The Monaco GP is one of the most prestigious races in the modern Formula 1 calendar. To the drivers, it is a challenge of skill and focus as they navigate the narrow streets at over 200kph. To the viewers, it is a challenge to stay awake and pay attention for all of its laps.
The nature of this circuit takes away any advantage of outright speed. One that favours the likes of Red Bull more than Mercedes. Much to most people’s surprise, it was the Ferraris that were keeping pace with the Red Bulls and outpacing the Mercedes. McLaren was running a historic Gulf livery as a one-off for the Monaco GP, stealing some of the limelight over the weekend. Lando Norris was right on the heels of the front runners, a positive sign following his contract extension with the Woking-based team.
Throughout the weekend, Lewis Hamilton was struggling for pace and did not top the time charts in any of the practice sessions. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel seemed to have found form in his Aston Martin and was quicker than his teammate throughout. There were a few scrapes and crashes during practice as the drivers pushed themselves and their cars. A mildly wet track during FP3, after some Friday night rain, saw two major incidents that caused the session to be red-flagged: first was Nicholas Latifi at the exit of the swimming pool chicane followed by a bigger crash from Mick Schumacher who totalled the left-side of his Haas on the exit of Turn 4 (Casino Square).
Since overtaking around Moncao is near impossible, especially in the current-gen F1 cars, a good qualifying result is extremely important. Charles Leclerc was in good form at his home race, hoping to end the curse that has not seen him cross the finish line around Monaco. Meanwhile, fan favourite Daniel Ricciardo was struggling in his MCL35M all weekend and ended up being eliminated in Q2 with the 12th fastest time.
Charles set his fastest time on his first Q3 run, good enough for provisional Pole. On his second run, he crashed on the exit of the swimming pool complex, a chicane that has bested many a race-winning driver over the years. This red-flagged the session and did not allow any of the other drivers to finish their second qualifying attempt. It was an especially bitter pill for the likes of Max Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz who had a chance to best Leclerc’s earlier lap time. Ferrari would have to inspect the No.16 SF21 to check if it would need a new gearbox or any other significant repairs that might earn them a grid penalty on Sunday. The rest of the final Q3 classification was as follows: Verstappen, Bottas, Sainz, Norris, Gasly, Hamilton, Vettel, Perez and Giovinazzi. It was another rough Saturday for the Mexican in the Red Bull while the reigning champion was simply unable to find enough pace.
Leclerc’s car was given the all-clear by Ferrari mechanics, without having to change the gearbox, and it seemed the Monegasque would truly be starting his home race from Pole position. However, as he was driving out of the pits to line up on the grid, Charles noticed a mechanical issue with the car and the team diagnosed it to be a fault with the left driveshaft. Ferrari soon confirmed that it could not be repaired within the time limits set by Parc Ferme rules and as a result, Leclerc did not start the race and the front spot on the starting grid would be vacant.
With nobody sitting on Pole, Verstappen had to cover the inside line from Bottas into Turn 1 at the start of the race. It was a very clean first lap with no incidents, a rarity around Monaco considering there were some rookie drivers on this year’s grid too.
Esteban Ocon had a great start from P11 and got past Giovinazzi into Turn 1 but the Alfa Romeo driver reclaimed his position around the outside of Turn 5, just before the famous Loewes hairpin turn. Lance Stroll tried to follow Antonio past Ocon, the Aston Martin and Alpine cars rounding the left hairpin corner side-by-side but had to back off as they reached the next corner, the tight-right hander that leads into the tunnel. This was one of two instances of on-track racing action all Sunday and the only one with actual overtakes. Other overtakes on the first lap included Stroll on Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso passing Yuki Tsunoda and George Russell, and Schumacher getting ahead of Nikita Mazepin.
After just a few laps, it became the usual Monaco procession as no one found room to overtake for position, not even at the end of the tunnel section. Verstappen settled into the lead and was pulling away from Bottas who was just ahead of Sainz as Norris began to drop behind a bit. The only way to change things up would be in terms of pit strategy, especially since it would likely be a single-stop race, and this is where Mercedes seemed to have a total meltdown at the 2021 Monaco GP.
After around 25 laps, it became a game of chicken to see who’d pit first. In F1’s recent history around Monaco, it’s the overcut that usually proves to be more rewarding, given that the driver is quick enough to make it work. Mercedes decided to do the opposite and were the first to pit, that too, pitting both drivers in quick succession. Hamilton was brought in first, at the end of Lap 29, and rejoined the race in P8 on his fresh Hard tyres.
Bottas pulled into the pits the very next lap and had a difficult stop as the front right tyre wouldn’t come off. After 15 seconds or so, it became clear that something had gone very wrong and the wheel was NOT going to come off at all. So, Bottas had to retire, after running P2 around Monaco, because his tyre didn’t come off during the pit stop. It was soon revealed that the threads of the front-right tyre wheel lock had been machined off during the stop. A rare problem in modern F1 and it continues Bottas’ run of unfortunate pitstops with Mercedes.
Meanwhile, Hamilton’s out-lap wasn’t as good as the team had hoped which meant that Pierre Gasly (in P5) was able to pit and exit while still being ahead of the Mercedes. It got even worse when Sebastian Vettel put in a great in-lap that allowed him to stop for his Hard tyres and rejoin the race just as Gasly and Hamilton were blasting down the main straight. The first corner evens out the disadvantage of the pit exit, putting the cars on near equal terms as they shoot up towards Casino Square. Vettel was barely ahead of Gasly at the pit exit and needed all his Merc power unit could offer to hold the position. The two ex-Red Bull drivers were side-by-side till Turn 3 in the most exciting wheel-to-wheel racing action all weekend. The AlphaTauri had to concede ahead of the tight corners, allowing the Aston Martin to take P5. Gasly had the rest of the race to keep Hamilton behind in P7.
These pit stops and Bottas’ DNF had allowed Sergio Perez to climb up into P3 by Lap 32. Looks like the Bulls were going to be the last to pit as Carlos Sainz made his stop before starting Lap 33 and rejoining the race in P3. Verstappen pitted the following lap and rejoined the race in P1 with a comfy margin over Sainz. Perez made his stop the lap after, it was 0.8 seconds slower than his teammate, but he still managed to rejoin the race in P4, comfortable ahead of all contenders but still no closer to his first podium for Red Bull.
The race standings after the stops saw Verstappen leading the race from Sainz and Norris with no threat whatsoever from Mercedes. To secure that one extra championship point for the fastest lap, Hamilton pitted for Softs on Lap 68 of 78, comfortably ahead of Stroll behind him. The Brit had started seventh on the grid and should have been in P5 due to the two retirements ahead of him. Instead, he ended up losing two spots during the pitstop shuffle and was quite vocal about his frustrations over the team radio.
Even more unexpected than the Mercedes pitstop debacle was that there there was no Safety Car during the entire 2021 Monaco Grand Prix. Not even a virtual SC or any yellow flags for that matter. An incident-free race around one of the world’s trickiest street circuits! This also made for possibly the most boring F1 race of 2021 but the final podium result was so satisfying, one did not mind at all. (That’s how sick we are of watching Mercedes drivers on the podium every time)
Max Verstappen took the chequered flag to win the Monaco GP and took the lead in the driver’s championship, two firsts for the Dutchman and both had been long overdue. Carlos Sainz finished P2 to claim his first podium result with Ferrari (third overall) while his former teammate from McLaren crossed the line in P3, a result befitting that gorgeous Gulf livery. It was Lando’s second podium of the season, third overall, and what a track to do it on!
The Monaco podium was a beautiful mix of team colours with a Red Bull driver on the top step once again. Long time F1 fans were quick to see to notice that this result echoed of the 2011 Monaco GP, ten years ago. It was Vettel (for Red Bull) at the top, Fernando Alonso (for Ferrari) in P2 and Jenson Button (for McLaren Mercedes) in P3. A sign that times are finally changing? Or is that too hopeful from a race fan too tired of the Mercedes-Hamilton winning streak? Fingers crossed till the very end.
Sergio Perez’s strong result and P4 finish also allowed Red Bull to take the lead in the constructor’s championship for the first time in the sport’s turbo-hybrid era that started in 2014. It’s just by one point, but they’re in the lead nonetheless. If anything, it brings the teams back onto even terms for the next few races where some suit Red Bull and some suit Mercedes.
Vettel was able to score his first points for Aston Martin with a strong result, finishing P5. The former Monaco winner was in good form all weekend and it would be exciting to see if he can carry the momentum for the upcoming races. Lance Stroll made it a double points finish for the team as he crossed the line in P8. The Canadian driver became a bit of an internet meme on Sunday, through no fault of his own, as Monaco’s race director had cut to a replay of him instead of broadcasting the battle for P5 between Vettel and Gasly. Despite near misses at the exit of the swimming pool chicane, it was a good performance from Stroll who had started from 13th on the grid.
Gasly and Hamilton finished as they started, P6 and P7 respectively. While neither was able to benefit from the non-finishers, it was another good result for the AlphaTauri driver who continues his point-scoring run and had the task of keeping the No.44 Merc behind him. Thanks to the extra point for the fastest lap, Hamilton is only 4 points behind Verstappen in the driver’s championship. The race win tally so far stands at 3 to Lewis and 2 to Max.
Alpine scored some points with Esteban Ocon finishing P9, getting ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi using pit strategy. Fernando Alonso wasn’t able to recover from the poor qualifying and ended his race in P13. Alfa Romeo got their first points of the season thanks to Giovinazzi’s P10 finish and Kimi Raikkonen crossed the line just behind in P11.
Daniel Ricciardo had an awful weekend with a poor qualifying and then a difficult race as he could not get past the Alfa Romeos in front of him. He also had issues finding pace as he did not make any pitstop gains and lost two spots instead. Possibly the roughest part of his Sunday was being lapped by his teammate Lando Norris who finished the race on the podium.
It’d been a similarly bitter-sweet weekend for Ferrari. Despite their surprising jump in pace all weekend with Pole position and Carlos’ P2, Charles did not even get to start the race. The team later revealed that the problem with Leclerc’s car was a crack in a driveshaft hub that failed on the way to the grid. There will be many questions regarding how this issue got missed when Ferrari mechanics spent so much time checking the gearbox to make sure it was fit to race. At first, they were not even sure if the crack was related to Saturday’s crash. Further investigation revealed that it was, and the reason they didn’t check the left-side hub? It is not part of the checks done for that kind of impact since it was on the other side of the car that hit the barriers during qualifying. While Ferrari’s mistake seems unsurprising in their form over the last couple of years, they’re not the only team leaving Monaco with lots of homework to do outside of the paddock.
Even though F1 is heading to another street circuit in a couple of weeks, the Baku layout offers a mix of overtaking and crashing opportunities. The main straight is one of the longest ones in the calendar and will allow for many overtakes into Turn 1. With walls for imposing track limits and tight turns at the end of fast sections, expect a fair few to mess up their braking and break some suspension or at least a front wing.
While it is uplifting to see such a tight title battle for the 2021 season, there are still 17 races to go (assuming a full calendar is achievable despite Covid complications). The tables can turn quite easily, and there is one man who will end up playing a key role in this: Sergio Perez.
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- M. Verstappen Red Bull Racing Honda — 1:38:56.820
- C. Sainz Ferrari +8.968
- L. Norris McLaren Mercedes +19.427
- S. Perez Red Bull Racing Honda +20.490
- S. Vettel Aston Martin Mercedes +52.591
- P. Gasly AlphaTauri Honda +53.896
- L. Hamilton Mercedes +68.231
- L. Stroll Aston Martin Mercedes +1 lap
- E. Ocon Alpine Renault +1 lap
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +1 lap
- K. Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +1 lap
- D. Ricciardo McLaren Mercedes +1 lap
- F. Alonso Alpine Renault +1 lap
- G. Russell Williams Mercedes +1 lap
- N. Latifi Williams Mercedes +1 lap
- Y. Tsunoda AlphaTauri Honda +1 lap
- N. Mazepin Haas Ferrari +3 laps
- M. Schumacher Haas Ferrari +3 laps
- V. Bottas Mercedes DNF
- C. Leclerc Ferrari DNS