A calm and precise Max Verstappen crushed the field in Monte Carlo to claim his first victory in the Grand Prix of Monaco and take the lead in the 2021 F1 world championship
Max Verstappen captured the processional 2021 Monaco Grand Prix in storming fashion, leading nearly every lap on his way to a crushing victory in Monte Carlo.
The win gave the Dutchman the lead in the Formula One world championship standings for the first time in his career.
Meanwhile, rival Lewis Hamilton was left languishing in midfield, fuming at his Mercedes team’s multiple race mistakes.
The Brit took the chequered flag in seventh after losing two positions during the opening round of pit-stops.
Verstappen crossed the line 8.9 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, with McLaren’s Lando Norris hustled every foot to the flag by a spirited Sergio Perez in his Red Bull.
Perhaps energized by his new multi-year McLaren contract, Norris held on for the final spot on the podium to move back into third in claiming the third podium of his career following another spirited drive to third place.
Of note, Charles Leclerc was there to congratulate Sainz on his first Ferrari podium. Pure class.
Valtteri Bottas retired from second after his Mercedes’ front- right wheel nut seized during his only pit-stop on a miserable day for Mercedes.
Verstappen started Sunday’s race 14 points behind Hamilton but departed the principality four points ahead of the seven- time world champion.
Charles Leclerc took a stunning pole position in Monte Carlo despite crashing out with just 16 seconds remaining in Q3.
The Ferrari driver was at the head of the time charts when Armco broke his right front suspension, and his Ferrari slammed into hit barriers at 110mph on the exit of the swimming pool chicane. Qualifying was stopped and did not restart.
eclerc’s eighth pole and Ferrari’s first since the 2019 Mexican Grand Prix arrived as a shock to Verstappen, who expected to secure a dominating pole for Red Bull.
Most important for the Scuderia, Leclerc’s quick lap arrived as a timely boost to Ferrari with chairman John Elkann in Monte Carlo to watch the drama unfold. The Italian team
endured their worst campaign in 40 years last season but have shown encouraging signs of significant improvement in the formative rounds of this year.
Could anyone have beaten Leclerc’s time? Yes, almost certainly. Verstappen and Bottas were both on solid laps just before the red flag. Verstappen, in particular, was already 0.15s quicker than Leclerc time at the entrance to the tunnel when the red flag was activated.
Overnight, Ferrari elected not to change the Monegasque’s gearbox following his 110mph crash in the closing seconds of qualifying on Saturday.
The repairs were substantial – right front corner assembly, right rear corner assembly, front and rear brake friction material, brake pump, steering rack, right side turning vane, shark, floor, and a new rear wing assembly.
The decision ensured Leclerc escaped a five-place grid penalty, but choice backfired after Leclerc immediately reported problems leaving his garage.
“The gearbox, guys…”
“No, no, no, no, the gearbox, guys,” said a slowing Leclerc over the radio as he emerged from the tunnel.
He made it back to the pits but could not start the race after his Ferrari crew identified a left driveshaft failure.
That outcome meant Bottas had the better side of the grid and the inside line at the start.
At lights out, Bottas launched first, but the tyre-spinning Verstappen briskly moved across, holding Bottas back. The Finn briefly locked up but managed to keep going into second place as the Dutchman muscled his way clear on the short run down to Sainte Devote. From that moment forward, Verstappen was in complete control of the remaining 78 laps.
Behind in mid-pack, Lance Stroll tried to get by Ocon’s Alpine with a squeeze up the inside of the hairpin, but the Frenchman’s quick reactions shut the door.
By Lap 3, gaps were starting to appear in the field, which was bad news for Hamilton, who was already 8.3s behind leader Verstappen. In Monaco, Hamilton’s fight this time would be with Gasly and Norris instead.
Just four laps later, the struggling Hamilton fell two seconds behind Gasly, while Verstappen set the fastest lap of the race to extend his lead to 1.5s.
Bottas dropped to three seconds behind Verstappen by Lap 22, while Carlos Sainz’ Ferrari had closed to 1.7s behind the Finn.
Desperate to give Hamilton more speed, Mercedes made the Brit the first of the leading pack to stop for tyres on Lap 29. He rejoined behind Gasly (as he was before) but now Vettel’s Aston Martin as well. Hamilton was livid because, in the space of two or three laps, Gasly, Vettel, and Pérez all pitted and taken positions from him.
Meanwhile, Verstappen pitted from the lead on Lap 35. It’s a calm stop. The Dutchman comes out, albeit behind his team- mate Sergio Perez who has not stopped. Hamilton is also told he is under threat of losing a spot to Perez once the Mexican pits. As Perez is absolutely flying, Hamilton is astounded at that news.
“I don’t understand, guys,” said Hamilton on the radio. “I saved the tyres to go longer and we stopped before everyone.”
Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington then had to deliver the grim news that Perez was also ahead of him on the track.
“We have lost the position to Perez, too,” Bonnington said. “Sorry about that.”
Mercedes hadn’t finished with astounding moments.
Bottas pitted on Lap 42. His W12 right front wheel nut’s seized on the hub spline during the tyre change, its threads destroyed. Video replays showed shards of metal flying off as they tried to remove the wheel. The Finn was out on the spot.
By Lap 63 of 78, a relaxed Verstappen’s lead had grown to nearly 7s, with 1.3s gained on Sainz just in that lap.
Perez closed to 1.6s behind Norris, and by Lap 67, the Mexican is within DRS range, but by Lap 72, it was apparent that only a Norris mistake would enable Perez to get by. Another two laps in Norris’ wake and it was clear the Perez’ tyres were finished.
In the closing stages, Hamilton stopped for a second time to take on fresh rubber and claim a bonus point for the fastest lap before finishing almost a lap down on Verstappen.
Finishing in fifth place were the rapidly improving Sebastian Vettel and Aston Martin. It was the German’s first points of the season while moving Aston Martin up to fifth in the standings overall, one point ahead of AlphaTauri and two ahead of Alpine.
Pierre Gasly took a determined sixth place ahead of the struggling Hamilton, with Lance Stroll taking eighth in the
other Aston Martin. Esteban Ocon, in ninth, delivered more points to Alpine, while Antonio Giovinazzi took the final point for Alfa Romeo.