Two of the world’s greatest motor races, just a few hours apart. Monaco Grand Prix and Indianapolis Sunday is always one day of racing that simply cannot be missed, and this year the two races more than lived up to their billing.
1 Verstappen drives to win
We’ve heard doubt in Lewis Hamilton’s voice on the radio many times before, but this time he really didn’t seem to think he was going to make it. But, as he has 76 times before, the five-time world champion did what he had to do to claim his third Monaco GP victory and his first in the Principality from pole position.
But Max Verstappen was hunting hard to take it from him, and although as always the race in Monaco was the equivalent of riding a bicycle in your living room, there was palpable tension that kept us hooked to the finish.
Verstappen, being the man he is, had to have a go – and his dive for the lead at the chicane was a last-ditch attempt from a man who doesn’t race to score podiums. He already had a five-second penalty coming for his pitlane clash with Valtteri Bottas (which was down to his team for an unsafe release), so he chose to put it all on the line, surely mindful that he was racing a man who would know how to handle it.
Verstappen’s front right nudged Hamilton’s left rear, forcing the Mercedes to cut the chicane – but there was no case for penalties on either part. Hamilton survived and delivered what he believes was one of his best victories, on a medium compound tyre that had “zero rubber on it for the last 20 laps”, according to his boss Toto Wolff.
Meanwhile, Max had to accept losing not only second but even a podium, as the penalty pushed Vettel and Bottas up – but as we’ve already said, he won’t care too much about that. The win was his only target – and as usual, he gave us a great show by going for it.
2 Leclerc goes all or nothing, too
Comparisons between Verstappen and F1’s new young star, Charles Leclerc, are inevitable – especially on days like this.
On Saturday, Leclerc had been understandably dumbfounded by Ferrari’s latest error, after the team chose not to send the local hero back out for a second run in Q1. That left him powerless to stay in the game as others went faster, including team-mate Vettel – who effectively knocked Leclerc out of the session and out of contention for the weekend.
Leclerc is becoming increasingly frustrated in the face of Ferrari’s Keystone Kops routine this year – and it’s proving a big test of his maturity, in what is still only his second season in F1.
His determination to attack, voiced before the start, was understandable – but “driving angry” never usually ends well. Sure, his opportunistic moves on Lando Norris at the hairpin and Romain Grosjean at Rascasse were fantastic. The later accused Leclerc of “Kamikaze” tactics – but sorry, Romain: he caught you napping, and deep down you know it.
But a second attempt at the same move, this time on Nico Hülkenberg, backfired and contact left him with a puncture. It smacked of desperation, as was his refusal to slow down sufficiently to return the car to the pits, which left debris strewn around the track and enforced a safety car period. Leclerc was eventually forced to retire.
He’d promised as much and duly gave his all – but was left with nothing. Time now to put the disappointment behind him, keep his head and return to the kind of maturity that has (mostly) marked his short career so far.
3 Pagenaud wins the Indy 500
Like Hamilton in Monaco, Simon Pagenaud won from pole position to claim his first victory at The Brickyard, Penske’s 18th and France’s first since René Thomas in 1914. But this was no lights-to-flag exercise in tyre management.
Pagenaud found himself in an epic duel with 2016 500 winner Alexander Rossi, as the ex-F1 driver came on strong in his Andretti Autosport entry.
The pair swapped positions several times in a shootout over the final 13 laps, following a red flag to clear a multi-car shunt.
Rossi appeared to take the initiative two laps from home, only for Pagenaud to sweep back past on the penultimate tour to clinch a famous victory by just 0.2086sec. The traditional quart of milk sunk by the winner has surely never tasted so good.
4 Humiliation for McLaren and Alonso
Meanwhile, it was hard to fathom that Fernando Alonso didn’t even make the grid at The Brickyard, after McLaren’s embarrassing failure to give him what he needed last week to even qualify for the 33-car field.
The lack of preparation for a programme that was signed off many months ago was astonishing, with Zak Brown brazenly admitting to a list of unforgivable oversights and at the same time denying his company had been arrogant in its approach to the great race.
The errors included a late scrabble to source a steering wheel for the car for the team’s single test before Indy in Texas – and the car being painted the wrong shade of orange…
Ex-Force India team boss Bob Fernley, who joined McLaren to run the programme and has previous Indycar experience, left the team the day after the failure and appeared to carry the can, while Brown also made it clear that the partnering British Carlin team struggled to support Alonso’s effort while also running three other cars. It can’t be a coincidence that only one of the four made the race.
But Brown also admitted he was kicking himself for not keeping a closer eye on the effort, after prioritising what was happening in F1. No matter where he tries to shift the blame, he knows it all comes back to his door. As the boss, it always does.
With that in mind, what will McLaren’s Bahraini majority shareholders be thinking? Brown’s response to the Indy debacle was of a man feeling the heat. Meanwhile in Monaco.
Carlos Sainz Jr. finished a decent sixth, with Lando Norris only just out of the points in 11th. Progress has been made in F1, and for Brown that’s just as well. What happens over the course of the rest of this year might just be enough to save his job.