Max Verstappen has won the coveted Monaco Grand Prix. Carlos Sainz Jr. (Ferrari) and Lando Norris (McLaren) completed an unexpected podium. It turned out to be a dramatic Sunday for Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton only finished seventh after strategic quarreling and Valtteri Bottas retired after a terrible pit stop. As a result, Verstappen takes the lead in the world championship for the very first time in his career.
If one knows one Formula 1 Grand Prix, it is that of Monaco. The race in the small principality is known for its glitter and glamor, but also for the narrow streets on which the race is run. That makes the Circuit de Monte Carlo a particularly atypical track where one mistake could easily end your race.
Charles Leclerc was allowed to experience the latter firsthand. The Ferrari driver surprised on Saturday by qualifying from pole position for his home race, but also crashed in the closing seconds. The actual damage was only revealed on Sunday, shortly before the start: during his lap on the way to the grid, Leclerc noticed that his gearbox had been damaged in the crash. As a result, he could not start the race.
It was a drama for the young Monegask. Leclerc thus saw a unique opportunity to win his home race and would not make it to the finish in Monaco for the third time in three attempts. The Ferrari driver did show up at the ceremony before the start and was comforted by several colleagues and Prince Albert II, the monarch of the small city-state.
How did the start go?
So the race started without the local hero and the start was incredibly calm. The new pole sitter Max Verstappen retained his leading position without any major problems. The rest of the top ten also remained unchanged. Verstappen was followed by Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), Carlos Sainz Jr. (Ferrari), Lando Norris (McLaren), Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri), Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) and Sergio Pérez (Red Bull). Six different teams in the top seven: you don’t see that often in modern F1.
How did victory come about?
Through patience. In Monaco, the so-called overcut works well: a driver continues to ride longer than his competitors in the hope of gaining time and getting ahead of them after the pit stop. So it became a game between the ten teams in the narrow streets. Who would blink first and bring in his riders?
The answer, surprisingly, was Mercedes. On lap 29 of 78, it brought reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton in first from the entire field for a tire change, hoping to outsmart Pierre Gasly ahead. One lap later, teammate Valtteri Bottas also came in. However, the pit stop went completely wrong for the Finn. Due to a problem with the wheel nut, the team could not change the right front tire. Bottas’ race was immediately over.
For Mercedes it got worse. Their plan to pass Gasly failed: the Frenchman returned to the track just ahead of Hamilton after his own tire change. Sebastian Vettel also benefited: the four-time world champion went on even longer and managed to get back on the track for both Gasly and Hamilton after his pit stop and thus win two places.
The big winners of the tactical joust, however, were the Red Bulls. Verstappen simply retained his leading position and Sergio Pérez continued to ride for the longest of all toppers. When he also got fresh rubber, Pérez had done enough to get on the track ahead of Vettel, Gasly and Hamilton. Including Bottas’ failure, the Mexican won no less than four places.
In the second half of the race, almost nothing happened anymore. Only the fight for the fastest lap became just as interesting. Lewis Hamilton made an extra pit stop in the final phase for new tires and took the fastest lap and the corresponding extra World Cup point with force majeure. The Briton only remained seventh: Verstappen won before Sainz Jr., Norris, Pérez, Vettel and Gasly.
Who stood out?
Red Bull was of course the big winner of the day. With Max Verstappen in first place it fired the main bird and thanks to a good tactical choice it helped second driver Sergio Pérez from eighth to fourth place. An ideal answer after they were outdone tactically by Mercedes in the previous race in Spain. The team also takes the lead in both championships.
While his teammate had arguably the worst day of his young F1 career, it shone Carlos Sainzin the other Ferrari. The Spaniard was allowed to start the race third due to Leclerc not starting. Thanks to Bottas’ failure, it became second at the finish line: good for the third podium of his career, his first at Ferrari, and also the first podium of the year for the Italians.
Lando Norris we did not see this race very often on the screen, but the young Briton – another rider with Flemish roots, by the way – did a rock-solid race. He also took full advantage of Bottas’ withdrawal to score his second podium of the year for McLaren. Norris is therefore also third in the World Championship for drivers: a very nice performance.
For the team of Aston Martin after a difficult start to the season it became a very nice Sunday. Sebastian Vettel already did well in qualifying and moved up to fifth place thanks to a good strategy. With that, he scored his first points for his new team and their best result of the year. Lance Stroll also ended up in the points thanks to a good strategy: the Canadian finished eighth, while he was only twelfth on the grid. A boost for the British team.
Who didn’t have a day?
The big loser was, of course Charles Leclerc. Sunday, May 23, 2021 could have been the best day of his career so far, instead it turned into a nightmare. A unique chance for a win in his home race has taken flight.
Besides Leclerc, there is of course another very big loser. Mercedes has to leave Monaco with shame on his cheeks after a pitiful race. The team excelled tactically at the previous GP in Spain, but just there the team dropped a big stitch today with Hamilton. Bottas’ failed pit stop, which cost the team second place, added some extra salt to the wound. The bill is not tender: Mercedes has lost the first place in both World Cups.
Finally, it was also for Monaco specialist Daniel Ricciardo a race to forget very quickly. The Australian won this race in 2018, but now he did not appear for a moment and no points were scored. And that while teammate Lando Norris finished third. Painful detail: Norris put Ricciardo on a lap. Also Danny Ric has a lot to think about after this weekend.
How high was the spectacle value?
This was certainly not the most spectacular Grand Prix of Monaco, but waiting for the different strategies – and the momentary chaos that came as soon as they were implemented – made the first half of the race interesting to watch. In all fairness, however, we must say that you could have safely switched off your television for the last 40 rounds.
What do we remember from this race?
That there are chunks to glue at Mercedes. The team was in a strong position after the first four races, but in Monaco the brand with the star failed spectacularly. World champion Lewis Hamilton already made it clear on Saturday that he is not too happy was with his team and the tactical choices on Sunday will only reinforce that feeling. This was already apparent during the broadcasts of Hamilton’s on-board radios.
In the garage next to that of the Germans, the opposite is true. Red Bull has hit back hard after the race in Spain, where it was overtaken tactically by Mercedes. The team is leader in both championships for the first time since the end of 2013 (!), Max Verstappen is the first in his career in the lead in the standings. To Hamilton and Mercedes to respond at the next race in Azerbaijan in 2 weeks.
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