Sergio Perez won a chaotic Monaco Grand Prix in mixed-conditions after polesitter Charles Leclerc conceded the lead in a series of strategic bungles.
The race started 65 minutes late thanks to a burst of heavy rain during the start procedure, and race control got action underway with a rolling start behind the safety car to keep the field on the full wet tire.
Leclerc led Carlos Sainz, Perez, and Max Verstappen easily at the start, but the track was drying quickly, and the timing of the switch to intermediates was looming as the major flashpoint of the race.
Pierre Gasly was first to sample the intermediate rubber, and the Frenchman was flying after a handful of laps spent bringing the tires in.
The leading four cars had enough of a buffer to the midfield to afford some thinking time, and Perez was the first among them to make the switch, pitting on lap 16.
Ferrari thought it had the time to respond with Leclerc and left the Monegasque driver out for two laps before responding, with Verstappen following him in, but it was a mistake. Perez had been so rapid on his second lap that he turned an eight-second deficit to Leclerc into a four-second advantage and was suddenly ahead.
Sainz was left out in the lead, and the Spaniard was rebuffing calls to pit for intermediates, adamant that a straight switch to slicks could be achieved.
A gaggle of backmarkers thought the same on lap 19 and 20 and were clearly faster on slicks, so on lap 21 Sainz was brought in for a set of hards. Leclerc was called in to, putting both cars on the same strategy.
But it proved a second strategic mistake for Leclerc. Perez and Verstappen were still quick on their used intermediates, particularly given the warm-up required for the hard tire, and when the Red Bull Racing drivers stopped on the following lap Perez had jumped Sainz for first – the Spaniard got stuck behind Nicholas Latifi in the first sector, costing him time – and Verstappen had moved up to third ahead of Leclerc.
Leclerc fumed over team radio, but he was about to get a third opportunity to find his way back onto the podium, when Mick Schumacher suffered a monster crash at Swimming Pool.
The German’s car swapped ends exiting the first of the two chicanes and spun into the barriers at the far end of the complex with enough speed the car ripped in two, the gearbox and rear axle splitting from the chassis.
Schumacher emerged unscathed, but the race was suspended for barrier repairs.
Ahead of the restart Ferrari banked on keeping both drivers on their hard tires while the Red Bulls switched to fresh mediums, the hope being that in the cooler conditions on a green track the yellow-marked rubber might start graining before the end of the race.
At first it seemed unlikely to come to anything, but in the final 10 minutes of the time-certain race Perez started struggling with the rubber, and Sainz was suddenly harassing him, with Verstappen and Leclerc in turn closing onto the Spaniard’s gearbox.
The quartet spent the final eight laps split by around two seconds, but Perez was inch-perfect with his car placement, particularly at the hairpin, where he was struggling to get the car rotated and launched off the curb.
Absorbing the pressure flawlessly, Perez ground out the third win of his career and an emotional first in Monte Carlo.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “As a driver you dream of winning here – after your home race there’s no other more special weekend to win.
“The way we did it, we made it just a bit harder for ourselves in the end.
“To not make any mistakes, to bring it home, but to keep Carlos behind wasn’t easy.”
Sainz was disappointed to have a shot at victory slip through his fingers at the pit stop.
“I felt like we did everything we had to do out there,” he said. “We stayed patient on the wets, we took the right decision.
“You can understand the frustration because a clean out-lap would’ve secured me the race win today, but that’s how it is sometimes.”
Max Verstappen was a satisfied third, largely for having kept Leclerc behind him to stretch his championship advantage.
“I think as a team we did a really good job with the strategy to basically get ahead of the Ferraris, and I think as a whole team we can be very pleased with the Sunday,” he said.
“I think we executed it well, and I extended my points lead, which I didn’t expect last night, which is a positive.”
Leclerc was gutted to turn pole into fourth, and he had to be calmed down over team radio by team boss Mattia Binotto after the race.
“No words,” he said over team radio on his cool-down lap. “The season is long, but we cannot do that.”
“We know, Charles,” Binotto replied in Italian. “Let’s concentrate. There are many races; we will make up for it.”
George Russell finished fifth after jumping Lando Norris at the first stop crossover from wets to inters, relegating the McLaren to sixth.
Fernando Alonso was a high-profile seventh after spending the second half of the race after the red flag lapping four seconds off the pace and splitting the bottom half of the field from the top six to try to ensure his medium tires would make it to the end of the time-certain race.
Lewis Hamilton was unable to find a way past the pedestrian Alpine ahead of him and finished eighth, but it bit Alonso’s teammate, Esteban Ocon, too.
The Frenchman was handed a five-second penalty for hitting Hamilton in a botched defensive move at Sainte Devote earlier in the race, but thanks to the reduced pace he stood to lose three places and drop out of the points to 12th.
The penalty promoted Valtteri Bottas to ninth, a decent return after a difficult start to a weekend Alfa Romeo was expecting stronger points, with Sebastian Vettel moving up to 10th for the final point of the race for Aston Martin.
Pierre Gasly was also bumped up a place to 11th ahead of the penalized Ocon and the laboring Daniel Ricciardo.
Lance Stroll finished 13th ahead of Nicholas Latifi, with Zhou Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda completing the finishers.