Max and Lewis Battle Starts To Heat Up
23rd May 2021, Circuit de Monaco: THE MONACO GRAND PRIX
- 1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
- 2. Carlos Sainz Jr (Ferrari)
- 3. Lando Norris (McLaren)
- 4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
- 5. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin)
- 6. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri)
- 7. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
- 8. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
- 9. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
- 10. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)
“Actions always speak louder than words” (Verstappen)
Just five races into the season and the fierce rivalry between seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton and the young Max Verstappen challenging for his first World Championship – is really heating up.
Before the weekend in Monaco, after four races – wins were 3-1 to Hamilton with the other driver finishing in 2nd place on each occasion. Hamilton had suggested that Verstappen ‘feels he perhaps has a lot to prove’ and that Hamilton himself had done well to avoid a crash between them both – given the close contact racing that the fans have been enjoying.
Verstappen’s first response was “I have nothing to prove and avoiding contact goes both ways. So, we have done well.” His second was to win the Monaco Grand Prix with relative ease.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had been in pole, but a pre-race driveshaft failure meant that he failed to start – putting Verstappen in pole position.
“As for every driver, I want to do well at home.. I have never finished a race in Monaco. This year I start from pole and don’t even start it, so it is a difficult one to take.” (Leclerc) Verstappen then led from the first corner, driving an impressive race to turn a 14-point deficit in the World Championship into a 4-point lead. He is now at the top of the table for the first time in his career.
It was a bad weekend for Mercedes, with an out-of-sorts Hamilton starting and finishing in 7th place. He seemingly struggled to generate tyre temperature – creating an issue with grip. Bottas started in 3rd, but soon lost momentum and eventually retired with a stripped wheel nut issue.
A disappointed Hamilton wouldn’t be drawn into a further battle of words “they did a great job this weekend and that’s that.”
Verstappen and Red Bull had been favourites going into this weekend and Ferrari were also surprisingly competitive.
So, what happened to Mercedes?
Before the race, Mercedes had planned to pit later than the rest – to try and get ahead of the pack with some fast laps. But when the other drivers didn’t stop as early as they had expected, Hamilton’s tyres began to wear and by the time he eventually came to pit they were effectively ruined.
But Toto Wolff was philosophical about the poor performance,
“You are building a car for 23 races and there will be outliers in both directions where you under-perform, and Monaco is definitely an outlier.”
The Mercedes struggle in Monaco could simply be down to the size of their car. It is longer and consequently more cumbersome on the famously tight circuit. According to Hamilton the car is ‘like a bus to turn’ on a narrow track – but ‘great elsewhere.’
Hamilton did win here in Monaco in 2019, but in recent years the victors have usually been driving for Red Bull or Ferrari.
Could Ferrari have done anything differently to prevent Leclerc’s non-start? Leclerc had been fastest on the first lap in the final qualifying on Saturday and then crashed on the second lap – meaning that the red flag also prevented the other drivers from improving their positions.
When he failed to start on the grid it was initially thought to be the gearbox (which would have meant a five-place penalty if replaced) but on inspection it turned out to be the left-hand driveshaft. Had this been damaged in the crash on Saturday? Or was this something else - that should have been spotted before Sunday?
However, Ferrari have made huge strides in their performance since last season - and Leclerc’s non-start aside, they had a great weekend.
Sainz Jr finished an impressive 2nd:
“Confidence was high in the car…a combination of things that came together and all of a sudden in a special place like here you can have a crack at it. And we were close.” (Sainz Jr)
McLaren’s promising young driver Lando Norris took the 3rd podium.
On to Azerbaijan next – may the drama continue - see you in 2 weeks!