Max Verstappen Turns F1 Title Chase Upside Down With Monaco GP Win
One has to go back to the British Grand Prix of 2018 to find the last race when the Mercedes team and a Mercedes driver wasn’t leading the Formula 1 World Championship, such has been the team’s domination in recent seasons.
Back then it was Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari that were the Brackley-based team’s primary rivals.
Today it is Red Bull and Max Verstappen leading the way. And while Verstappen’s dominant victory in Monaco might not have been the most exciting event, it means that there is a very real battle for the World Championship this year.
Verstappen led from lights to flag in Monaco on Sunday, with his teammate Sergio Perez getting three-quarters of a lap as the race leader after Verstappen had pitted, although this didn’t show up on the lap charts because Perez stopped a lap after Verstappen.
The big story of the day was the failure of Mercedes to mount a serious challenge. World Champion Lewis Hamilton was never a contender and lost ground in the race with a strategy call that cost him two places, while Valtteri Bottas ran second at the start, never looking a threat before retiring with a wheel nut failure during his pit stop.
The Ferrari challenge evaporated before it even began as the pole sitter Charles Leclerc was unable to take the start after it was found that he had a driveshaft problem as the teams were preparing to go to the grid. That left Verstappen to take the lead at the start and he drove a flawless race. It was Verstappen’s first victory in Monaco, and he finished ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and McLaren’s Lando Norris.
The final margin of victory was a comfortable 8.9 seconds. Just seven cars finished on the lead lap.
It was anything but a good race for the fans.
“You always want to win this Grand Prix,” Verstappen said. “I remember when I was very little, you always want to win this one. I’m very proud, but I’m also thinking ahead, it is a very long season. His 12th career victory gave him a four-point advantage over Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship, and Mercedes is a point behind Red Bull in the Constructors’ after a fourth place finish from Sergio Perez.
“With Lewis, we just didn’t have the pace in the car. It’s as simple as that,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. “The undercut looked like the only feasible way of clearing (Pierre) Gasly, and there wasn’t any mistake, the out lap was good, the pit stop was OK, but it just wasn’t enough.”
Hamilton was philosophical about the defeat.
“It’s through our losses and our mistakes that we always grow stronger,” Hamilton said. “This has definitely been a poor weekend overall in terms of our performance, but this team has shown time and time again, how we come back fighting. There’s no finger pointing, we win and we lose together. We have 18 races left and there’s a long way to go in this fight.”
Monaco 2021 will not go down in history as great entertainment. Every so often you get a Formula 1 race that is impossible to get excited about. Trying to make it sound exciting simply reflects badly on those who make a fuss. Past Monaco Grand Prix winners Mark Webber and David Coulthard were working together on air for Britain TV Channel 4, and even they found it hard to find things to talk about.
“Thank God there were three of us in the commentary box,” Webber said. “If you’d been calling that race one your own, you’d slit your wrists!”
While the race was undoubtedly exciting for the drivers, it was a complete bust as far as spectator excitement was concerned, unless follow-the-leader is your idea of fun.
It was a race that was all about track position and often faster cars were stuck behind slower ones, but there was no way through.
We can only speculate about what might have happened if Leclerc had started the race. His rivals would have been all over him. But would they have been able to pass? The cars are so closely matched these days that it is almost impossible to pass on a track without any space to mount a challenge.
Monaco is about the casino, super yachts, princesses, money and fast cars. Grand Prix cars. Every year it transforms itself from a sleepy tax haven into a vague approximation of a Formula 1 racing circuit.
A vague approximation? Well, in all honesty, the track is really not the most sensible place to run a motor race. But that doesn’t mean that Monaco isn’t exciting. For a first-time viewer it is astonishing. Something to see and marvel at; something to bore the folks back home about.
It really is incredible to see F1 cars being used like pinballs, leaping from bump to bump, glancing barriers, bucking and roaring to stay on the track. Monaco is a place for the brave and committed and the skills is amazing.
There have been some tremendous races in Monaco over the years but sometimes the cars mean that the race becomes a procession. Can anything be done to make this 92-year-old venue better? F1’s managing director of motorsports Ross Brawn says that he doesn’t think that different tires or strategies would have made much of a difference.
“We’ve got new cars next year and it will be interesting to see what comes from that,” he told Autoweek. “Monaco is a brilliant event, but we all know the limitations of the track. Monaco is Monaco and it’s fantastic. We will take a look at it but it won’t be the first time that people have done that and they haven’t come up with a solution so far. We do have tools now. We have built a simulation tool and and overtaking tool and we will certainly have our people take a look at it to see if there is anything, but it is pretty challenging.”
Brawn doesn’t think it is bad for Formula 1.
“This demonstrates how you can build a huge spectacle around a race. It’s a great event with a massive history, massive atmosphere. It’s a race that every driver wants to win. It’s just a different sort of racing and I don’t think that this variety is a problem.”
In a fortnight, F1 will be on another street track, in the Azerbaijan capital Baku. It’s wide and fast and so far has produced some tremendous races. The track design makes that possible.
Monaco did one thing that was very good for F1. It turned the World Championship race on its head.
“Any World Championship that goes to and fro between drivers and drivers is good,” Brawn says. “I think we’re in for a fantastic year.”
F1 Monaco Grand Prix Results
Constructors’ Championship Standings
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