Max Verstappen has taken the lead of the Formula 1 World Championship for the first time in his career after dominating the Monaco Grand Prix while title rival Lewis Hamilton struggled to a seventh-place finish.
Red Bull Racing’s Verstappen qualified second behind Charles Leclerc but gained a place before the race even started when Ferrari withdrew the Monegasque from the grand prix with a driveshaft problem related to his Q3 crash the night before.
The Dutchman aced his getaway from de facto pole to claim the lead, slicing defensively to the right to block the fast-starting Valtteri Bottas on the way to the first turn, and controlled the race thereafter, leading every lap of the grand prix in an imperious reassertion of his championship credentials with a four-point lead.
He'll never forget this day#MonacoGP 🇲🇨 @Max33Verstappen pic.twitter.com/eJJpEBpqUC
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 23, 2021
“It’s of course so special around here to win and also for me the first time on the podium here,” he said. “It’s a lot of laps around here and you really have to keep your focus, but it’s really cool.
“Of course you always want to win this grand prix. When I’m standing here of course I’m very proud, but I’m mostly thinking ahead — it’s a very long season.”
Bottas promised to challenge Verstappen for victory, if not on track then via the pit lane, but the Finn’s race began unraveling on Lap 20 when he started struggling with his tires, opening the door to the pursuing Carlos Sainz to pressure him for position.
Mercedes responded by stopping Bottas early, but the tire change went catastrophically wrong when the right-front wheel gun machined the wheel nut onto its axle, rendering it immobile.
Bottas was forced into retirement, in turn bumping Sainz into what became a comfortable second place for Ferrari. It was the Spaniard’s best result in red overalls and the team’s highest finish since last year’s Austrian Grand Prix.
“If you had told me before coming to Monaco I’d finish second, I would have definitely taken it,” he said. “I feel really good with the car today, and the team deserved at least a podium
“I think Ferrari as a team need to be proud of the car and the step they’ve done this year.”
There was more misfortune to come for Mercedes. Hamilton had been running an unimproved sixth when he stopped on Lap 29 to try to undercut the slower AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly ahead, but while the Briton couldn’t warm his new hard tires quickly enough, Gasly was able to pump in a rapid in-lap to emerge from pit lane still ahead.
Worse still, the pair’s stops gifted Sebastian Vettel, previously trailing Hamilton, clear air for two laps, allowing the Aston Martin driver to jump both when he rejoined the race on Lap 31.
As a final blow, the series of stops allowed Sergio Perez — who had been behind all three drivers in the second Red Bull — to run until Lap 35, during which time he put the hammer down unhindered and briefly inherited the lead from Verstappen on his way into pit lane.
He leapt from seventh to fourth ahead of Vettel, Gasly and the bewildered Hamilton, who voiced his frustration over team radio.
As a consolation Hamilton was stopped late without losing a place in order to claim a point for fastest lap, but it wasn’t enough to prevent him from falling four points in arrears in the drivers’ standings. Bottas’ retirement also helped Red Bull Racing to take a one-point lead in the constructors stakes.
Perez was rapid on the hard tire in the final stint and closed to within two seconds of the third-placed Lando Norris in the final 20 laps. He harassed the Briton for position, but the McLaren driver’s defense was steadfast to claim the race’s final podium place.
“I didn’t think I’d be here today,” he said. “It’s down to these guys [the team] … a bit of luck and I want to say some good driving — and a good car all weekend.”
Perez finished fourth ahead of Vettel, Gasly and Hamilton, and Lance Stroll was superb in eighth to return Aston Martin’s first double points finish of the season. The Canadian started 11th and rose to eighth before making his first and only stop from hard to soft tires on Lap 38. By then Stroll had built such an advantage over ninth that he stopped and rejoined without losing a place.
Esteban Ocon was ninth, the Alpine man gaining a place on the 10th-placed Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi via an undercut on lap 37.
Kimi Raikkonen finished close behind in 11th in the other Alfa, ahead of McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo in an anonymous afternoon for the 2018 Monaco winner. The Australian dropped two places to 13th off the line and couldn’t generate any forward momentum thereafter, and he was eventually lapped with a wave by his podium-getting teammate.
Fernando Alonso finished 13th after a strong first lap from 16th on the grid. He led home Williams teammates George Russell and Nicholas Latifi in the historic British team’s 750th grand prix.
Yuki Tsunoda finished 17th for AlphaTauri, while Nikita Mazepin finished ahead of Haas teammate Mick Schumacher for the first time all season — albeit by only 1.4s after leading the German, who was afflicted with an engine problem, by more than half a minute at around half-distance.