F1 2021 Monaco Grand Prix: Heartbreak for Leclerc as Verstappen Takes Charge
Charles Leclerc caused controversy on Saturday when his crash at the exit of the Swimming Pool chicane left the hometown hero on pole, despite those behind him being on course to set personal best laptimes.
With Max Verstappen alongside Leclerc in P2, and Sir Lewis Hamilton down in P7, the scene was also set for a potential swing in the Dutchman’s favour in the championship battle.
Could Ferrari convert the most important pole of the season into their first victory since the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix?
Drama Before Lights Out
Leclerc’s crash undoubtedly sent shockwaves through the gearbox, but Ferrari’s overnight investigations had suggested no serious damage.
However on the way to the grid, Leclerc’s instant team radio cry of “nooooo no no, the gearbox guys” told you the story. The Monegasque, who has never finished a Monaco GP, was wheeled back into the pits and with that his pole position was gone, out of the race before the lights even went out.
What was left, was an effective front row of Verstappen, and Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas. Meanwhile old friends Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris suddenly smelt an opportunity in P3 and P4 respectively.
The All Important Start
Off the line, the top places remained unchanged, as Verstappen recovered from a slightly sluggish pullaway to maintain the lead ahead of Bottas, Sainz, Norris and Gasly, with Hamilton retaining P6.
Verstappen and Bottas quickly pulled away from Sainz, whilst Hamilton and Perez were set for difficult afternoons behind the gearboxes of Gasly and Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin respectively.
The top two spent much of the early running trading fastest laps with Sainz settling into a rhythm just 4 seconds off the lead in third. In fact all the way down to Hamilton in P6, lap times were comparable, with Vettel in seventh the cork in the midfield bottle.
All Hail The Overcut
The timing of the pit stop from the softs would be crucial in deciding the outcome of the race. With everyone hovering in undercut range of each other, one mistake in the pitlane could be the difference between victory, and being off the podium.
Norris meanwhile was in danger of throwing it away on track, as he earned a black and white flag warning for repeatedly exceeding track limits.
By Lap 25, Verstappen has slowly eased away from Bottas, who now was feeling the heat from Sainz in third. Vettel was also now going well, and closing in on the battle for P5 between Gasly and Hamilton.
The first stop came on Lap 30 when Hamilton moved onto the hards to kick off a series of chain reactions. Not least his teammate Bottas, whose race would suddenly turn into a disaster.
A cross-threaded tyre refused to come off and with no way of dislodging it from the wheel, the Finn was out of the race.
Meanwhile as Gasly and Norris also stopped, Vettel stayed out an extra lap to overcut and get ahead of both the AlphaTauri and a more than disgruntled Hamilton.
Sainz pitted from a now net second place, whilst Verstappen waited until Lap 34 to come in, handing his teammate Perez the lead, as the only of the front drivers not to have stopped yet.
The Mexican made his stop on Lap 36, with a series of superb laps moving him up to 4th, behind Verstappen, Sainz and Norris, but ahead of Vettel, Gasly and Hamilton.
A Quiet Second Half
With Verstappen now well in command of the race, the chase was on for Sainz and Norris to try and erode the 7 second lead held by the Red Bull.
Some rapid laps from the Ferrari quickly moved him within 3 seconds of the lead, however Verstappen soon upped his pace in response to maintain the gap.
Norris maintained an excellent third for McLaren, with Perez in 4th set to help Red Bull overhaul Mercedes in the battle for the constructors’ championship.
The closest on track battle in the points was for P9. Esteban Ocon used an overcut at the first stop to overhaul Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo, however the pair remain just under a second apart as the second half of the race wore on.
Perez Applies The Pressure
As the Grand Prix entered its final 20 laps, Sainz continued to push on, hoping to force Verstappen into an uncharacteristic error.
Norris meanwhile in P3 was starting to struggle, despite lapping teammate Daniel Ricciardo who was having a day to forget outside the points. Perez in fourth started to sense an opportunity, with the gap coming down lap after lap.
Lance Stroll’s mammoth first stint ended on Lap 59, but worked to great effect, keeping the second Aston Martin in a solid eighth place ahead of Ocon and Giovinazzi.
By Lap 65, Perez had got within DRS range of Norris. The McLaren was not enjoying the hard tyres, but famously at Monte-Carlo, even a massive pace advantage isn’t usually enough to force an overtake.
Hamilton attempted to improve his day by stopping on Lap 68 for an attempt at the fastest lap point, although as it stood he would still lose the championship lead to Verstappen at race end.
Max Verstappen had never lead a world championship in his career before today. But that all changed when he crossed the line to take his second win of the season and his first ever win at Monaco.
For a driver who once famously couldn’t avoid the Monaco barriers, it was a victory that highlighted the maturity the Dutchman has realised over the last three years.
Sainz had a quiet but excellent day in second, his first podium in the Ferrari red, whilst he was able to share the podium with Norris, who held off Perez to take a second podium of a superb season.
Vettel’s best result in an Aston Martin so far earned him Driver Of The Day in P5, with Gasly an impressive sixth, and Hamilton a disappointed seventh.
Rounded out the points were Stroll, Ocon and Giovinazzi, who was unable to overhaul the Frenchman despite sitting on his gearbox for over 40 laps.
The result moved Verstappen 4 points ahead of Hamilton in the standings, with Norris highlighting just how superb his season has been in third place.
The paddock now has another weekend off before heading to Baku where Red Bull and Ferrari will look to build on their street circuit momentum for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Here is the full provisional classification for the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix:
|1||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing||Leader|
|4||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing||+20.4|
|5||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||+52.5|
|8||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||+1 Lap|
|9||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine||+1 Lap|
|10||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||+1 Lap|
|11||7||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||+1 Lap|
|12||3||Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren||+1 Lap|
|13||14||Fernando Alonso||Alpine||+1 Lap|
|14||63||George Russell||Williams||+1 Lap|
|15||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams||+1 Lap|
|16||22||Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri||+1 Lap|
|17||9||Nikita Mazepin||Haas||+3 Laps|
|18||47||Mick Schumacher||Haas||+3 Laps|
|DNF||77||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||Pit Stop|