Max Verstappen’s routine Monaco Grand Prix win meant that, to the surprise of nobody, Formula 1′s most famous race was yet again a bit of a dull affair. But as the 2021 season continues to find different ways to entertain us, there’s still plenty to discuss afterwards. Red Bull getting one over on Mercedes after slipping back in the title fight has reignited that battle, Verstappen vs Hamilton has a nice bit of spice to it off-track as well, and there was plenty to enjoy about a refreshingly different podium trio as well.
MERCEDES’ WEAKNESS EXPOSED
It’s a shame that the run of races with Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen going wheel-to-wheel is over. It was always possible given Monaco’s not the greatest for racing, even though they did make contact there back in 2019!
They were never close enough on track to fight each other because Hamilton was nowhere near the pole battle and wasn’t in contention for the win as a result. Mercedes’ weakness in generating tyre temperature was exposed, flipping a characteristic (it’s gentler on its tyres) that has served Hamilton so well in other races so far.
For the wider title battle this was a good thing. Verstappen’s turned a slightly worrying, increasing deficit into a points lead – and actually leads a championship for the first time in his career. Red Bull’s also got ahead of Mercedes in the constructors’ championship.
It’s game on.
VERSTAPPEN’S GOT A CHAMPION’S ATTITUDE
It matters way less than what happens on track but it’s good to see Verstappen’s not going to take any nonsense off it either.
For someone who doesn’t like mind games, Hamilton’s been happy to turn the screw at the start of the season and point out Red Bull’s weaknesses. Before Monaco he took it to a new level suggesting Verstappen himself has something to prove.
I’m not sure that’s quite the case. He’s an aggressive driver who’s willing to take risks in the moment. But he has got better at playing the percentages and I think Verstappen can thread together a title challenge.
Verstappen didn’t like what Hamilton said and responded as such – on Wednesday, and then on-track too. At the end of a weekend that Hamilton and Mercedes had screwed up, Verstappen delighted in saying there was a “lesson” to be learned from this race.
“Actions speak louder than words,” he said. Oh, it’s absolutely game on!
FERRARI’S CAR IS REALLY GOOD
The last time Charles Leclerc was scoring poles, there was plenty of speculation he was only doing so because Ferrari had a sketchy engine and a big power advantage.
Well, his Monaco pole was a sign of the opposite – its 2021 car is maybe even better than we thought.
Monaco’s absence of long straights was great for the lingering Ferrari engine deficit since it had to massively tone it down in light of the 2019 controversy and the rule clarifications that followed.
The track totally rewarded the SF21’s strong front end and tyre warm-up and while this was potentially a one-off in terms of just how perfectly matched the car/track were, it wasn’t a fluke performance.
Leclerc could, maybe should, have won the Monaco Grand Prix. But he only has himself to blame for not doing so as ultimately his qualifying crash ruled him out of the race.
Maybe Ferrari should have done a better job of spotting the cracked hub – which led to the broken driveshaft – before the race. But there wouldn’t have been a broken part to find if Leclerc hadn’t binned it.
A BIG MOMENT FOR SAINZ
Leclerc’s team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr showed what was possible with a clean weekend by securing his first podium for Ferrari.
Yes, he inherited positions because of Leclerc’s non-start and Valtteri Bottas’s disastrous pitstop (the wheel might still be unchanged given Mercedes had to wait to get the car back to the UK to break off the wheelnut…). But Sainz deserved this after a fine start to life at Ferrari.
He’s been the best of the drivers to move teams so far this season. Sainz called it “bittersweet” because he felt he should’ve fought for pole and the win, but he wasn’t that far off the former and he pressured Verstappen at one stage during the grand prix as well.
This was a drive worthy of Ferrari, and Sainz is very much worthy of the chance he has at the famous team.
ONE-OFF LIVERIES ARE GREAT – AND NOT A CURSE!
Full credit to Lando Norris for his second podium of the season, earned via a brilliant lap in qualifying on a track not best suited to the McLaren.
It was very, very cool to see McLaren repping the famous Gulf colours in Monaco. One-off liveries are great and it would be awesome to see more F1 teams adopt them.
Anyone superstitious among the team members or McLaren’s fanbase would have been slightly worried about ‘the curse of the special livery’, given Mercedes’ disastrous 2019 German Grand Prix and Ferrari’s underwhelming home race at Mugello last year when those teams rocked unique designs.
Obviously the liveries played no part in those results, just like the Gulf colours didn’t bring good luck for Norris in Monaco.
But it was still great to see a cool-looking design get credit for the right reasons.