soil curse

Leclerc reacts to 'very special' Monaco Grand Prix win (0:48)

Charles Leclerc speaks after winning the Monaco Grand Prix for the first time. (0:48)

MONACO -- Charles Leclerc's vision blurred as he burst out of the Monaco tunnel at 170 mph and the late-afternoon sun mixed with the tears in his eyes.

"F--- Charles, you cannot do that now," he told himself as he blinked away the emotion and refocused on his braking point for the Nouvelle chicane. "You still have two laps to finish."

His first victory on home soil was less than 4 racing miles away, and he wasn't about to throw it away now.

From the moment he had been tall enough to peer over the balcony of a friend's apartment and see Formula One cars whizzing past on the streets below, this had been his dream. Finally it was within his grasp, just so long as he could keep his emotions in check.

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It was a moment that had twice slipped through his fingers after two pole position laps in 2021 and 2022 had not yielded so much as a podium. More importantly, though, it was a moment that he and his late father, Hervé, had dreamt about when they first set out in go-karts more than 20 years ago.

"Where I struggled the most to contain my emotions was during the last 10 laps of the race," Leclerc said after winning Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix. "I realised actually two laps to the end that I was struggling to see out of the tunnel just because I had tears in my eyes and, especially on a track like Monaco, you have to be on it all the way to the end. It was very difficult to contain those emotions, those thoughts again of the people that have helped me get to where I am today."

Leclerc was 19 years old when he lost his father to a long illness, just three days before competing in a Formula 2 race in Azerbaijan. It is a time he has often referenced when asked about his mental resolve in F1, but a thought he has rarely let enter his head while behind the wheel of a race car.

"It was very much in my mind," he added. "I think in every race I have done, there has not been one single race where I was thinking about this kind of personal stuff inside the car, because you've got to stay on it.

"Maybe Baku in 2017, obviously everything was still very fresh for me, so it was difficult to manage mentally. However, it's probably the first time in my career that it happened again while driving, when you've got these flashbacks of all these moments that we have spent together, all the sacrifices that he has done for me to get to where I am.

"This is not only my dream, but it was both of our dreams to get here. Obviously, my whole family was supporting and obviously dreaming of that moment, which makes it even more special. That was probably the moment that makes it the most difficult to manage today."

If Leclerc was battling his emotions in the cockpit, it wasn't obvious from the outside. In the final 15 laps of Sunday's race, he stretched his lead over Oscar Piastri to an unassailable 8 seconds, safe in the knowledge that the limited strategy options open to McLaren meant there would be no way back for his rival, even with a late safety car.

Piastri had taken a look up the inside of the Ferrari at Turn 8 early in the race when Leclerc was attempting to manage his pace to limit potential tyre issues, but otherwise the victory had never looked in doubt. It had been so routine following a first-lap collision between Sergio Pérez, Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hülkenberg, that a number of rival drivers had complained about the processional nature of the event over team radio.

But the excitement levels experienced by the rest of the field made no difference to Leclerc. The more boring, the better, as far as he was concerned -- he knows all too well how quickly things can unravel on the streets of Monte Carlo.

After his first failure to convert a Monaco pole position into a win as a result of a driveshaft failure on the way to the grid in 2021, Leclerc tweeted: "Monaco I love you and hopefully one day you will love me back." In 2022 another pole position went unconverted when Leclerc lost the lead of the race due to a Ferrari strategy error in the transition from a wet track to a dry one.

Social media latched on to Leclerc's appalling run of luck in Monaco, and the "Leclerc curse" gained traction -- not least because it could also be traced to a missed F2 victory opportunity in 2017, a front-left brake failure on his F1 debut in 2018 and a qualifying blunder in 2019 that left him 16th on the grid. While he never gave the curse any credence, he admitted that a layer of tension had built up during his race weekends at Monaco as a result of his bad luck in previous years.

"I never believed in the curse, but it always felt very difficult in the two occasions I had a chance to win here," Leclerc said. "One I couldn't even start the race. The second one, we didn't make the right strategy choice, I think. It was very, frustrating to lose those wins.

"The thing is that as a driver, you never really know when will be the next opportunity to win, especially when it's your home race. And even more so when your home race is Monaco, that is such a special track, such a difficult track, and such a difficult weekend to master and do everything perfectly, which we did. So I knew that today was another opportunity, I knew how it felt the last two times that I was in this position, but I obviously really wanted to get that victory today.

"So there's a bit of tension, but as soon as I put the helmet on, and as soon as I get into the car, I don't feel anything anymore. Then it's all about trying to maximise the car that you have, thinking about the tyres and thinking about all the stuff that I have to think of, to manage this race the best way possible. It's more the moment before the race and before putting the helmet on.

"The thoughts in the last 10 laps were very difficult to manage and a lot more than in the past in my career, but there were no negative thoughts. It was more about everything that has happened until now, but good moments in karting and dreaming of getting there and making the most of these moments, but none of the bad moments of the last few years."

The ultimate release of emotion came in the paddock after the victory.

Lifted on the shoulders of his mechanics and engineers, Leclerc celebrated with his winner's trophy amid the sound of popping champagne bottles. Once back on the ground, he dragged Ferrari team principal Frédéric Vasseur through the paddock gates where he gathered with his teammates to push his boss into Monaco's harbour. Leclerc followed Vasseur into the water with a graceful dive from the harbour edge, kicking off celebrations that look set to continue long into the night.

"It's very clear in my mind what I've got to do tonight with all the mechanics and engineers," he said. "I cannot wait to just enjoy the moment.

"It's such a special moment in my career that you've got to celebrate and then already maybe after tomorrow we'll start thinking about the next race in Canada and focus 100% again to maximise the next weekend."