Championship leads change hands after Verstappen capitalises on Leclerc heartbreak as Hamilton disappoints: 2021 Monaco Grand Prix Review

Before delving into the review of the Grand Prix much further, I do want to add my respects to Max Mosley, former President of the FIA whose death was announced the day after the race at the age of 81. It was in his position as FIA president that he was instrumental in helping improve the safety of the sport following the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna in 1994 until he was succeeded by Jean Todt in 2009. It goes without saying that he leaves behind a huge legacy in F1

After a year out from the F1 calendar for the first time since 1954, the Monaco Grand Prix made a return to F1 this year for the fifth round and the question marks are still there as to how crucial could it be in the shakeup of the 2021 championship.

With the narrow streets of the Principality making overtaking very difficult indeed, pole position is often critical with the race being won from pole in 8 of the previous 12 visits and you would have to go back to 2008 for the last time the race was won by a driver not starting on the front row. The Safety car has also featured heavily in recent years with Bert Mylander being deployed in 9 of the previous 10. However, with no such Safety Car for also the first time in 2021, it was a largely processional race with only one genuine on track racing overtake. You would be forgiven for not realising it was also the quickest Monaco Grand Prix in history!

Reportedly, the only overtake of the race…

A lot of the drama then revolved around the pit stops as to where positions can be gained or lost and there was drama as Monaco produced some surprises. Mercedes suffered a terrible nightmare in the pits while the pace of the Ferrari’s in particular was very strong. They showed promise in Spain but suffered from a relative lack of straight-line speed. That doesn’t matter as much around a street circuit like Monaco as they looked to be in race-winning contention for the first time since 2019. It would ultimately be a mixed bag for them and a case of what could have been as the opportunity of a win passed them by. Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull shared a podium for the first time in a decade (also at Monaco in 2011). It was a surprise podium with no Mercedes presence and as a result, they relinquish the lead in both Championships for the first time since the 2018 British Grand Prix and Red Bull [Race winner Max Verstappen celebrating above with his team in feature image above; image from eurosport] leading both championships for the first time in the hybrid era.

Let’s start with Ferrari and Charles Leclerc. Ferrari’s pace was strong from the off and Leclerc was flying with the opportunity to become the Monegasque to win around his home streets since Louis Chiron in a pre-F1 race in 1931. Leclerc produced a stellar lap to get provisional pole but his mistake on his final attempt undone all his fine effort. He kept pole, the 8th of his career but the damage to the left-hand side driveshaft hub which not detected by the team post-race would be his undoing as the issue prevented him from even getting to the grid. Position is king in Monaco but Ferrari’s decision not to change the gearbox and take the five-place grid penalty hit backfired. ‘Not starting the race was difficult to take, especially at home’ and you could see how painful it was for him over team radio. Instead of potentially winning at home, his F1 racing record now reads DNF, DNF and DNS.

2021 Monaco Grand Prix Qualifying 

Q1: 1st Valtteri Bottas 1:10.938……………15th Sebastian Vettel 1:12.078; 16th Yuki Tsunoda +0.018, 17th Fernando Alonso +0.127, 18th Nicholas Latifi +0.288, 19th Nikita Mazepin +0.880, 20th Mick Schumacher (no time set).

Q2: 1st Charles Leclerc 1:10.597………10th Antonio Giovinazzi 1:11.409; 11th Esteban Ocon +0.077, 12th Daniel Ricciardo +0.189, 13th Lance Stroll +0.191, 14th Kimi Raikkonen +0.233, 15th George Russell +0.421

Q3: 1st Charles Leclerc 1:10.346, 2nd Max Verstappen +0.230, 3rd Valtteri Bottas +0.255, 4th Carlos Sainz +0.265, 5th Lando Norris +0.274, 6th Pierre Gasly +0.554, 7th Lewis Hamilton +0.749, 8th Sebastian Vettel +1.073, 9th Sergio Perez +1.227, 10th Antonio Giovinazzi +1.433

Leclerc’s dismay opened the door to Max Verstappen who had a terrific Grand Prix weekend. It was felt Verstappen needed the win to reignite his challenge to Hamilton and he ultimately delivered that. The flying Dutchman showed terrific pace throughout and was only denied pole by the red flags to a chorus of expletives over team radio. Quite understandable as with the quickest car, he really should have got pole outright. However, he inherited defacto pole after Leclerc’s heartache. Cutting off Bottas on the inside and leading from turn one, Verstappen had a faultless drive leading uninterrupted from start to finish as he had answers to Bottas and later Sainz when they made gains to take a win that felt like ‘redemption’ in Monaco. It was a big win for Verstappen as he took the championship lead for the first time ever! Just how big could that be?

It was a big day to remember for Max Verstappen. [Image from formula1.com].

Red Bull also took the lead in the Constructors Championship with the help of Sergio Perez’s race exploits. The Mexican topped FP1 to highlight the Red Bull’s pace but that was the best it got as his Qualifying was ultimately disappointing. That car was better than 9th and he rightfully labelled the result ‘lousy’. However, his race was far better. Perez used his renowned tyre management skills to prolong their life enabling him to overcut the likes of Hamilton, Gasly and Vettel to run 4th and was then quicker than Norris. He was unable to make the most of his pace to pass the McLaren to claim his first podium for Red Bull. The podium will come for Perez but he just needs to hook it up in Qualifying but that said, finishing 4th from 9th on the grid is a fantastic result.

The overcut, tyre management and fantastic pace helped Sergio Perez turn 9th in Qualifying to 4th in the race, aiding Red Bull to take the Constructors Championship lead. [Image from FomrulaRapida.net].

In their titanic battle, Monaco was an unmitigated disaster for Mercedes described by Team Principal Toto Wolff as ‘a disaster day’. Lewis Hamilton did not appear to be his usual self struggled with his car in a performance that has not been seen for several years. Qualifying was scruffy as he was unable to hook a lap together as he hit the barriers on his way to 7th and things did not get much better in the race. Despite two retirees, he managed to finish where he started and was left perplexed as the undercut didn’t work as he complained on team radio, ‘I don’t understand guys, I saved the tyres to go longer, you made me stop before everyone’. Hamilton had been the first to stop but he couldn’t get the fresh Hard tyres to immediately switch on and instead, lost places to Vettel and Perez who were able to go quicker on their initial tyres. Pitting late for the additional championship point available for the fastest lap will be scant consolation as he lost top spot of the championship for the first time since last year.

Lewis Hamilton was disappointing as he could only finish 7th in Monaco. [Image from Reuters].

When it goes wrong at Mercedes, it is quite spectacular and you had to feel for Valtteri Bottas as it seems he gets the brunt end of any Mercedes misfortune. The Finn was able to get the better out of the Mercedes consistently through the weekend for the first time this year and was their main challenger for the win. Even then, he was almost a quarter of a second off pole. Starting from 2nd after Leclerc failed to start, the Finn had a good initial launch only to be blocked by Verstappen into turn 1 and from there kept him honest even if he didn’t look like really challenging.

Then came the pit stops which brought his race to an abrupt and cruel end. Just what happened? The front right tyre just wouldn’t come off as explained by Chief Strategist James Vowles…

‘The gun is an incredibly powerful gun, such that you can actually see the mechanics having to restrain themselves holding themselves to the ground otherwise they get rotated with it at the same time. It’s an impact force and what happens is the nut typically loosens in four or five impacts against it. A hammering action. Now, what happened is we came on slightly angled, so when the socket was now connected to the nut, it slightly angled relative to it and as a result of that, now instead of distributing the load across all of the nut, it was across a small section and that tore the metal clean off and in fact, all of the metal was now removed from the nut. As a result of that, the nut was in place and we were unable to remove it.

You could not watch that unfold in the race and not feel sorry for Bottas. Whenever it goes wrong for Mercedes, it is him that bears the brunt of the misfortune.

Carlos Sainz was fairly closely matched to his teammate, further underlining Ferrari’s pace and potential in Monaco and it ultimately turned into his best result with the team. He knew it was an opportunity missed on the final Q3 runs with the red flag as he qualified 4th. He drove a solid race and was closer to Bottas before the pit stops than Norris highlighting that the Ferrari was managing its race pace and tyres better. That pace was shown again after the Finn’s retirement as he was able to match and at times pressurise Verstappen for the lead. It wasn’t the win that could have been for Ferrari but 2nd in Monaco is Sainz’s first podium for the team in only his fifth race for the team, in a car he is still adapting to and in Monaco of all places. It was both his best performance and result of the season.

Former teammates Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris finished on the podium together in Monaco. [Image from F1:Twitter].

Joining him on the podium was his former teammate at McLaren, Lando Norris. The Brit arrived in Monaco fresh from his new multi-year contract and he rewarded the Woking outfit with another impressive performance that he has shown in 2021. Norris was comfortably the quicker McLaren in that lovely special retro livery (please keep it McLaren) as he qualified 5th. That became 4th with Leclerc not starting and he had the pace to comfortably pull away from Gasly which became a podium position after Bottas bowed out. It was a solid drive from Norris with being shown black and white flags in the early stages the only dint in his performance as he showed great composure to soak up the pressure from a quicker Perez despite struggling with his tyres in the final stages as he secured an unexpected his second podium of the season. ‘I never thought it could happen coming into this weekend at all’ he claimed post-race but it was thoroughly well deserved by Norris who is one of the standout performers of 2021 so far.

2021 Monaco Grand Prix Race Result

1st Max Verstappen 1:38:56.820,
2nd Carlos Sainz +8.968, 3rd Lando Norris +19.427, 4th Sergio Perez +20.490, 5th Sebastian Vettel +52.591, 6th Pierre Gasly 53.896, 7th Lewis Hamilton +68.231, 8th Lance Stroll +1 Lap, 9th Esteban Ocon +1 Lap, 10th Antonio Giovinazzi +1 Lap, 11th Kimi Raikkonen +1 Lap, 12th Daniel Ricciardo +1 Lap, 13th Fernando Alonso +1 Lap, 14th George Russell +1 Lap, 15th Nicholas Latifi +1 Lap, 16th Yuki Tsunoda +1 Lap, 17th Nikita Mazepin +3 Laps, 18th Mick Schumacher +3 Laps, Valtteri Bottas DNF, Charles Leclerc DNS

Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton 1:12.909

To put Norris’s level of performance into perspective, you need only look at Monaco 2018 winner Daniel Ricciardo in the same car. Ricciardo labelled Monaco as ‘a bit of a weekend to forget for me, unfortunately’. It certainly was. The honeybadger was consistently a full second adrift of his teammate through the weekend and that gap was six tenths in Qualifying as Ricciardo failed to get out of Q2. Race day was a struggle for Ricciardo. Starting on the Mediums, he was unable to pass the Alfa Romeo’s in front meaning he was never in contention for points and to cap it all off, he was lapped by his teammate on his way to finishing on the podium. The car was capable of much more so that has really got to hurt for Ricciardo who after Spain will have been expecting more.

2018 Monaco winner Daniel Ricciardo struggled with his retro livery McLaren and was even lapped by his teammate. [Image from formula1.com].

Aston Martin haven’t had an easy start to 2021 with them feeling handicapped by the change of regulations but they had a very strong result in Monaco being the only team other than Red Bull to have both their drivers score points.

There have been question marks over Sebastian Vettel as he has been outshone so far in 2021 but at the fifth attempt, it was the four-time champion’s best performance for the team as he got into Q3 and had a fantastic race drive. The German put the result down to ‘to great decision-making on the pit wall and having good pace in the car when it mattered’. That is fair. The team utilised the overcut with both drivers and they had to make it work. In the laps before pitting on lap 31, Vettel was quicker than both Gasly and Hamilton on fresher tyres and came out ahead of the pair seeing off the former with a drag race up the hill. Vettel still had to hold the pair in quicker cars behind until the chequered flag as he finished 5th. It was his best result since finishing 3rd in Turkey last year and could this be the springboard he needs to rebuild confidence at Aston Martin?

Lance Stroll has so often had the measure of four-time champion Vettel this season but it was not the case in Monaco. The Canadian failed to get into Q3 but he made up for it in the race with a very good drive. The overcut was deliberate from Aston Martin as they used that strategy with both cars. Stroll produced a superb 58 lap opening stint including passing Ricciardo on the opening lap and managing his pace well. That overcut got him ahead of the likes of Ocon and Giovinazzi ahead and into an 8th place finish to cement Aston martin’s first double points finish in F1.

It was a very difficult Grand Prix weekend for Yuki Tsunoda. [Image from Planet F1].

It was a tale of their drivers having totally different weekends at Alpha Tauri. The car had potential top 10 pace and again it was Pierre Gasly who extracted the most out of it. Given Yuki Tsunoda had never driven around Monaco in any series it would have been expected but the gulf between the two may well raise some eyebrows with Red Bull. The Japanese driver finished FP1 in 10th but that was the best it got for him as he fell out of Qualifying in Q1 and finished the race where he started in 16th after losing ground to Alonso and Latifi in the opening laps and finishing ahead of only the two has cars. That is disappointing.

Pierre Gasly performed very well in Monaco keeping Lewis Hamilton behind throughout and getting out of this race up the hill with Sebastian Vettel. [Image from EssentiallySports].

Gasly meanwhile used his experience to extract the maximum from his car. The Frenchman was quicker than Tsunoda in Qualifying as he progressed into Q3 and produced a quality lap to pip Hamilton for 6th. He felt his race drive was ‘the best performance of the season so far’ and it would be hard to disagree with that assessment. It was a composed race drive from Gasly who knew he had to be faultless as he soaked up the pressure from the Mercedes behind for the duration. He was unfortunate to lose out to Vettel in the drag race up the hill as the Aston Martin performed the overcut but finishing 6th ahead of a Mercedes was a terrific result.

2021 Monaco Grand Prix Points

Drivers:
Max Verstappen 25, Carlos Sainz 18, Lando Norris 15, Sergio Perez 12, Sebastian Vettel 10, Pierre Gasly 8, Lewis Hamilton 7, Lance Stroll 4, Esteban Ocon 2, Antonio Givinazzi 1

Constructors:
Red Bull 37, Ferrari 18, McLaren 15, Aston Martin 14, Alpha Tauri 8, Mercedes 7, Alpine 2, Alfa Romeo 1

It was a fairly similar story at Alpine who in the words of Executive Director Marcin Budkowski had ‘a poor weekend for us after two encouraging performances in Portugal and Spain’. Esteban Ocon continued his strong form in 2021 with his fourth successive points finish and out-paced vastly more experienced teammate Fernando Alonso again. The two-time champion failed to get out of Q1 and while he gained a couple of position son the opening lap, Alonso was unable to progress further and finished 16th. Barring retirements that was the first time Alonso has finished outside the top 10 in Monaco. Ocon only just missed out on Q3 but used the fresh choice of starting tyres to get the better of Giovoanzzi through the overcut but the relative race pace struggles of Alpine were there to see as he had to do a lot of defending against the Alfa Romeo’s from behind to keep a hold of 9th.

Fernando Alonso had a very difficult Grand prix in Monaco and was heavily outshone by younger teammate Esteban Ocon who scored points. [Image from Alpine].

After showing glimpses of potential to score points, Alfa Romeo secured their first top 10 finish of the season. Antonio Giovnazzi has only been beaten in Qualifying once this year by veteran teammate Kimi Raikkonen and he continued that run in Monaco as he also got into Q3 for the first time in 2021. The Italians position in Qualifying helped keep him there in the race as he drove a solid race to score his first point of the season. He has really pushed on this year after speculating last year he could soon be replaced by Ferrari. You wouldn’t say that now. As for Raikkonen, qualifying almost two tenths down on his teammate in 14th meant it was always going to be difficult to get into the top 10 on race day. The Iceman gave it a solid effort though getting ahead of Ricciardo on the opening lap and keeping it clean as he took the Hard tyres to lap 43. He couldn’t push on to finish in the top 10 himself though as he just missed out. However, given

Antonio Giovinazzi scored the first points of the season for Alfa Romeo. [Image from Planet F1].

Williams marked their 750th F1 Grand Prix in Monaco, it was really such a shame they could not mark that landmark with a points-scoring result. Unfortunately, that was in the words of George Russell ‘We finished where we deserved to be with the pace of the car’. Russell had produced another of his Mr Saturday Qualifying performances to get into Q2 for the fifth time this season but he could only go 15th. Losing out to only Alonso on the opening lap he drove as well as he could, finishing ahead of his teammate. Nicholas Latifi qualified a lowly 18th after dropping the car into the barriers in FP3. At least he wasn’t beaten by one of the Haas cars and then finished the race ahead of an Alpha Tauri. He needs to get closer to Russell in Qualifying than he is in race trim but it was an ok result for the Canadian as he finished his first F1 race in Monaco.

Williams marked their 750th Grand Prix in Monaco but they could not score points. [Image from Williams Racing].

With two rookie drivers and Haas not developing their car meant Monaco was always going to be a difficult Grand Prix for the team. That said, would they have expected to be three laps adrift I don’t think so but Gunther Steiner explained it away as ‘Once you start to get into the blue flags, tyre temperatures come down and you just keep falling back, and that’s what happened to us today’ as he seemed content to get the laps in. For all the dramas, this was arguably Nikita Mazepin’s best weekend as he did not make any glaring mistakes. Instead, that honour fell to his teammate whose FP3 crash meant that he could not take part in Qualifying. That prevented Mick Schumacher from continuing his 100% qualifying record against Mazepin but he did pass the Russian at the hairpin on the opening lap and would surely have finished ahead of him in the race if it had not been for a ‘temprary power issue’ and the team instructed him to let Mazepin through. It was the best so far for Mazepin but the worst for Schumacher.

Haas struggled in Monaco finishing three laps down but Nikita Mazepin (9) would finish ahead of his teamed Mick Schumacher (47) for the first time. [Image from Pitpass].
2021 Monaco Grand Prix Ratings

Drivers:
Max Verstappen 9.5, Carlos Sainz 8.5, Lando Norris 9, Sergio Perez 7.5, Sebastian Vettel 9.5, Pierre Gasly 8.5, Lewis Hamilton 5.5, Lance Stroll 7.5, Esteban Ocon 8, Antonio Giovinazzi 8.5, Kimi Raikkonen 7, Daniel Ricciardo 4.5, Fernando Alonso 5, George Russell 7, Nicholas Latifi 6, Yuki Tsunoda 4.5, Nikita Mazepin 6, Mick Schumacher 5.5, Valtteri Bottas 8, Charles Leclerc 5.5

Constructors:
Red Bull 9, Ferrari 8.5, McLaren 8, Aston Martin 8.5, Alpha Tauri 6.5, Mercedes 5.5, Alpine 7, Alfa Romeo 8, Williams 6.5, Haas 5

The Championship standings look rather different after Monaco with a new leader.

Following his Monaco victory, Max Verstappen now leads the Drivers Championship with a four-point lead over Lewis Hamilton. The pair have more than double the points of Valterri Bottas (46pts) after his unfortunate retirement denied him closing the gap on his teammate. He drops to 4th in the standings behind Lando Norris (56pts) who is third. Sergio Perez climbs to 5th after his 4th place finish at the expense of Charles Leclerc who failed to take the start. Courtesy f his podium, Carlos Sainz is now just two points behind in 7th ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in 8th who failed to score. Pierre Gasly is 9th and six ahead of Esteban Ocon who rounds off the top 10. With his first points of the season, Sebastian Vettel leapfrogs his teammate for 11th while with his first point of the season Antonio Giovinazzi is now 15th. Kimi Raikkonen, George Russell Nicholas Latifi, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin remain the five drivers without a point.

Red Bull (149pts) also take the lead in the Constructors Championship by a solitary point from Mercedes (148pts) for the first time since 2013. It is also the first time since the 2018 British Grand Prix that Mercedes have not led in either Championship. McLaren (80pts) hold on to 3rd spot but only by two points from Ferrari (78pts) in 4th. Aston Martin climb into the top half after their double points finish propelled them from 7th ahead of Alpha Tauri (18pts) with the big losers in the standings being Alpine (17pts) who were outscored by both teams and fall from 5th to 7th. Alfa Romeo hold 8th outright after scoring their first point of the season. Williams and Haas remain without a single point.

After the intrigue in terms of the Championship delivered by Monaco, F1 moves from one street circuit to another although the next will surely see more overtaking opportunities. Some of the races held at the Baku Street Circuit have been dramatic with twists at every turn so after a year away due to the pandemic, it will hopefully produce another chaotic race. It’s around the streets of Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Baku City circuit, turn 10; the narrowest piece of circuit on the F1 calendar returns after a year out due to the pandemic for the next race…[Image from f1fanatic]

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