Five talking points from a dull Monaco Grand Prix

23rd May 2021
Damien Smith

Even Max Verstappen seemed a little underwhelmed on Sunday. Sure, he was delighted to win the Monaco Grand Prix for the first time, but the Dutchman’s excitement was certainly well contained once he jumped from his Red Bull after a dominant performance. Perhaps it had all been a little too easy after one of the most lacklustre races at the principality in its long history. But it’s also true that the 23-year-old has his eyes focused firmly on the bigger prize: he now leads the world championship for the first time in his career, and he clearly has every intention of keeping that advantage to the end of this nip-and-tuck season.


Verstappen wins at the start

The moment Verstappen learnt that Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc wouldn’t be starting the race from his pole position, Max knew what an opportunity had been presented to him, especially with title rival Lewis Hamilton starting a disappointing seventh on the grid. Now with a clear run to Ste Devote from a second place on the grid that had effectively become pole, Verstappen had every intention of leading into the first corner and angled his Red Bull to the right to cut off Valtteri Bottas’s route to the lead. The Mercedes made the better start, but not to an extent that it could get up the inside of the Red Bull on the short run to the turn and Verstappen was away. The victory was never in doubt from there.

“It’s so special around here to win and it’s my first time on the podium here,” said Verstappen after his 12th career victory. “Amazing race. It’s a lot of laps – you really have to keep your focus, but it’s really cool. I’m very proud, but I’m also thinking ahead – it is a very long season.”


Bitter-sweet day for Ferrari

Carlos Sainz Jr. chased Verstappen home to finish a fine second for Ferrari, but the Spaniard admitted that “maybe it doesn’t taste as it should” after a weekend when he felt a first victory was in his sights. He’d qualified fourth, but felt certain it would have been much higher had Leclerc not crashed in the final moments of the Q3 session. The home hero was sitting on provisional pole at the time and when his right front tyre thumped the barrier at the swimming pool chicane, leaving him powerless to stop his Ferrari smacking the barrier hard on the exit, he sealed the top spot in uncomfortable and odd circumstances. But conspiracy theories that he’d pulled a fast one in the style of Michael Schumacher’s infamous ‘park’ at Rascasse in 2006 gained no traction. The car was too badly damaged for Leclerc’s shunt to be seriously considered a tactic. Still, that didn’t make it any less frustrating for Sainz or Verstappen, who turned his radio waves blue after looking on course to take the pole for himself until the red flags rudely curtailed the session.

Ferrari then took a crucial decision not to change the gearbox and incur the back-of-the-grid penalty that would have cost Leclerc his pole. That appeared to backfire in the run-up to the race when a problem with the right driveshaft, discovered on a reconnaissance lap, forced the 23-year-old not only off the front row but out of the race entirely. That hurt, although his good grace and the fact he was still there to congratulate Sainz on his second place at the end did him great credit. As for Carlos he ran third from the start, then inherited the runner-up spot when Bottas hit trouble in a race that simply fell apart for Mercedes-AMG.


A day to forget for the black cars

Toto Wolff’s team will be keen to put Monaco quickly behind it, but not before both of its drivers get some answers to what went so badly wrong in the principality.

Hamilton was out of sorts all weekend as he qualified on the fourth row, then failed to make progress on Sunday when his Mercedes engineers changed his strategy, only to see it backfire. He’d been under orders to conserve his soft Pirellis from the start to run long and keep life in the red-walled rubber for a sprint before his pit stop. But when the strategists spotted a gap in the traffic he could be dropped into, they brought him in earlier than he was expecting. The plan was to undercut Pierre Gasly running ahead of him, but when the AlphaTauri stopped a lap later the Frenchman rejoined still ahead of the seven-time world champion. Then to make matters worse, Aston Martin pulled off a blinding piece of work by helping Sebastian Vettel to leapfrog both. Red Bull and Sergio Perez compounded Hamilton’s misery by running a lap further into the race than Vettel and the Mexican jumped the lot of them to rise from his original ninth on the grid to a fantastic fourth. As for Hamilton, he was confused and angry at his team’s strategic fumble that despite the loss of Leclerc and Bottas ahead of him still left him finishing where he started.

As for Bottas, he just cannot catch a break this season. The Finn originally ran a close second to Verstappen, but then began to drop back into the clutches of Sainz as the stops approached. When he did come in the wheel gun working his right front threaded the nut and left the mechanics unable to remove the wheel. Race over in the most frustrating and calamitous manner for a team that is usually so slick in all its operations.


Another podium for Norris

Lando Norris continues to shine in what is turning into a stellar season for the young McLaren driver. As Daniel Ricciardo toiled out of the points in deepest frustration, the 21-year-old qualified a fine fifth in the team’s special one-off Gulf livery, then benefitted from the misfortune of Leclerc and Bottas to claim a podium third place, despite Lando complaining that his car was barely drivable on the hard tyres after his pit stop. The Briton had tears in his eyes during his post-race interview, then jostled with good pal Sainz as his former team-mate muscled in on his ‘moment’. It was great to see the pair share the podium, where Norris got the upper hand in their Ferrari (no relation) sparkling wine duel.


Not a great advert for F1 in Monaco

A good day, then, for Norris, Vettel and Gasly, plus a fine save from Perez who chased the McLaren to the flag. His efforts combined with Verstappen’s win has lifted Red Bull beyond Mercedes-AMG in the constructors’ standings by a single point. Meanwhile in the drivers’ table, Hamilton did at least claim the extra point for fastest lap after giving up the chase of Gasly and taking on a fresh set of soft tyres. It leaves him four points adrift of the new title leader ahead of the next street race on the calendar in Baku.

That one will almost certainly offer a better spectacle than the grand prix in Monaco. But then it couldn’t be much worse. Passing is always notoriously hard around these streets, but this time the only move of note was Mick Schumacher’s canny slide up the inside of surprised Haas team-mate Nikita Mazepin at the hairpin on lap one. For the rest of the afternoon, the cars circulated in procession, saving their tyre lives early on and leaving the stat that this was still the fastest Monaco GP on record utterly meaningless. Those who don’t care for its traditions and state F1 has long outgrown its most famous race only need to point towards the 2021 edition to bolster their argument.

Photography courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • F1

  • Monaco Grand Prix

  • Max Verstappen

  • Lando Norris

  • Red Bull

  • Mercedes-AMG

  • Ferrari

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