Toto Wolff refused to bite at an inference that Charles Leclerc might have deliberately crashed to preserve his Monaco Grand Prix pole position.
The home hero, with a grandstand named in his honour, fulfilled the promise of Ferrari’s impressive free practice performance by setting the fastest time in the decisive qualifying session by nearly a quarter of a second.
But only one timed run was possible for Leclerc’s pursuers, for on his second attempt the 23-year-old clipped the barrier and crashed at the Swimming Pool complex, bringing out the red flags with only seconds remaining before the chequered flag.
It rekindled memories of previous occasions when Michael Schumacher, in a Ferrari, and Nico Rosberg, for Mercedes, also had the prime grid slot in Monaco guaranteed for them when they stopped on track, preventing any further flying laps.
Such instances were clearly in the mind of Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz when he interviewed Wolff after the session, but the Mercedes F1 co-owner and team principal was eager to insist he thought Leclerc had merely made a genuine driving error.
“That was a proper, proper impact,” said Wolff. “Such a crash like that could put you in real jeopardy with a broken gearbox, which can put you 10 places back.”
People actually think Charles crashed on purpose?! Why would he risk damaging the gearbox and getting a penalty? #F1 pic.twitter.com/fKbIGXWTPX
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Nevertheless, Wolff will inwardly be hoping Ferrari cannot perform a sizeable repair job on Leclerc’s car without having to fit a new gearbox, which would drop the pole-sitter down the order and promote Mercedes duo Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton.
In a surprisingly off-key qualifying session for the seven-time consecutive Constructors’ World Champions, Bottas and Hamilton ended up third – just behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen – and seventh respectively.
However, in a refreshingly unpredictable session, Bottas was on a highly promising lap when the red flags came out – which had left the Finn “gutted”.
“It was not a good day for us overall,” added Wolff. “We need to find out why we couldn’t get Lewis’ car in a happier place and Valtteri could have been on a pole lap. He was two and a half tenths up on his lap and probably could have just made it.
“We don’t know what the problems are. It looked like the whole day today we couldn’t generate the grip on Lewis’ tyres. Valtteri was happier in the morning session and obviously you build confidence [from there].”
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