Monaco Max!

Following three wins to one for Lewis Hamilton in the first four Grands’ Prix of the year, Max Verstappen charged into the lead of the 2021 F1 Drivers’ Championship with a virtually uncontested first Monaco Grand Prix victory, ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and McLaren’s Lando Norris. Vestappen’s victory in Monaco follows his only other win this season at Imola, and Hamilton’s victories in Bahrain, Portugal and Spain. 

Verstappen claimed his first victory on the streets of Monaco, and Red Bull’s fifth Monaco title – a first with Honda as engine supplier. The flying Dutchman’s victory also marked Honda’s first win in Monaco since Ayrton Senna won in the principality in 1992. And with Red Bull Honda leading the 2021 F1 Constructors’ Championship, this is also the first time that Honda has led the championship since 1991.

Following high drama during qualifying, reminiscent of Michael Schumacher “parking” his Ferrari in the Rascasse corner in 2006, a Verstappen and Red Bull Honda victory seemed highly unlikely. In this instance, Charles Leclerc, also in a Ferrari, crashed out after securing pole position, preventing other drivers from setting a quicker lap time. However, on Leclerc’s outlap before the race, he reported an issue and returned to the pit lane, ending his race before it had started. Verstappen was promoted to pole position and when the lights went out he muscled his way ahead of the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas before the first corner at the end of the short pit straight. Max led the procession, followed closely by Bottas, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, and McLaren’s Lando Norris.

After a steady and uneventful opening stint, the race presented the only opportunity for drivers to make up positions as the pit stop window opened. Lewis Hamilton triggered the pit stops toward the end of lap 29, followed by Bottas a lap later. Disaster struck for the Finn as his pit crew could not remove a wheel nut, forcing him to retire from the race.

Vestappen then made his first and only stop, and despite some jostling for positions behind him, drove the perfect race to finish the race in first place, joined on the podium by Carlos Sainz in second place for Ferrari and the young Lando Norris in third place for McLaren. Significantly, Lewis Hamilton ended in an unfamiliar seventh position, thereby allowing Verstappen and Red Bull Honda to take the lead in the championship battle. Verstappen leaves Monaco with a four-point lead over Hamilton with 105 points to 101, and Red Bull Honda has a one point lead over Mercedes with 149 points to 148 points.

“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,” said Max Verstappen following the race, wisely warning that Mercedes will return on the faster tracks that best suit their car, as opposed to the slow and winding streets of Monaco.

Next up will be the walled streets of Baku, albeit a much faster racetrack than Monaco, but certainly one of the most dangerous modern Formula One tracks, where the slightest lapse in concentration could spell disaster for any driver, and the dreaded safety car will no doubt come into play. 

2021 F1 Drivers’ Championship Standings

  1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 105
  2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 101
  3. Lando Norris (McLaren) 56

2021 F1 Constructors’ Championship Standings

  1. Red Bull 149
  2. Mercedes 148
  3. McLaren 80

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