The drama in Monaco began even before the race start as polesitter Charles Leclerc – given a clean bill of gearbox health by Ferrari on Sunday morning after his crash in Q3 yesterday – suffered an issue with his left-hand driveshaft on his laps to the grid. Ferrari’s Sporting Director Laurent Mekies duly radioed to FIA Race Director Michael Masi half an hour before the Grand Prix was due to get under way to say that Leclerc would not be starting the race – Leclerc’s hometown curse appearing to strike again.
That meant Max Verstappen lined up at the head of the field in front of a broken-hearted partisan crowd, with Valtteri Bottas bumped up to P2, while Ferrari’s sole hopes of a result rested on Carlos Sainz, now in third.
As the lights went out, Verstappen’s rear wheels slewed off the line as he unleashed his Honda power unit’s torque – but the Dutchman got going enough to move aggressively over on Bottas, using the threat of Armco to arrest the Finn’s progress and maintain his advantage, the order staying the same as Bottas led Sainz, McLaren’s Lando Norris, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton through Sainte Devote.
Verstappen breezed to his maiden Monaco Grand Prix win over Sainz and Norris and Verstappen also now claims the lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time in his career after Hamilton finished a disappointing P7. It was Verstappen's second win of the season and his first podium in Monaco.
“You always want to win this Grand Prix,” said Verstappen. “I remember when I was very little already watching this Grand Prix. Standing here I’m very proud but I’m also thinking ahead it’s still a very long season. Of course, it’s a great way to continue.”
In an off-day for world champions Mercedes, a disgruntled Hamilton could do no better than seventh (the same position he started) to lose his lead of the championship to Verstappen – who now heads Hamilton 105 points to 101 – while Bottas had even worse luck, after a stuck right-front tire in his pit stop forced him into retirement.
That left former McLaren teammates Sainz and Norris P2 and P3, Sainz now at Ferrari salvaging the day for the Scuderia to take his first podium in red, while some brilliant strategy from Red Bull allowed Sergio Perez to overcut his way from P8 to P4 in the pit stops.
Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel did similar to take P5, for by far his and his team’s best finish of the year – Vettel maintaining his record of never being classified lower than P5 in a race he’s finished in Monaco – while AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was able to hold off Hamilton’s Mercedes to claim P6, Hamilton salvaging a bonus point for fastest lap after a late second stop.
Starting on hard tires from P13 paid dividends for Lance Stroll, who made a 58-lap stint work to claim P8 and add to Aston Martin’s joy in Monte Carlo. He finished ahead of the Alpine of Esteban Ocon, while Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi took Alfa Romeo’s first point of the season after claiming 10th.
For Verstappen, though, Leclerc’s DNS in Monaco provided him with a golden opportunity – and the Dutchman didn’t falter, defiantly hitting back in the title fight against Hamilton, and adding a Monaco Grand Prix win to his CV for good measure.
It’s from one city circuit to another, as F1 heads to Baku for the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas took pole and the win back in 2019 when F1 last raced here – but who will triumph in 2021?