Red Bull chose the precise moment to gamble on tyres, giving Sergio Perez the victory in the rain-plagued 79th edition of the Monaco Grand Prix
Monaco is famous for gambling casinos and the difficulty of overtaking its tight and twisty Grand Prix circuit. However, it offers gamblers a risky roll-of-the-dice opportunity for either victory or defeat under wet conditions.
With a wet track drying rapidly, Red Bull went all in. They pitted Sergio Perez early, switching from full wets to intermediates on Lap 17. Ferrari responded two laps later, but it was too late. Their botched pit stop strategy dropped pole- sitter and race leader Charles Leclerc from a comfortable victor to fourth place.
Perez held off increasing pressure from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who finished just over one second behind, with Verstappen and Charles Leclerc both finishing within three seconds of victory at the finish, in third and fourth, respectively.
Having the pace his World Champion team-mate Max Verstappen lacked throughout the weekend, Perez’s third career Grand Prix victory brings him 15 points behind the championship leader Verstappen and bolsters Red Bull’s lead in the Constructors’ Championship.
However, Monaco’s 2022 Grand Prix headlines fail to reveal the tumultuous, rain-lashed, and incident-filled F1 World Championship race, involving two red flags and a 70-minute delay due to a heavy downpour before the race could start. That led to the Grand Prix being called after 64 of the scheduled 77 laps because the race exhausted the FIA three- hour event rule.
Once underway behind a safety car, the race was stopped after two laps as the rain grew heavier. There was also criticism of the stewards for twice restarting using rolling starts rather than grid starts, which are generally more action- packed.
And, to top off the head-spinning marathon, the FIA couldn’t provide confirmed race results until 9.30 local time because Ferrari, absolutely within their rights, lodged protests against both Red Bull drivers for failing to obey pit-lane exit rules after a pitstop during the race.
The most important qualifying session of the season saw Leclerc make good on Ferrari’s practice pace by claiming pole at his home Grand Prix. The dominant Monegasque finished 0.225 seconds clear of teammate Carlos Sainz. With a couple of minutes remaining in Q3, Perez’s crash aborted everyone’s final laps.
The race started 1hr5mins after the scheduled start time. Once underway behind a safety car, the Monaco Grand Prix was stopped after two laps as the rain grew heavier and then red-flagged before an official racing lap was completed due to a heavy rainstorm.
After a delay of nearly 70 minutes, the race finally got underway via a rolling start, with all cars on FIA-mandated full wet tyres. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was firmly in control of the lead through Turn 1.
With the rain stopped and the track drying, the key was when to change to intermediates or slicks. With the sky rapidly clearing, there were two clear options in play for Ferrari to protect Leclerc’s lead.
The choices were to keep Leclerc out on the full wets until the track was dry enough for slicks or switch from the wet to the intermediate tyre as soon as track conditions were right.
The second choice would include another stop shortly afterwards to go onto the slick tyre.
Sergio Perez sealed victory with Red Bull’s early call to switch from the full wet tyre to the intermediate on Lap 17, two laps before Ferrari did the same thing with race leader Leclerc.
Within those two laps, Perez produced blistering speed to eliminate the gap to Leclerc. When the Ferrari driver rejoined from his stop, he was behind the Red Bull driver on the most challenging circuit for overtaking.
In the other Ferrari, Sainz argued against making the same choice. The Spaniard held out until Lap 22 when he switched his full wet tyre for a dry tyre.
Unfortunately, Ferrari also called Leclerc to pit for dry tyres at the same stop, only to change their minds, screaming Leclerc to stay out once he had already made the dive into the pit entry on the final corner.
The radio exchange was heartbreaking for the Monegasque. Leclerc’s engineer said: “Box now, box now, box now, box now …”
As Leclerc entered the pit entry at the final corner, that order changed to: “Stay out! Stay out! Stay out!”
It was too late. Leclerc had to wait behind Sainz before the crew could mount his tyres. The Monegasque rejoined behind Verstappen in fourth and was spitting feathers. His race was already lost.
“Sometimes mistakes can happen,” Leclerc told the media later. “But there have been too many mistakes today overall.”
Having locked out the front row of the grid and with Ferrari one-two until the first round of pit stops, the team could make no excuses about its final result.
Five laps later, Mick Schumacher had a massive crash on Lap 27. He lost the rear at Tabac, hit the outside barrier with the front, spun around and then snapped back into the wall. Amazingly, his Haas car split in two. The result looked worse than it was. It wasn’t a huge impact.
After three laps behind the Safety Car, the race was red- flagged to clean the tarmac, leading to another long delay. When the race restarted for the third time, there was now an FIA mandated maximum time limit of 40 minutes remaining.
Perez controlled the rolling start perfectly but locked up his brakes massively into Mirabeau. He remained in the lead, despite his tyres now beginning to wear.
With each corner, on each lap, Perez savagely telegraphed to Sainz, Verstappen and Leclerc that he would not yield.
With 28 minutes remaining, Perez set the fastest lap again as he stretched his lead over Sainz to 1.3s, with Verstappen now 2.5s ahead of Leclerc.
Had it been another circuit, the leaders would have fought tooth and nail to find a weakness for “a racing pass for the ages”. However, there was never any real likelihood of “that” pass, given the extreme difficulty, it is to overtake at Monaco.
The race ended in that order.
George Russell finished a distant fifth for Mercedes, with McLaren’s Lando Norris, in sixth place, claiming the fastest lap of the race. Alpine’s Fernando Alonso finished seventh, 34 seconds behind Norris. Eighth place fell to a frustrated Lewis Hamilton, with Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel claiming ninth and tenth.
“Winning Monaco, it’s a dream come true as a driver,” said Sergio Perez. “When you come into F1, and when you come to Monaco and when you drive for the first time, you always dream about one day winning the race or racing in here.
“So, it’s just incredible, such a big day for myself. I was driving with Pedro Rodriguez’s helmet today and I’m sure that up there he will be super proud of what we have achieved in the sport.”
Afterwards, Charles Leclerc quietly reflected on his change of fortune.
“We cannot do that, especially in a moment that we are in now, said Leclerc.” We are extremely strong, he continued. We need to take these opportunities. It’s not even from first to second; it’s first to fourth because, after the first mistake, we did another one”.
“I love my team, said the Monegasque, “and I think we will come back stronger, but it hurts. I think the first one was a very clear decision and a very wrong one, and from that moment onwards, the mess started”.