The Advantage Goes to Red Bull! F1 2021 Season Review: Monaco
After a 2-year wait, Formula One returns to Monaco.
Ah, Monaco. As hard as it is to overtake, you just can't dislike the atmosphere that is given off from the streets of Monte Carlo. Formula One was unable to race at the prestigious circuit as a result of COVID-19 last year, but Monaco returned, and saw its usual grid shake-up in a weekend full of drama.
Furthermore, McLaren returned to Monaco with a gorgeous one-off livery as a celebration of their partnership with Gulf Oil. The Woking-based team swapped their papaya and dark blue theme for a predominantly baby blue and orange theme, much like we have seen on Porsche, Aston Martin and McLaren F1 supercars in the past.
Before we get into the race, let's rewind back to Saturday afternoon's qualifying session, that was a little bit different to the average Saturday in F1...
Q1 for the Monaco Grand Prix saw both Haas cars line up at the back of the grid, with Mick Schumacher not being able to set a time as a result of a heavy crash in the final practice session not allowing his car to be ready in time. Nikita Mazepin would set the second-slowest time of the session in another tricky weekend for the American team. But, two surprise eliminations from Q1 would be Yuki Tsunoda and Fernando Alonso; who were only able to set times good enough for 16th place and 18th place respectively. Nicolas Latifi would split the pair in 17th, while both Alfa Romeo cars and George Russell would make it through to Q2.
The talking point of Q2 was the elimination of Daniel Ricciardo in the Gulf-themed McLaren car, who was only able to set a time good enough for 12th place. Lance Stroll also failed to make it into the final session for Aston Martin, putting his car alongside Ricciardo in 13th place. Esteban Ocon would just miss out on Q3 in 11th place; while the Alfa Romeo and Williams of Kimi Raikkonen and Russell would finish in 14th and 15th places respectively. Antonio Giovinazzi put an excellent effort in to put his Alfa Romeo into the top 10, as well as Sebastian Vettel for Aston Martin.
Q3 was one of the most bizarre shootout sessions in recent history, with Charles Leclerc miraculously putting his Ferrari on pole position, only to put his car into the wall immediately after. Following the first run in Q3, Leclerc had everything to lose after going provisionally fastest. Drivers were starting their final times, but were unable to continue when the Monegasque hit the barrier at the exit of the swimming pool section. This was a very big deal, as Verstappen had set a time good enough to join Leclerc on the front row, with Bottas and Sainz behind them in third and fourth. Norris and Gasly would line up on the third row; while a struggling Hamilton found himself starting the race in seventh place, alongside Vettel in eighth. Sergio Perez would start the race in 9th place as a result of being held up in traffic on his fast lap, followed by Giovinazzi rounding out the top ten.
Now that we are all caught up with qualifying, let’s move on to the race
Once again in the 2021 season would see more pre-race drama, this time for pole-man, Leclerc. There was a lot of speculation after qualifying that the gearbox would be damaged following Leclerc's crash, which could cause a 5-place grid drop for the race. Ferrari opted to take a risk and not replace it, only for the driveshaft to fail on the 23-year old's lap to the grid. Leclerc would receive a DNS (did not start) and see Verstappen promoted to pole position.
As the five red lights went out in Monte Carlo, it was Bottas in second place that got the better launch in comparison to Verstappen, who aligned his car to cut off the Mercedes towards Sainte Devote. The field made it through the first few laps without any major contact, and the rest of the race was completed without any safety cars, for the second time in the last 11 Monaco Grand Prix.
There was almost no on-track overtaking during the race, so this review is going to be structured differently, and instead will skip to lap 30 of 78 where the first pitstop was taken by Sir Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes driver was stuck behind Pierre Gasly and asked to extend his tyres, but made the switch to the Hard tyre when he was unable to make his way past.
On lap 31, Bottas stops for a set of Hard tyres too from second place, but is greeted with more bad luck when the wheel nut fails and sees the worn soft tyre stuck to his car. Multiple mechanics try using wheel guns to detach the nut, but the Finn is eventually forced to retire.
In the meantime, Pierre Gasly pits and makes the overcut work against Hamilton, emerging only just ahead of the seven-time world champion. Hamilton was not happy on the radio that the undercut didn't work. On lap 32, Vettel then pits from 8th place and exits the pitlane alongside Gasly. The pair run side by side as they go up the hill towards the casino, with the four-time champion coming out on top. Hamilton is even more upset on the radio, as Vettel was behind him before the stops.
On lap 34, Verstappen makes his one and only pitstop from the lead of the race, opting to fit the Hard tyre, much like the rest of the field. Perez is promoted to the lead, but has enough pace on his tyres to jump Hamilton, Gasly and Vettel when he finally pits on lap 36 and into 4th place - Hamilton was very unhappy at this point.
Fast-forward to lap 67, and Perez has caught up to McLaren's Lando Norris after Bottas' retirement promoted the Briton to third place. Perez was on much newer tyres, and Norris was struggling, with a huge slide coming out of the casino section of the track. Perez was putting a lot of pressure on the McLaren, but was never able to make his way past.
At the same time, a similar battle is unfolding between Ocon and Giovinazzi in ninth and tenth. The Alfa Romeo driver was on a set of Hard tyres, compared to the Frenchman's dying Medium tyres, but was also unable to make his way past.
Lewis Hamilton pits on lap 68 for a set of Soft tyres as the gap behind him gave him a free pitstop, and he wanted to take the fastest lap of the race. Hamilton ended up setting the lap record, in what was a very disappointing weekend for the struggling champion and Mercedes team.
Max Verstappen, however, became a winner at Monaco on lap 78 when he crossed the line to take victory after a fantastic drive. Carlos Sainz secured his first podium for Ferrari in second place, damage limitation after Leclerc's pre-race woes, followed by Norris in third. You can find the full race result below:
Overall, I would rate the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix a 4 out of 10. There was very little on-track overtaking due to the size of the cars, the struggles with dirty air and the lack of over-taking opportunities; resulting in a much smaller summary of the race this week. However, the result was very good, with three faces on the podium that have never sprayed champagne at Monaco before!
Sadly there was no championship battle between Hamilton and Verstappen, but Red Bull and their number 1 driver have taken the lead in both championships following that weekend from Mercedes. Let's look forward to Azerbaijan in two weeks time where we can see the battle continue at a circuit where there are many overtaking opportunities!
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