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Charles Leclerc takes pole position for the Monaco GP and ends Max Verstappen's attempt to set the F1 record

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MONACO (AP) — Charles Leclerc took pole position for Ferrari at the Monaco Grand Prix, ending Max Verstappen's bid to extend his record for a ninth consecutive pole position on Saturday.

Verstappen, who shares the Formula One record with the late Ayrton Senna, starts Sunday's race for Red Bull from sixth place on arguably the series' most difficult track to overtake.

Leclerc secured his third pole in four years in Monaco, where he grew up with a view of the start and finish line, bringing his career total to 24 poles.

“This weekend was incredible,” he said.

He finished 0.154 seconds ahead of McLaren's Oscar Piastri and 0.248 seconds ahead of his Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren's Lando Norris qualified fourth, followed by Mercedes driver George Russell.

“I'm really happy with the lap,” said Leclerc. “I know that qualifying is often not everything in the race.”

Leclerc took pole in 2021 but was unable to start due to a gearbox problem. In 2022, he led from pole until Ferrari mistakenly decided to change his tires.

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

He has a good chance of ending his almost two-year winless streak, which stretches back to July 2022, at the Austrian GP.

“I just need a good start (from the beginning),” said Leclerc, who has won five F1 races in his career.

McLaren is in good form: Norris won the Miami GP three weeks ago and almost caught Verstappen at the end of the Emilia Romagna GP last weekend.

“The pace was good,” said Piastri. “We started this weekend pretty confident that we could fight for pole and victory again.”

However, Sainz was not entirely satisfied with his Ferrari.

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

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

“I pushed to the limit everywhere and the qualifying laps felt good,” said Hamilton. “The car feels much better than it has in Monaco in recent years.”

Traffic forced some drivers to avoid other cars battling for space on Monaco's tight and twisty 3.3-kilometer (two-mile) street circuit.

Spanish veteran Fernando Alonso narrowly avoided a piece of debris in the first part of qualifying, Q1, just before entering the tunnel section.

Alonso failed to make it into Q2, as did Red Bull's Sergio Perez, who muttered a swear word on the race radio. His contract expires at the end of the season and Red Bull has not yet confirmed he will have a seat for 2025.

Alonso starts 16th, Perez 18th.

“I had so much traffic on my lap that I lost a few tenths. That will have changed the lap dramatically,” said Perez. “Unfortunately we just didn't manage it and that's the result. Unfortunately we're out.”

Verstappen won the race last year from pole position, but it will be tough to score his sixth win of the season.

Before the third training session, he chatted with Liverpool footballer Virgil van Dijk as they enjoyed the sun on the roof of Red Bull's motorhome.

The two Dutchmen used binoculars to look at the landscape, including the armada of huge yachts and Prince Albert's palace, which towers over the route.

Perhaps they were chatting about the upcoming European Championships, where Van Dijk will captain the Netherlands and hope to win their first international trophy since Euro 1988.

Thanks to his winning streak, Verstappen achieved an F1 record of 19 victories last year – surpassing his own record from 2022. With 59 victories, he is already in third place on the all-time F1 list and is aiming for his fourth world championship title in a row.

However, he was not in the lead in any of the three training sessions in Monaco. In the middle of the last training session, he was even called to the race control for driving unnecessarily slowly and received a warning.

The red flag was waved early in P3 after Sauber driver Valtteri Bottas hit a wall while leaving the swimming pool chicane.

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