The Saturday showdown: 2021 Monaco Grand Prix what to watch for


After missing out in 2020, F1 returns to Monaco for a pivotal weekend in the early stages of the world title battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen


Hamilton held off Verstappen in 2019 for the win. Will 2021 be a repeat?

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There is no other qualifying Saturday quite like the one ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix.

Q3 around the streets of Monte Carlo separates the brave from the brilliant and this weekend is set to be a mightily close scrap for pole position between the two title contenders and only race winners so far in 2021.

Lewis Hamilton arrives in Monaco on the high of a third win of the season, his fifth consecutive Spanish GP triumph as Mercedes pulled off a strategic masterclass to outfox Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

The caveat is that Verstappen has been the faster of the duo in Q3 this season, it’s his mistakes that have prevented him from adding to his pole position in Bahrain, rather than a lack of one-lap pace.

There is nowhere to hide though this weekend. If he is to overstep the boundaries once again, it’ll be into the unforgiving barriers, allowing Hamilton and Merc a free run at victory. Or will it be Hamilton that pushes too hard to overcome the deficit to the RB16B’s single performance?

Here are a few things to keep an eye on ahead of this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.


Do not miss qualifying

Lewis Hamilton, 2021 Spanish GP

All of the attention will turn to these two on Saturday in the shootout for pole

Xavi Bonilla / DPPI

If there was one weekend you want to be at home on a Saturday afternoon rather than the Sunday, it’s for the Monaco Grand Prix.

There is nothing quite like watching an F1 car on the ragged edge being chucked around the famous circuit at maximum attack in pursuit of a special pole position.

This season’s title battle between Hamilton and Verstappen has only added to the intrigue. Hamilton’s first Monaco win came in treacherous conditions and after a love tap and subsequent puncture back in ’08.

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He has since won again on two further occasions while Verstappen is yet to take the top step in the Principality. The Dutchman has pushed the boundaries too far before, crashing out of FP3 ahead of qualifying. It’s a mistake he can ill afford as the chaser in the title race.

The leader into the first corner is the likely winner this weekend and it’s the Red Bull driver who needs to set a marker down if he is to get back on terms with his rival. The gap in the standings is currently 14 points in Hamilton’s favour.

Mercedes has boasted a race-pace advantage but that will count for a lot less with overtaking being so limited.

Is there an outside bet for pole? Valtteri Bottas could get amongst the fight. He has one pole so far this year and has been on the front row here before but a maiden Monaco pole would be a shock result considering he’s been a forgotten man so far this year.


McLaren versus Ferrari

Daniel Ricciardo, 2021 Portuguese GP

The McLaren/Ferrari fight has been close but the British team leads the way

Xavi Bonilla / DPPI

The McLarens will look a little bit different this weekend than usual with its McLaren X Gulf collaboration and one-off livery, but the rivalry with Ferrari is a familiar one and could be the most intriguing outside of the fight for pole.

Lando Norris has spearheaded the Woking team into an early championship lead, though the team’s constructor standings advantage was cut to just five points after Ferrari enjoyed a more competitive Spanish GP last time out.

Charles Leclerc has shown time and time again he can outperform his car in qualifying to put it ahead of where it really should be on the grid while Norris has made errors to leave him languishing in the bottom end of the top 10.

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Team-mate Daniel Ricciardo has been slowly acclimatising to his new car but showed signs of progress in Spain, finishing P6. Carlos Sainz has probably settled quicker than the Australian in his new team but the Spaniard is yet to finish ahead of Leclerc in a race.

The final technical sector at the Circuit de Catalunya Barcelona is usually a small preview into potential pace at Monaco and Ferrari was the quicker of the two teams last race weekend, which means McLaren is up against it to hold its Constructors’ Championship advantage.

Will the new lick of paint provide some luck? Or will Ferrari move clear in the race for third?


Mr Saturday

george russell, 2021 monaco gp

Russell has made it to Q2 at every race this season. Will he make it five for five in Monaco?

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George Russell has made it out of Q1 at each of the four races so far this season, with the Portuguese GP 11th place on the grid his best of 2021 so far.

In recent years, Williams has not enjoyed the Monaco Grand Prix whatsoever. A decent effort from Sergey Sirotkin in 2018 is the team’s best result in the last three years, the Russian put his car 13th on the grid but the team could only manage 16th and 17th on race day.

On F1’s last visit to the Principality in 2019, Williams filled out the last row of the grid and was over half a second down on the nearest car of Lance Stroll at the end of qualifying. Since then the team has made strides forward with its car and the FW43B is a step quicker than last year’s effort on the evidence so far this season.

With Haas struggling as the season’s backmarker team, could Russell spring a surprise and set up the chance of his first F1 points with Williams? He said that finding a couple of tenths of a second in qualifying could put him into the top 10.

Should he qualify high enough up the grid and with a slice of luck extending outside of the doors of the Monaco casinos, he might just be a big winner this weekend.


F2 is back

Anthoine Hubert, 2019 F2 Monaco Sprint

Anthoine Hubert was victorious on F2’s last visit to Monaco

Joe Portlock - Formula 1Formula 1 via Getty Images

If you want a little bit more Monaco racing bang-for-your-buck, F2 is back on the support bill this weekend after a few races off and Formula 3’s turn in Spain.

There are two sprint races as well as the main feature race to take that will surely have some overtaking sprinkled in throughout to make up for the Formula 1 offering on Sunday.

Alpine junior driver Guanyu Zhou leads the standings after Bahrain with his win and podium from the first three races. Red Bull junior duo Liam Lawson and Jehan Daruvala are his closest challengers in second and third respectively.

Despite not winning yet, Daruvala’s consistency in the opening weekend means he’s ahead of the third race winner of the season, Oscar Piastri.

The 2020 F3 champion won the second sprint race in Sakhir but contact in the final stages of the feature race left him down in 19th place.

F2 has a history of carnage around the streets of Monaco as well as chaotic strategy and surprise winners. This weekend could be in the same vein with the title race still in its infancy.