The iconic Monaco race finally returned after a year away due to the pandemic. Expectations for overtakes and drama are not high in the Principality, meaning strategy became the most important focus of the 2021 race. There was disappointment for Leclerc once again and exceptional strategic decisions from Red Bull giving them their best result of the season.
Ferrari mistake ends race for Monaco’s Leclerc:
The drama started before the race had even begun. After crashing into the barrier at the second Swimming Pool chicane during Qualifying, the concerns over damage started. Ferrari were adamant following the incident that there was no serious damage but it became clear within seconds of leaving the pits that this was not true. Charles had an issue with the left drive shaft that ended his race before he even reached the grid. It has become clear that Ferrari didn’t check this, much to the disappointment of the Monegasque driver I’m sure. Many questions will be asked at the historic team to ensure this mistake doesn’t happen again. In the meantime, Monaco-born Charles will have to wait another year for a chance to even reach the chequered flag at his home race.
With Charles not filling the pole spot on the grid, Max Verstappen was promoted to P1 but was starting on the more difficult left hand side of the grid. This gave Bottas and Norris in P2 and P4 a good chance. Despite this, when the lights went out, Max had Bottas covered off and there started his start to finish lead of the race. Bottas slotted into P2, with Sainz rounding off the top 3. All 19 drivers survived the first lap and the race quickly became a procession of cars. There were no expectations that the race would be full of overtakes but not one occured on the track.
Pit strategy success and failure:
By Lap 29, Verstappen had built up a significant lead, with Bottas still unable to fight off Sainz behind him. With Norris being shown a black and white flag in 4th, the young Brit was a short distance behind, ensuring he did not receive a penalty. Then started the pit stops, and all the drama that came with them.
Of the main contenders, Hamilton was the first to pit, despite telling his team he was still happy with his tyres. This quickly proved to be the wrong strategy, with Hamilton failing to complete the overcut on Gasly and Vettel. To make matters worse, he also lost a place to Perez who was able to continue long into the race, coming out of the pits ahead of this group.
Norris, Gasly and Bottas were next to pit. While Gasly and Norris had smooth changes, Bottas’ change became a race ending disaster. The front right wheel nut had machined onto the car’s axle, leaving it completely stuck. It was still reported to be stuck on Monday morning, giving Mercedes some work to do to fix the problem.
Unlike Bottas, Verstappen and Sainz were able to pit safely and the race continued with little change for many laps.
The fight for P3:
With 10 laps to go, Norris made it clear that he was struggling with his tyres. Perez took this as a perfect opportunity to take the final place on the podium. The Mexican was able to close the gap to Lando but once again overtaking in Monaco proved too hard a task. Norris held onto the final step of the podium, alongside good friend and 2019/20 teammate Carlos Sainz who took P2. Max Verstappen continued his strong performance to take his first Monaco win (and podium more surprisingly). With this came the lead in the drivers championship standings, with Red Bull taking the lead in the team championship. A P4 finish from Checo and an appalling race weekend from Mercedes left them looking very strong.
Final Monaco results:
Sebastian Vettel finally got his season started properly with an impressive P5 finish after a very tight overtake on Gasly coming out of the pits. Hopefully this will kick start his season, particularly with another street circuit coming next in Baku. Gasly followed closely behind, picking up more solid points ahead of silly season and 2022 team changes.
Lewis Hamilton finished in a low P7, taking the championship lead away from him. He was able to claw back a single point with the fastest lap, leaving the gap between him and Verstappen at just 4 points. The season is really getting started and it’s increasingly exciting to watch. Stroll was able to finish P8, giving Aston Martin thier first double points finish of the season after a long wait. Ocon continued to outpace his teammate to finish P9, with Giovinazzi rounding out the top 10 after another impressive weekend from Alfa Romeo, with Raikkonen behind in P11.
Ricciardo is still clearly getting used to the car, being stuck behind so many cars following a poor qualifying performance. His teammate made it clear that he wasn’t far off the pace so everyone hopes we see Daniel back where he belongs close to the front next week.
Alonso finished off the pace again this week in P13. Despite this, with Ocon only P9, it was not a particularly strong week for the entire Alpine team. The Williams drivers followed him, performing as expected, with no issues for either driver in the slowly improving car.
Tsunoda was the next to finish in P16, ahead of the other two rookies. It became very clear how important experience is on this difficult Monaco circuit. But Tsunoda did well to keep up with the other drivers, which was not the case for Haas. Their car proved once again to be disastrously poorer than the others, with both drivers finishing 3 laps down, two more than any other driver.