Monaco magic for Verstappen and Red Bull
- Verstappen wins at Monaco to take over F1 championship lead
- Mercedes lacklustre weekend ends with pit lane retirement and subdued Hamilton seventh
- Pole sitter Charles Leclerc fails to start race after qualifying crash damage
Max Verstappen claimed victory in the Monaco Grand Prix to take over the lead of the Formula One World Championship.
The Red Bull driver started from an inherited pole position and dominated the race, only really coming under threat from Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas in the early stages.
Verstappen’s main title rival Lewis Hamilton could only finish seventh in a subdued weekend that saw the Mercedes driver qualify in the same position and almost three quarters of a second off the pace.
The Red Bull driver’s life was made considerably easier when pole man, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, was ruled out of his home grand prix before the racing even began. The Monegasque driver had stormed to the fastest time in qualifying, only to crash before the end of the session and denying other drivers the opportunity to improve their times. His Ferrari team checked the damage overnight and believed the car would be fine, but it broke down on the way to the grid, leaving Leclerc unable to race.
At the start, Verstappen led the field away, but had to defend from Bottas as he covered the inside line. From there, it was the Dutchman in control of the race, as Bottas’ charge faded and his attention focused to defending from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who had qualified fourth but was running in the podium positions thanks to Leclerc’s non-start.
But Bottas’s chances of any points at all went out of the window in bizarre fashion at his pit stop. The Finnish driver pitted on lap 31 but the Mercedes crew were unable to remove one of his front tyres, with the nut having ‘machined itself’ onto the axle. That forced him out of the race, promoting Sainz further up the order to second, and Lando Norris into third, with his McLaren sporting a one-off Gulf livery design for the weekend.
The trio formed the podium with Verstappen finishing just under nine seconds clear of Sainz, who claimed his and Ferrari’s first podium of the year, with Norris in third claiming his second rostrum of 2021 in an increasingly impressive campaign, lapping his teammate Daniel Ricciardo on the way.
Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez climbed from ninth on the grid to fourth in the race, with Red Bull’s combined score from the event allowing them to climb above Mercedes in the Constructors’ championship by a single point.
Reigning seven time world champion Hamilton had hoped to use strategy to get him further up the order, aiming for the ‘undercut’ where they pit before their rivals, rejoin in clear air and make the most of the pace advantage afforded by the new tyres, with the intention of passing their rivals when they also pit.
But Pierre Gasly, who Hamilton was racing, pitted just a lap later than Hamilton, and despite the British driver setting the fastest lap, Gasly still emerged ahead. Making matters worse is that Sebastian Vettel, in his most accomplished performance of the season so far for Aston Martin, jumped the pair when he made his pit stop, but not before he went wheel to wheel with Gasly up the hill to Massanet.
Vettel ultimately claimed fifth ahead of Gasly and Hamilton, while Lance Stroll completed a good day for Aston Martin with eighth. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) and Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) completed the points scorers, with Giovinazzi securing the first points of the year for the Swiss-based team.
Verstappen now leads the world championship for the first time in his career, holding a four point lead over Hamilton.
I’m super happy to win the Monaco Grand Prix. It’s such a tricky track and you need a smooth weekend so I’m very pleased with what we have achieved as a team and of course with Honda.
I just had to focus on my own race and make sure I had a clean start. Of course it all looked under control but to keep your focus for so many laps is the hardest part because it’s easy to relax when you’re in the lead and make a mistake, so you have to keep reminding yourself to leave your thoughts on the road and stay focused. I think pace wise, we were always in control because every time someone tried to push me in terms of lap time, we were able to respond and increase the gap.
I’ve never been on the podium here and then the first time it’s a win, so it’s a bit of redemption for the other races I’ve had here.
We are leading the championship and I hope of course to be there at the end of the season because that’s the most important thing so we cannot get carried away. But for now, a massive thank you to everyone in the factory and here at the track, we won the Monaco Grand Prix so let’s enjoy it.
F1 is back in action on the streets of Baku in Azerbaijan on 6 June.
Richard Randle is a motorsport PR professional working with the UK’s top racing circuits and the UK’s premier single-seater category, the BRDC British F3 Championship.