Hamilton fumes as new faces fill the podium: 2021 Monaco Grand Prix report


Max Verstappen and Red Bull took the lead of both championships as Mercedes fell apart in Monaco

2021 Mionaco podium

The moment Charles Leclerc secured pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix is also the exact moment his weekend fell apart.

Ferrari insisted no risks would be taken with reliability, and the gearbox would be changed if necessary to give Leclerc the best chance of scoring points. But after checks on Saturday night and Sunday morning, the team was confident that wouldn’t be necessary, as no damage could be seen. The message was clear: “The Monégasque driver will start today’s race from pole position, as per the qualifying result.”

Only, he wouldn’t.

The pandemic might mean this was a Monaco Grand Prix light, with fewer spectators, fewer events and nowhere near the level of razzmatazz as usual, but it can’t lessen the sporting heartbreak of seeing a driver robbed of his big chance to win his home race for the first time.

It felt like all of the air had gone out of the race before it even began when Leclerc radioed back to Ferrari on his first lap out of the garage: “No, no, no no. The gearbox guys”. A few minutes of frenzied working on the car later and the first message to the FIA confirmed a pit lane start at best. Then it was final, and the pole-sitter was not starting the race at all.

“Whether it’s related to the crash or not, I don’t know,” Leclerc said. “In the garage it was very difficult to feel OK, but now I guess I’m getting used to this feeling here.

“I’ve never finished a race here. It’s a difficult one to take and I feel for the team. The mechanics checked everything and all the parts were fine, but then this happens and it’s just a shame for everyone.”

Prince Albert consoles Charles Leclerc after he was unable to start the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix

Prince Albert of Monaco consoles Leclerc before the start

With that confirmed, Red Bull’s Jonathan Wheatley asked FIA race director Michael Masi if he wanted all cars to move up one place on the grid, a request that was met with pretty short shrift even if it was a polite response. The cars would stay where they were, with Red Bull having been keen to switch Max Verstappen to the inside to cover off any potential attack from Valtteri Bottas.

The prospect of Leclerc v Verstappen into Turn One – and perhaps then for the full race – was so much more enticing than Verstappen v Bottas, although the latter two did provide some drama as Verstappen’s initial launch was not good compared to the Mercedes. Still, Monaco being Monaco, he was quick to chop across the track to block Bottas’ path, and that was pretty much that.

At least, it was from Verstappen’s point of view. When Bottas came in for his one and only pit stop – under more pressure from Carlos Sainz than with the hope of jumping the Red Bull – the front right wheel nut machined onto the axle and couldn’t be removed. The Finn could see shavings of aluminium flying from the front right, and like Leclerc, jumped out of his car early.

Valtteri Bottas in the pits during the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix

Bottas stranded as his right front wheel refuses to budge

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

“I don’t know what happened in the pitstop to be honest, I don’t know yet if it was human error or a technical issue,” Bottas said. “But, in any case, we need to learn from it. It’s a big mistake by us and it should not happen.”

Suddenly it was a Verstappen, Sainz and Lando Norris top three and, seeing as all three had stopped by that point, there was little chance of it changing.

But in a slightly quirky development, Leclerc’s failure to start from pole and Bottas’ retirement from second meant not a single driver was running lower than their grid slot. That didn’t mean they were all happy, though…

Prior to the Bottas drama, Mercedes was first to make a move by pitting Lewis Hamilton from sixth on the road, aiming to jump Pierre Gasly, who in turn was chasing Norris. But the two ahead of him put in quick in-laps, meaning Hamilton failed to get the expected undercut and immediately voiced his displeasure at his team.

That only got worse when Sebastian Vettel pitted a lap later and jumped both Gasly and Hamilton with a brave pit exit, holding on around the outside of the AlphaTauri at Massenet in a ballsy move missed by television cameras.

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And then Mercedes had to admit to Hamilton that he was about to lose another position, as Sergio Perez – who had been bottled up behind Vettel – pumped in some sensationally quick times before pitting and leapfrogging all three into fourth place.

“We lost a lot of points today for a really, really poor performance from the team, and definitely a little bit surprised by it,” Hamilton said. “But these things are sent to try us.”

Perez did close up on Norris in the only real battle of interest in the closing laps but predictably there was no overtaking possible, and the top three remained unchanged. It might not have been thrilling racing, but try bursting the bubble of the podium finishers who all made their first visit to the Monaco podium…

“It’s so special around here to win and also for me the first time on the podium here,” Verstappen said. “An amazing race. It’s a lot of laps around here and you really have to keep your focus. It’s really cool.”

“It’s always the dream to be on the podium here,” Norris added. “It’s extra special, I didn’t think it was going to happen but a bit of luck, I want to say some good driving and a good car all weekend. We’ve had a strong weekend so thanks to the boys and girls – this one is for them.

“It’s special here. I will cherish it.”

Lewis Hamilton, 2021 Monaco GP

Hamilton was almost lapped by Verstappen on a dismal day for him and Mercedes

Florent Gooden / DPPI

At the end of it all, Vettel’s fifth saw him voted Driver of the Day on what was a productive afternoon for Aston Martin, with a brave decision to start on the hard tyres and run long with Lance Stroll paying off as he gained five spots to finish eighth behind Hamilton. Stroll did have a scare after touching the yellow line at the pit exit – leading to an investigation – but he was cleared of wrongdoing by the stewards and retained his four points ahead of Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi.

Hamilton at least picked up an extra point for the fastest lap after a late second pit stop for soft tyres, but it was a tough day for Mercedes as Verstappen took the lead in the drivers’ championship and Red Bull now tops the constructors’ standings.

“We had 29 points to Red Bull and we’re one behind now, so that isn’t the prettiest of pictures and Lewis is behind too by four points,” Toto Wolff said. “But it’s clear the thing is going to go until the very end and I hope that these seven points are going to make the difference, so let’s just learn, move on and conquer again.

“Overall a weekend to forget. Well, actually, not forget, because tomorrow we’re going to put the finger in where it hurts most and we’re going to try to learn.”

Monaco doesn’t always deliver an enthralling race, but it might have just provided a pivotal one in the context of this season.