There’s talk – serious talk – that this might have been the last Monaco Grand Prix. Well, if so it signed off memorably.
It took around an hour to get underway amid a heavy rain storm on the eve of the intended 3pm start and wild confusion about procedures. Both the start and the restart — following a red flag for a heavy Mick Schumacher crash — were rolling ones after a few laps behind the safety car. The delays timed the race out at two hours, 13 laps short of its allocated distance.
What the rain also did was put in place circumstances which thwarted Ferrari and Charles Leclerc from translating their electrifying qualifying pace into what would surely have been a routine victory. Taking sure-footed and focused advantage of uncertainty on the Ferrari pitwall was Sergio Perez who delivered Red Bull a copybook victory.
The race’s shape
Because the start was behind the safety car, everyone was obliged to start on full wets. But by the time the storm had passed and there was delay as race control played things very conservatively, the track had dried sufficiently that inters were potentially way faster.
But this being Monaco, no-one apart from three gamblers at the back was prepared to pit early to get onto the faster tyre. So everyone locked everyone else into doing quite a few laps on the slower full wet.
In this first phase of the race Ferrari ran 1-2, with dominant pole man Leclerc leading, edging out a comfortable gap, with Carlos Sainz forming a great blockage to the following Red Bulls of Perez and Max Verstappen. Perez had out-qualified Verstappen for the second time this season, more at ease with its understeer traits around a track at which the RB18 struggled to get temperature quickly enough into the front tyres. Verstappen looked to have found a way around this in the final stages of Q3 by running more prep laps and was shaping up to leapfrog past Perez, and possibly Sainz too, when Perez crashed at Portier, Sainz collected him and with the pair blocking the track, the session was over. In hindsight, Perez’s shunt put in place the circumstances which won him the race, as the lead Red Bull and therefore best positioned to take advantage of those Ferrari errors.
Because the inter was so much faster than the wet, it was a close call if it was quicker – once there was enough field spread to consider pitting – to stay out on the wet until the track was ready for slicks (and thereby save a stop) or to switch to the inter, then the slick, using the inter’s greater performance to pay for the extra stop.
Sainz decided it would be better to stay on wets, the other three of the lead quartet all went for inters.
Where it went wrong for Ferrari
Perez was aggressively early onto inters, on lap 16. Prior to this, Leclerc was 8sec up the road from Perez and so Ferrari was not particularly concerned about the immediate undercut threat. They should have been. The intermediate was massively faster than the wet by this point and Ferrari had under-estimated this. In not bringing Leclerc in immediately, but two laps later, they lost him the race. Perez had comfortably undercut past.
But all wasn’t lost for Ferrari at this point. Sainz’s preferred policy of staying on the single stop onto slicks was a sound one. As relayed earlier, there was little difference between the two strategies. Leading the race, he pitted on the 21st lap, with Perez closing down fast but needing to make another stop to also get onto slicks.
Perez’s pace on his inters was still super-strong though and he gave it everything as he tried to overcut his way past. He was helped in this task by Nicholas Latifi who accelerated his Williams past Sainz as the Ferrari exited the pitlane and proceeded to hold it up until the beginning of the tunnel. As well as the circa 1.5sec this lost Sainz, it also prevented him getting good tyre warm up, slowing him further. Perez made his stop on the following lap and got out less than 1sec ahead. Now Ferrari had lost the race with both drivers.
Making things even worse, such was Sainz’s relatively slow pace on his in-lap on the tired wets that Leclerc – who Ferrari was planning on pitting on the same lap for his change from inters – caught up fast enough that he needed to be stacked, losing a couple of seconds. This enabled Verstappen to overcut him out of third place.
With the stops out the way, Perez was faultless for the remaining distance of the shortened race. There was another red flag, this time for Schumacher’s crashed Haas, and another rolling restart but no significant changes of order.
Far behind, George Russell narrowly took best of the rest after a race-long struggle with Lando Norris. Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon between them used their Alpines to thwart Lewis Hamilton from making any progress, Hamilton finishing between them on the road but with Ocon penalised 5sec for contact with the Mercedes.
A crazy edition of a crazy event – with Perez enjoying perhaps the greatest day of his long racing career. Ferrari blew it, but Perez applied the pressure which caused them to do that.