There was victory champagne for Charles Leclerc and Ferrari in Monte Carlo on Sunday but it was not the usual finish to a Monaco Grand Prix.
Leclerc set the principality alight with some 240km/h laps around the F1 circuit but when he gallantly sprayed the champagne across Casino Square it showered a Ferrari SF90 Stradale.
Prince Albert of Monaco still led the onlookers, and was joined by Ferrari chairman John Elkann, but the real race was a victim of COVID-19.
On the day that should have seen the 78th running of the Monaco GP Leclerc, a hometown hero born and bred in Monaco, was given the keys to the streets and the new 574kW 4.0-litre twin-turbo Ferrari V8 hybrid to film a remake of the cult, nine-minute short film, “Rendezvous.”
While the original was filmed illegally under the cover of darkness in 1976 through the very early-morning traffic of Paris, Director Claude Lelouch returned with full police and royal approval that included closing down the streets to shoot the remake, “Le Grand Rendez-vous.”
For the 22-year old Monegasque, who has been living under the principality’s strict lockdown rules and confined to his house for nearly two months, the chance to break out on the day he should have been duelling with Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and teammate Sebastien Vettel for victory around those same streets was too good to pass up.
“It was an amazing day, the SF90 Stradale is unbelievable to drive because there is so much power,” he said after climbing out in front of the Hotel de Paris, across the square from the famous Casino.
According to those who know the inner workings of Ferrari’s 2020 title contender, the SF1000, the road-going SF90 Stradale barely gives away 170kW to the car Vettel and Leclerc will race in just over a month’s time.
The yet-to-be-released Stradale delivers 574kW not only from its twin-turbo V8 but also from an electric motor in the rear differential plus one in each front wheel, making it all-wheel drive. It’s capable of hitting 100 km/h in 2.5 seconds, 200km/h in 6.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 340 km/h.
“I was a bit scared with the 4WD at the beginning, but I have to say I’m extremely impressed.
“It’s so fun to drive and the rear was moving quite a lot but it was always easy to get back which made it fun, especially on a track like this with no barriers in the middle of the city. It’s something I’d never do normally but today was a great experience and I really enjoyed it.”
The smile was justifiable as Leclerc has endured miserable luck as a racing driver around these streets. After the highlight of grabbing pole position in Formula 2 in 2017 and leading the first half of the race, a botched pitstop following a safety car restart forced him to retire from certain victory.
The following year he made his F1 debut with Alfa Romeo but was again caught out by a safety car, this time the virtual safety car on Lap 70 as he exited the tunnel and ploughed into the back of Kiwi, Brendan Hartley’s Toro Rosso with brake failure.
Last year, Leclerc’s maiden Monaco GP as a Ferrari driver started on the back foot as a bungled quali strategy made him miss the cut for Q2 and start a lowly 15th. Fighting his way back, the 22-year old was 12th by lap eight before crashing, pitting, returning to the battle and eventually retiring on lap 16 with floor damage sustained from his earlier crash.
“Today was to be my home grand prix but unfortunately the GP was cancelled but we did our own race here and it was great to be back and to have the opportunity to be behind the wheel.
“In one month, we’ll be back on the race track in Formula One when the season starts and I can’t wait. I’m missing racing so much. I’ve been preparing myself more than ever during lockdown as I had a lot of time and I feel ready to get back in the car.
Aside from promoting next year’s Monaco Historic Grand Prix weekend, the event was also planned as a message of optimism for the principality against COVID-19 which has seen a relative flatline in new cases for more than six weeks thanks to complete 24/7 lockdown measures.
Prince Albert II of Monaco supported the cause along with the Princes Andrea Casiraghi and Pierre Casiraghi with his wife, Princess Beatrice Borromeo, who were on-set to celebrate a progressive lifting of the lockdown in France and Monaco.
Ferrari released a statement saying the filming; “sent out a message of optimism and signalled a first step towards the return of motorsport, film and social life as we endeavour to put the pandemic behind us through mutually responsible behaviour, commitment and solidarity.”