Because he had claimed pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix following the first runs in Q3, and was well aware of the possibility of being moved down the order when faster cars passed him, there was no better way to ‘stop the count’ than to end qualifying early.
However, though Leclerc was the greatest winner from the red flag incident, it is a stretch to believe that he intentionally impacted the barriers.
Because, just as racing drivers are excellent judges when it comes to weighing the risks and benefits of brushing up against barriers or racing rivals, they also understand that purposely breaking your car up at the end of qualifying is something only a madman would do.
That is especially true in an era when gearboxes cannot be changed without incurring a grid penalty and any semi-fast collision with the barriers carries a genuine risk of serious injury.
So, if Leclerc had intended to stop qualifying, he would not crash at a section of the circuit where there is the potential for the kind of side hit that F1 gearboxes cannot withstand.
There were plenty of other methods for Leclerc to purposefully ruin the qualifying efforts of the cars behind him that didn’t require a massive crash.
He wouldn’t even need a red flag, as a double-waved yellow is usually enough to force drivers to abandon their qualifying efforts these days.
In the past, drivers in Monaco have had much less dramatic events that have influenced the pole battle.
The most famous came in 2006, when Michael Schumacher, who was fastest at the time, locked up a wheel on the entry to Rascasse and awkwardly manoeuvred his car into a position that prevented primary competitor Fernando Alonso from finishing his lap.
Despite Schumacher’s protests that it was done on purpose, the race officials did not believe him, and he was relegated to the rear of the field.
Nico Rosberg sparked controversy in 2014 when he had a moment under braking for Mirabeau and wound up on the escape route, resulting in yellow flags being deployed.
A competitor Lewis Hamilton, who was following him on the circuit and suspected foul play, told the Mercedes pit wall over team radio that it was “extremely nice” of Rosberg to do so in order to secure pole.
The FIA stewards investigated the incident, but after reviewing telemetry and video footage, they gave Rosberg the green light since they found no evidence of foul play.
If Leclerc had made a split-second choice to do something illicit, locking up and taking a slow speed slide down an escape road or brushing up against the barriers would have been significantly more visible.
It’s not something you choose to do, slamming the suspension and risking losing pole position because of a gearbox penalty.
Max Verstappen, who said he was on a pole lap when the red flags flew, saw no reason to suspect Leclerc of wrongdoing.
“I think there’s a difference between when a man makes a mistake and smashes the wall and doing it on purpose,” the Red Bull driver remarked. It would have been a different matter if Charles had just parked with a broken front wing.”
A high-speed crash, Leclerc said, would not have been the best way to bring out the red flags.
“I can assure you that if it was done on purpose, I would have done it a lot more skillfully and not slammed into [the barrier] at full speed and risked damaging the gearbox,” he said. “So, no, it wasn’t on purpose at all.”
In the end, the incident could out to be the item that cost Leclerc pole position rather than securing it, as Ferrari undertakes a full investigation of his gearbox this morning to see if it needs to be replaced.