MEDIA RELEASE/McLaren Formula 1 Team - Main Photo: Supplied The McLaren Formula 1 team have…
It was a case of winners and losers throughout the grid at the 2021 edition of the Monaco Grand Prix. The streets of the principality came alive to the sights and sounds of Formula One for the first time in two years as the world continued to search for the new normal.
Max Verstappen’s day was as close to perfect as any driver could have imagined. A first victory at Monaco was rather surprisingly also the first time that the Dutch driver had climbed the podium in the royal viewing area. The win also saw Verstappen leapfrog Hamilton into the lead of the World Championship for the first time in his career,
Whilst it was sunshine and roses for Verstappen, it was a disastrous day for Charles Leclerc, Daniel Ricciardo and the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team.
Leclerc’s jubilation in gaining pole position for his home Grand Prix, a virtual golden ticket for the race victory, evaporated moments after driving onto the circuit for the trip to the grid.
“No, No! The gearbox guys,” Leclerc told his engineers as he eased down on the throttle of his Ferrari. The car never made it to the grid as Leclerc turned right and back into the pit lane. Ferrari engineers swarmed over the car, disassembled the bodywork and looked for the problem. The team identified the left drive shaft as the culprit. With the race start fast approaching, Leclerc was out of the car and his day was over.
It was a sudden end to a tumultuous 24 hours for Leclerc, who had driven his Ferrari to provisional pole position then crashed at the Swimming Pool with just under 20 seconds left in the session. The incident brought a premature end to qualifying and denied a number of drivers, including Max Verstappen, the chance to complete their final flying laps.
Ferrari elected not to change the gearbox which, despite some scarring to the external casing, showed no signs of damage to the internal components. The decision allowed Leclerc to avoid a grid penalty and thus maintain the prime position at the head of the field as the first Monegasque driver on pole at Monaco since Louis Chiron in 1936.
“In the garage, it was very, very difficult to feel OK,” Leclerc told Sky Sports as the race continued without him.“But yeah, 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, starting from pole.“It’s a difficult one to take. But I also feel for the team to be honest, the mechanics have done such a hard job yesterday to try and check everything.“The mechanics were finally a bit happy this morning to see that everything seems fine, and all of the parts were fine. And then this happened. It’s a shame for everyone.”
The absence of Leclerc elevated Verstappen to the head of the field, though Race Control kept the field in their grid order, which meant pole position remained vacant. It presented third placed Valtteri Bottas with a clear run to the first corner on the grippier side of the track, a potential advantage which was quickly snuffed out by Verstappen.
As the lights went out to start the Monaco Grand Prix, Max Verstappen immediately veered right to eliminate the potential for Bottas to sneak up the inside of the Red Bull on the run to Sainte Devote. Sainz and Norris maintained their positions while Pierre Gasly drove around the outside of Hamilton at the first corner to maintain his 5th place starting position ahead off the championship leader. It was not what the British driver had wanted from the start in what became the first of many problems for the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team throughout the race.
Daniel Ricciardo dropped two places to Lance Stroll and Kimi Raikkonen when pushed wide at Turn 1 which set the pattern for the Australian’s race. Both Hamilton and Ricciardo showed faster pace than those immediately ahead, but the narrow streets of Monaco, coupled with the width of the modern Formula One car, made passing virtually impossible. Despite suggestions over the team radio to pass the car ahead, both drivers knew all too well that pitstop strategies, mechanical issues or accidents were the only practical means of gaining a place in the race.
Lance Stroll made one of the few successful passing moves when he overtook Ocon on the approach to the hairpin on the opening lap. Ocon brushed the armco as Stroll moved ahead and was fortunate to avoid damage to his right rear tyre. Mick Schumacher also moved ahead of his Haas teammate at the same corner by using the kerb and pedestrian walkway as additional sections of race track to complete the manoeuvre.
Hamilton was the first of the lead group to stop on lap 30, with the team optimistic of overtaking Gasly in the process. The tactical decision fell short and Hamilton emerged from the pit lane just a few metres shy of the objective.
The result left Hamilton less than impressed by the decision, given the fact that he still felt that the soft tyres on his car were producing fast laps prior to the call to pit.
“How am I still behind him man? Come On!” Hamilton protested over the team radio. If he was unimpressed by that result, there was much worse to follow…
Sebastian Vettel stopped a short time later and used the extended pit lane exit route at Sainte Devote to get a straight run up the hill. The Aston Martin Cognizant driver ran wheel to wheel with Gasly before claiming 5th place.
“What just happened guys? I’ve lost two places,” A rather bemused and clearly frustrated Hamilton said to his team. They soon replied that Perez had yet to stop and looked likely to move ahead as well.
While Hamilton’s woes continued on track, teammate Valtteri Bottas’ day came to an early conclusion in the pit lane.
Bottas had entered the pits for his compulsory tyre change one lap after Hamilton. All appeared to be going to plan until it became apparent that there was an issue with the right front wheel. Despite numerous attempts to remove the wheel nut and a change of wheel gun, the red wall soft tyre and rim remained stuck on the #77 car. Bottas eventually climbed out bewildered at what had happened with the wheel nut now machined devoid of the edges needed for the rattle gun to gain a hold. The team later disclosed that the car was to return to the Teams Brackley base with the wheel still attached to the car.
There were no such issues for Max Verstappen when he made his stop on lap on lap 34. He returned to the circuit with a comfortable lead over Sainz and Norris and completed the remaining 44 laps to take the win 9 seconds clear of the Ferrari. Norris lapped teammate Ricciardo in the final stages of the race to take another podium for McLaren, while Perez, Vettel, Gasly, Hamilton, Stroll, Ocon and Giovinazzi completed the top 10.
“I’m super happy to win the Monaco Grand Prix,” Verstappen told Red Bull Media. “It’s such a tricky track and you need a smooth weekend so I’m very pleased with what we have achieved as a Team and of course with Honda. I just had to focus on my own race and make sure I had a clean start. Of course it all looked under control but to keep your focus for so many laps is the hardest part because it’s easy to relax when you’re in the lead and make a mistake, so you have to keep reminding yourself to leave your thoughts on the road and stay focused. I think pace wise, we were always in control because every time someone tried to push me in terms of lap time, we were able to respond and increase the gap. I’ve never been on the podium here and then the first time it’s a win, so it’s a bit of redemption for the other races I’ve had here. Looking ahead to Baku, Mercedes I think are still the ones to beat, they are very quick on the normal tracks. We are leading the championship and I hope of course to be there at the end of the season because that’s the most important thing so we cannot get carried away. But for now, a massive thank you to everyone in the factory and here at the track, we won the Monaco Grand Prix so let’s enjoy it.”
Lewis Hamilton was left unimpressed by the team strategy and subsequent result which saw him lose the championship lead to Verstappen.
“I don’t really feel like any pain,” Hamilton said (Eurosport 24/5/21).”Of course it’s not a great weekend but I’m not dwelling on it. I’m sure for Max it was a pretty chilled afternoon. For me personally, I’ve switched off. I’ll probably watch the highlights for a better understanding of where I lost potentially three places. Otherwise I’ll focus on something else.
“We underperformed as a team all weekend from the get-go.We win and we lose as a team and collectively it was not a good job from all of us across the board, and we don’t take it lightly, but there’s no point like getting all depressed. We’ve shown time and time again in the past that we can bounce back the next weekend, hence why there’s not too much stress.”
Daniel Ricciardo was also left to lament a difficult afternoon trapped behind an Alfa Romeo while Norris races towards the podium.
“This has just been a bit of a weekend to forget for me, unfortunately” Ricciardo told McLaren Media. “The race was always going to be tricky after a difficult qualifying session yesterday and that’s how it turned out. I struggled a bit at the start on the Medium and that pretty much decided our race. “The second stint on the Hard was encouraging and the lap-times really started to improve, but by that point there wasn’t much more I could do given how hard it is to pass here. I’ll just have to figure out what happened and just step away for a few days to switch off a little bit before going again in Baku.”
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