Pole-sitter Charles Leclerc failed to start due to gearbox issues sustained in his late qualifying crash
By Yuri Coghe
Max Verstappen became a Monaco Grand Prix winner and the leader of the F1 drivers’ championship for the first time in his career on Sunday.
The Dutch driver took advantage of pole-sitter Charles Leclerc retiring from the race before it even started due to gearbox issues sustained in his late qualifying crash on Saturday. Verstappen led every lap in his way to take the chequered flag from Tennis legend Serena Williams and claim his 12th career win – a first in F1’s most historic race.
“It’s so special to win (here at Monaco),” said Verstappen in the post-race interview. “It was all about looking after the tires. I was pretty much in control”.
Red Bull also rose to the top of the constructors’ standings for the first time in the hybrid era. The Austrian team has one more point than Mercedes after five races. Verstappen leads the drivers’ championship by four points.
Carlos Sainz Jr. equalled a career-high finish achieved in the 2020 Monza GP to finish second, giving Ferrari the chance to celebrate their first podium of the season after the disappointment of seeing Leclerc fail to start his home race.
“If you told me before coming to Monaco I would finish second, I would take it”, said Sainz. “Ferrari as a team need to proud about the car and the step we have made.”
Sainz’s former teammate Lando Norris followed in third, taking his McLaren to a second podium in five races. The Briton, fresh of signing a new contract with the team, now sits third in the driver’s championship. He lapped teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who is struggling to adapt to the new car after moving from Renault, on lap 52.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s always a dream to be on the podium here,” said Norris. “It’s special. I’ll cherish it.”
Speaking on his retirement, Charles Leclerc did not raise any fingers. Ferrari had the option to change his gearbox system and receive a five-place grid penalty but decided not to after close inspection before the race.
“In the garage, it was very difficult to feel ok,” said Leclerc, “but I guess now I’m getting used to this feeling here, unfortunately. I’ve never finished a race here – this year, I don’t start it. It’s a difficult one to take and I also feel for the team.”
Bottas retires, Hamilton struggles
The top three kept their starting order as Verstappen started second, Sainz fourth and Norris fifth. Valtteri Bottas, who started the race third, had to retire on lap 31 due to a failed pit stop as Mercedes crew members couldn’t get the screw off his front right tire in a rare incident.
The German team had a race to forget as reigning champion Lewis Hamilton was only able to finish seventh. He failed to get pace out of the car during the whole weekend and lost positions during the first pit stop window. He then added a late fastest lap to bring the championship gap to Verstappen from five to four points.
Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly was able to hold off Hamilton for a large part of the race to finish P6. The French driver has now finished in the points in the last four races. His teammate Yuki Tsunoda, 16th in Monaco, is facing the exact opposite situation. He impressed in the season opener at Bahrain but failed to finish in the top 10 since.
Sergio Pérez rose from ninth to fourth in the race by combining on-track pace with a good pit-stop strategy. The Red Bull driver chased down Norris for third place at the end but finished 1s063 behind the 21-year-old Briton.
Sebastian Vettel was named driver of the day after rising from eighth to fifth and enjoying a great move on Gasly in the process of claiming his best result for his new team. His teammate, Canadian Lance Stroll also made it to the points, finishing eighth to place both Aston Martin drivers in the top 10 for the first time in the season.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, ninth, continued to edge teammate Fernando Alonso by finishing four positions ahead of the Spaniard. Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi finished tenth and claimed his team’s first season point. The Italian driver finished one position ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
Only Williams, who celebrated their 750th F1 race during the weekend, and Haas didn’t earn points in Monaco – and in the whole season. George Russell and Nicholas Latifi finished 14th and 15th for the British team, while the American team saw Nikita Mazepin, 17th, finishing ahead of Mick Schumacher, 18th, for the first time.
The next round of the 2021 Formula 1 season takes place in Azerbaijan Grand Prix on the June 4-6 weekend.
See the full Monaco Grand Prix results below: