Motor racing-Leclerc stays on top in final Monaco practice

Formula One F1 - Monaco Grand Prix - Circuit de Monaco, Monaco - May 25, 2024 Ferrari's Charles Leclerc during practice REUTERS/Claudia Greco

MONACO (Reuters) - Ferrari's Charles Leclerc cemented his status as pole position favourite for his home Monaco Grand Prix with the fastest lap in final practice ahead of Saturday's key qualifying session.

The Monegasque, who has yet to stand on the podium at his home race despite two poles, lapped with a best time of one minute 11.369 seconds, 0.197 ahead of Red Bull's runaway championship leader Max Verstappen.

Leclerc was also fastest in Friday practice while Verstappen struggled with his car on the bumpy surface -- problems his team appeared to have improved overnight, although the Red Bull driver said he was pushing to the limit.

"It's something I didn't expect, but it's definitely at the higher end of the worst possible outcome of the weekend so far and it's very difficult," Verstappen had said after Friday's practice woes.

The Dutch driver will be chasing a record ninth successive pole, and eighth of the season, in qualifying around the sinuous city circuit.

Qualifying is crucial in Monaco, a circuit famously difficult to overtake on where pole position on Saturday frequently translates into victory on Sunday.

Seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton, a triple winner in Monaco, was third fastest for Mercedes after being first and second in Friday's two sessions.

McLaren's Oscar Piastri was fourth on Saturday with Verstappen's team mate Sergio Perez fifth but complaining the car was "nowhere".

Mercedes' George Russell lapped sixth fastest, Ferrari's Carlos Sainz was seventh and McLaren's Lando Norris eighth.

RB's Yuki Tsunoda continued his strong recent form with the ninth best lap and Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso completed the top 10.

Sauber's Valtteri Bottas brought out some early red flags when he hit the tyre wall at the swimming pool chicane and blocked the track at Rascasse.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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