F1, the Pinnacle of Motorsport, has produced some iconic races throughout its history. Many circuits of the world vie for a place on the F1 calendar. Some bow out to make way for new venues in countries that have never hosted a race before. However, certain tracks gain legendary status, and the most iconic of them all is Monaco!
Monaco is a race that tops the list for every team and driver. The Principality, home to many on the F1 grid, returned after two years, the pandemic COVID-19 hindering its participation in 2020. It is also the most prestigious race on the calendar, with celebrities and billionaires flocking to various parties and events held over the weekend. The street circuit also has a unique schedule for the race weekend, with practice sessions held on Thursdays and Fridays being a "day of rest".
To add more glitter to the already glamorous Monaco GP, designer Louis Vuitton had created a bespoke trophy housed in an elegant trophy trunk, besides announcing a multi-year partnership with the Grand Prix!
There was no lull in the world of F1 leading up to Monaco, and right after the strategy masterclass of Hamilton and Mercedes in Spain, Pirrelli invited Red Bull, Alfa Romeo and Alpine for a 2-day test in Barcelona to try their prototype 18" tyres ( regulation change for 2022 ).
Citing COVID-19 restrictions in the country, the Turkish GP got removed from the 2021 calendar. Subsequently, the French GP got preponed by a week, and Austria got to host races on two back-to-back weekends like in 2020.
McLaren unveiled a special Gulf Livery for the Monaco GP weekend, offering a tribute to the McLaren F1 GTR ( which sported similar colours ) at Le Mans in the 1990s. Lando Norris also extended his association with McLaren with a new multi-year contract alongside Ricciardo.
Williams Racing was celebrating a milestone of 750 races in F1 on the Monaco GP weekend.
Monaco, being a street circuit, tests the reliability and focus of man and machine. The margin for error is minimal, and the track is riddled with barriers and walls throughout. Track position is all that matters, as seen in the battle for victory between Hamilton and Verstappen in 2019. The Briton positioned his car and fended off the challenge for the win despite having tyres that had worn out completely. The track's narrow nature leaves drivers with limited overtaking opportunities, Nouvelle Chicane being one of them. Balance, and not straight-line speed, is the recipe for success in the streets of Monaco.
So how did the teams fare through the tight and twisty turns of Monaco? Who took top honours at the most prestigious event on the calendar?
Time for a quick recap!
FP1 got underway under sunny skies on Thursday morning.
Fernando Alonso hit the wall at the final turn early in the session and damaged his front wing. He had another off-track moment at turn one. Raikkonen was another to miss his braking going into turn one. Ferrari had an eventful FP1 with Sainz hitting the wall at the Swimming Pool Complex and Leclerc suffering from gearbox issues which ended his participation. However, teammate Sainz managed to split the Red Bulls of Perez and Verstappen at the end of the session, followed by Gasly, Hamilton and Bottas. Norris was 7th in his McLaren, with Vettel, Tsunoda and Raikkonen completing the top 10.
Stroll was 11th in the other Aston Martin, from Giovinazzi and Alonso. It was an impressive performance by Latifi in his Williams, the Canadian setting the 14th quickest time. Meanwhile, Ricciardo could only manage 15th, followed by Ocon and the Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher. Russell was 19th in the other Williams, with Leclerc last, thanks to his gearbox gremlins.
Ferrari changed the gearbox on Leclerc's car, and the Monegasque was ready for the start of FP2. While Leclerc managed to avoid the barriers at Rascasse, Tsunoda gave his Alpha Tauri a whack at the Swimming Pool Complex. Schumacher's session ended prematurely after the German clipped the wall at Massenet, puncturing the right rear tyre of his Haas. The session was subsequently red-flagged, and the FIA decided against resuming FP2. Ferrari was the biggest surprise of FP2, with Leclerc leading Sainz at the top, almost four-tenths clear of Hamilton in 3rd. Verstappen was 4th for Red Bull, followed by Bottas and Norris. Gasly continued to impress in his Alpa Tauri with the 7th quickest time, from Perez, Giovinazzi and Vettel, who completed the top 10.
Raikkonen was 11th in the other Alfa Romeo, with Stroll splitting the Alpines of Alonso and Ocon in P13. It was yet another challenging session for Ricciardo in P15, followed by the Williams of Russell and Latifi. The Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher along with Tsunoda completed the rear of the field.
Ferrari turned out to be the surprise package from the two practice sessions. The race pace of the Scuderia was also comparable with the table-toppers Mercedes. Red Bull was in the mix as well, with Perez seemingly more settled in his new drive. The midfield battle seemed to be an even tighter affair, with Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo joining McLaren, Alpine and Aston Martin to be the best amongst the rest.
The track was damp on Saturday morning, but the conditions improved at the start of FP3. There were two Red Flags in the session, with Latifi destroying his Williams at the Swimming Pool Complex and Schumacher wrecking his Haas at Casino Square. Mercedes struggled to find the right balance, with Hamilton and Bottas having off-track moments, while Norris narrowly avoided an incident with ex-teammate Sainz at Rascasse. Verstappen topped the timesheets at the end of FP3 from Sainz and Leclerc. Bottas was 4th for Mercedes, followed by Perez and Norris. Hamilton's best attempt got him P7, with Raikkonen, Gasly and Vettel completing the top 10, one second slower than Verstappen's attempt.
Giovinazzi was 11th in the other Alfa Romeo, followed by Stroll and Ricciardo. Alonso split the Haas cars of Schumacher and Mazepin in 15th, while Russell and Latifi managed to go quicker than Tsunoda and Ocon in 17th and 18th, respectively.
There had been 32 lap time deletions in FP3, a rarity considering the narrow nature of the circuit.
Qualifying promised to be a closely contested affair, and Mercedes seemed to be on the back foot after a very long time.
Schumacher's shunt in FP3 denied him the chance of competing in Qualifying, and Haas had to change the gearbox on his stricken car as well.
Mercedes made some last-minute setup changes on Bottas' car before the start of Qualifying.
There was a 30% chance of rain in Qualifying, and the teams decided to send their drivers out as soon as Q1 went green. Vettel was the last to join the other 19 drivers as they went about setting a series of flying laps. Everyone chose the soft tyres, and the grip levels increased with each passing minute. Raikkonen locked up his tyres at turn one but managed to continue without any drama.
Sainz, Verstappen, Leclerc, Bottas, Stroll and Norris were the top 6, with Latifi, Russell, Mazepin, Vettel and Schumacher in the drop zone with 9 minutes remaining of Q1.
The order at the front changed again, with Bottas and Leclerc finding more lap time. While some drivers chose to continue on their current set of soft tyres, those lower down the order switched to fresh tyres for the final minutes of Q1.
In a closely contested midfield, Tsunoda, Alonso, Latifi, Mazepin and Schumacher ( who didn't participate ) failed to make it into Q2, and Bottas, Verstappen and Leclerc topped the timesheets at the end of Q1.
Monaco, a street circuit, is low on abrasion, so soft tyres was the obvious choice for all the drivers competing in Q2. Only four-tenths separated the top 5 drivers midway through Q2. Verstappen went the quickest from Sainz and Norris, while Ocon, Raikkonen, Gasly, Russell and Ricciardo were facing elimination before the final runs of Q2.
Stroll brushed the wall but managed to continue his final flying lap of the session. Q2 came to an end, and only a second separated the top 13 drivers. Ocon, Ricciardo, Stroll, Raikkonen and Russell got eliminated at the end of Q2, while Leclerc, Verstappen, Bottas, Sainz, Norris, Hamilton, Gasly, Perez, Vettel and Giovinazzi got through to Q3.
Q3 got underway with the threat of rain lurking around the circuit vicinity. The drivers were fueled for multiple runs again, except for Norris, who decided to go out-of-sync with the rest. Leclerc was on provisional pole, two-tenths clear of Verstappen and Bottas, followed by Sainz and Norris. Hamilton, despite his best efforts, managed only the 7th quickest time. The drivers returned to the pits and put on a new set of soft tyres for the grand finale of Qualifying.
Mistakes by Verstappen and Hamilton forced them to ditch their first flying lap attempts ( on the final runs ), while Perez got stuck behind Ocon in the last sector. The drivers still had another opportunity to set things right, and the trio of Leclerc, Verstappen and Sainz went about setting blistering sector times as the clock ran down in Q3.
However, there was drama with 18 seconds left of Q3. Leclerc clipped the Armco barrier coming out of the Swimming Pool Complex, breaking the front right wishbone of his Ferrari. The Monegasque was a passenger as he went over the kerbs and hit the barriers heavily, bringing out the red flags and subsequently ending the session!
The incident was a repeat of Latifi's ( 2021 ) and Verstappen's ( 2018 ) accidents from FP3. The accident wrecked the chances of all others challenging for pole position.
Leclerc bagged pole position in a bizarre turn of events from Verstappen and Bottas.
Sainz was 4th and Norris 5th with three-tenths separating the top 5. A stellar lap by Gasly got him P6 while Hamilton ended up in 7th, seven-tenths adrift. Vettel qualified 8th with row 5 getting taken up by Perez and Giovinazzi.
Initial checks on Leclerc's stricken Ferrari suggested that there was no damage to the gearbox. However, the final decision was on race day, and if Ferrari chose a gearbox change, Leclerc would suffer a five-place grid drop.
Leclerc was the first Monegasque, after Louis Chiron in 1936, to get pole position in Monaco. As a tribute to Chiron, who had won the Grand Prix in 1931, Leclerc was also sporting a special helmet. It was Ferrari's first pole position since Mexico 2019. Ferrari was still lacking outright pace but was on par with the leaders in terms of aerodynamic capabilities. Sainz rued the missed opportunity ( for pole position ) but had a great chance to fight for a podium on Sunday.
Verstappen was frustrated at being denied a chance for pole position since he believed he would have aced it on his final run. Nevertheless, the Dutchman was on the front row while his championship rival was down in 7th. Perez, his teammate, got compromised with traffic on his final run and faced a challenging Sunday afternoon.
Bottas was Mercedes' best hope on race day, with Hamilton struggling with balance issues throughout the weekend. The Finn, like Verstappen, had a great chance of reducing the deficit to Hamilton in the Championship battle. As for Hamilton, the priority was to come out unscathed on the opening lap and use an aggressive strategy to make up positions to limit the blow from his title contenders. Norris and Gasly produced stellar drives and had the opportunity of bringing home sizeable points haul for their respective teams. Ricciardo's struggles to get it right at McLaren continued while Tsunoda was still finding his feet as a rookie.
Vettel was quickly settling into life at Aston Martin, and his appearance in Q3 proved that the German hadn't lost his edge yet. Stroll had a mercurial Saturday, and getting into the points on Sunday was a tough ask. It was Alfa Romeo's first Q3 appearance in 2021 with Giovinazzi. The Italian led the intra-team battle in Qualifying and was gaining confidence with each passing race.
Alpine had been on the back foot all weekend, but Ocon managed to start P11. However, Alonso's Qualifying performance was a disappointment. Williams and Haas' aerodynamic deficiencies came to the fore in Qualifying, and they seemed destined to remain at the back of the pack.
Track position was all that mattered in Monaco, with many races turning out as processions. Race Strategy was one aspect that could turn the battle in a driver's favour, and there had been no shortage of drama with this in the past. A one-stop strategy seemed the best bet for an optimum race.
Seventy-Eight laps awaited the 20 drivers competing for victory at the Monaco GP. All eyes were on Leclerc and Ferrari, where the team reaffirmed that the gearbox was fit for the race, allowing him to keep pole position.
It was time for drivers to leave for their sighting laps, and Leclerc exited the pits only to discover that the shifts weren't working correctly! The team immediately asked him to return to the garage as they tried to address the issue. The warning signal got sounded, and Ferrari was still working on Leclerc's car, which confirmed that Leclerc would be unable to start from pole position.
Ferrari discovered a driveshaft failure ( left side ) a few minutes later, a terminal issue. Leclerc would not start the race! A chance for victory and glory at his home race, gone!
C3, C4 and C5 were the tyres available for the race, and those outside the top 10 adopted different strategies. While Stroll and Tsunoda started on the hard tyres, Ocon, Mazepin, and Schumacher chose the softs. The Williams drivers, Ricciardo, Alonso and Raikkonen, cited the mediums as the better tyre for the race start.
The cars rolled out for their formation lap, and Raikkonen stopped at the final corner. Thankfully, he got going, but Verstappen had to wait in his grid slot longer than he had planned.
The five red lights went out, and Bottas had a better getaway than Verstappen. The Dutchman, however, cut across to block his path and lead into turn one. Sainz slotted into 3rd, followed by Norris and Gasly. Giovinazzi got up to 9th, while Raikkonen and Alonso were up into 12th and 14th, respectively. Schumacher got past Mazepin for P18 at the hairpin with an opportunistic move.
The drivers began to settle into a rhythm, and Verstappen was the fastest man on track. Meanwhile, his teammate Perez started pressuring Vettel for 7th. Bottas, Verstappen and Norris traded fastest laps, with Perez joining the party a few laps later.
Verstappen, Bottas, Sainz, Norris, Gasly, Hamilton, Vettel, Perez, Giovinazzi and Ocon were the top 10 at the end of lap 10.
The field started to spread out, and Mazepin got served a Black and White Flag for exceeding track limits on lap 14. The pit window for the soft tyre runners was nearing, and Red Bull asked Verstappen about the state of his tyres. The Dutchman reiterated that his tyres were ok, but Bottas complained to Mercedes about losing performance on his left front. Norris was the next driver to get a Black and White Flag for exceeding track limits at turn 10, while Hamilton started to close the gap to Gasly for P5. The battle between the Haas cars continued, and Mazepin got the better of Schumacher on lap 30.
Hamilton was the first of the front runners to pit for hard tyres on lap 30 and rejoined in 8th. Bottas, Norris and Gasly followed suit a lap later, but Bottas got stuck in the pits. The Mercedes crew were unable to remove the right front tyre. Multiple attempts were made with different wheel guns to yank out the troublesome tyre but to no avail. It was a cross-threaded nut that wrecked Bottas' race. The Finn's race met a premature end.
His teammate Hamilton failed to jump Gasly after the round of pitstops, and the Briton sounded frustrated. Vettel was the next to pit on lap 32 for hard tyres. He exited the pits and ended up side-by-side with Gasly, managing to rebuff the challenge and hold onto 5th. Hamilton was livid with the team for having lost another position ( to Vettel ). He believed he had life left on his soft tyres and could have extended his first stint like those around him.
Russell was the next to pit for hard tyres, rejoining in 16th ( lap 33 ), with Sainz doing the same and staying 3rd. Perez, meanwhile, had moved up to 2nd and was setting blistering lap times on his worn-out soft tyres. The Mexican was going faster than those behind him, and the possibility of making positions with the overcut seemed possible. Giovinazzi ditched his soft tyres for a fresh set of hards on lap 34, rejoining in 12th.
On lap 35, Verstappen peeled into the pits for his only stop. The Dutchman had a drama-free tyre swap and rejoined in 2nd with a fresh set of hards. Perez, now in the lead, continued to go faster than the rest of the field, and Mercedes informed Hamilton that they were under the threat of losing another place to Perez. It was job done for Perez on lap 36, with the Mexican pitting for hard tyres and comfortably jumping Vettel, Gasly and Hamilton to take 4th.
Meanwhile, at the back of the field, Ricciardo and Mazepin also switched to the hard tyres. Ricciardo was the first of those on the alternate strategy to make a pit stop. Ocon was another driver to pit on lap 38, with Alpine taking a more aggressive approach and putting him on medium tyres. The Frenchman rejoined in 10th.
Sainz started to close the gap to Verstappen at the front, and the deficit was down to 3.5 seconds on lap 41. Meanwhile, the stewards served a Black and White Flag to Schumacher for exceeding track limits. Raikkonen, another driver who started the race on medium tyres, pitted on lap 44 and rejoined in 12th, just ahead of Ricciardo. Alfa Romeo was relieved to have not delayed the call, or else Raikkonen could have lost a position. While Latifi pitted for hard tyres in his Williams, Alpine decided to go aggressive with Alonso, switching him to the soft tyres with 32 laps remaining.
Verstappen, Sainz, Norris, Perez, Vettel, Gasly, Hamilton, Stroll, Ocon and Giovinazzi were the top 10 at the end of lap 50.
Sainz continued to close in on Verstappen, with the gap reducing to 2.5 seconds. Ricciardo, stuck behind Raikkonen in 12th, had an embarrassing moment when teammate Norris lapped him on lap 53. However, all was not well in the other McLaren, and Norris complained about the car being undrivable on the hard tyres ( lap 58 ). Stroll, who had started the race on the hard tyres, finally pitted on lap 59 for softs and rejoined in 8th. The battles for P3 and P9 were hotting up, with Perez closing in on Norris and Giovinazzi pressuring Ocon while being lapped by the leaders. The FIA flagged Stroll for failing to keep to the right of the pit lane line while exiting the pits after his stop, but replays showed that he hadn't breached the limit, and it invited "no further action".
Raikkonen, in clear air, had caught up to Ocon and Giovinazzi in the battle for P9, while Perez was within the DRS range of Norris. Tsunoda, the other driver to start the race on hard tyres, was the last driver to pit for a fresh set of soft tyres and rejoined in 16th ( lap 67 ). The rookie then set the fastest lap of the race.
Hamilton, who was stuck in 7th behind Gasly and unable to make inroads, had built a gap large enough to Stroll behind and allow a free stop. Mercedes called him in on lap 69, and the Briton set the fastest lap of the race besides smashing the track record set a couple of laps earlier by Tsunoda.
Verstappen, Sainz, Norris, Perez, Vettel, Gasly, Hamilton, Stroll, Ocon and Giovinazzi were the top 10 at the end of lap 73.
Norris responded to the pressure by Perez and opened up a 2 seconds gap. Meanwhile, Tsunoda got a Black and White Flag for exceeding track limits ( lap 77 ).
Tennis Champion Serena Williams had the privilege of waving the Chequered Flag as the race ended.
Verstappen claimed top honours at the Monaco GP! Sainz came home in 2nd for Ferrari, followed by Norris, who fended off a late challenge by Perez to take up the final podium spot.
Perez put in a stellar drive for Red Bull in 4th, followed by Vettel, who had his best finish for Aston Martin in 5th. A mature drive by Gasly got the Frenchman 6th, followed by Hamilton in 7th, who relinquished his lead in the Championship. Stroll was 8th in the other Aston Martin, followed by another train of cars fighting for P9. Ocon managed to hold onto 9th from Giovinazzi, who took the final points-scoring position in his Alfa Romeo.
Raikkonen pressed hard but finished in 11th, just outside the points, closely followed by Ricciardo and Alonso. Russell and Latifi were 14th and 15th for Williams, followed by Tsunoda, Mazepin and Schumacher, who completed the classified finishers.
The entire paddock felt sad about Leclerc and his inability to start the race due to the mechanical issue. It was a case of "what could have been" and robbed us of a battle between two very talented racers. Sainz, his teammate, gave Ferrari some consolation with a fine second place. It had been a trying time for the Italian marquee, but their season was on the mend, it seemed.
Verstappen, on the other hand, made the most of the opportunity. Perez, who had qualified a lowly 9th, produced a stellar drive to end up 4th, giving Red Bull a memorable Sunday and turning the tables in the title battle. Verstappen now leads Hamilton by 4 points, while a point separates Red Bull and Mercedes at the top.
Bottas' wretched luck continued, and the Finn, despite being the "lead Mercedes", got denied a good result, leaving him further adrift from the top. Hamilton had a humbling experience, a strategic error by the team costing him positions and points in the race. The result served as a wake-up call and Toto Wolff, the boss, vowed to diagnose what went wrong ( personally ) and set things right.
While Ricciardo continued to find his feet at McLaren, his teammate Norris bagged his second podium of the season. It is never a pleasant sight to get lapped by your teammate, and Ricciardo needed to spend more time in the simulator to understand and iron out the issues he faced in his car. As for Norris, his third-place finish helped McLaren stay 3rd in the Constructors' standings. The battle for third in the Constructors' was turning into a two-horse race between McLaren and Ferrari.
A double-points finish helped Aston Martin jump Alpha Tauri. Vettel had his best finish for the team, and his 5th place also earned him the "Driver of the Day" title. Stroll's alternate strategy to start on hard tyres paid dividends as the Canadian went deep into the race and made up places after his pitstop. Gasly continued to impress in the Alpha Tauri, while Tsunoda's first experience in Monaco was a baptism by fire. The Italian outfit is locked in an intense battle with Aston Martin and Alpine in the lower half of the midfield and cannot afford any slip-ups in the remaining races.
Alpine went aggressive with both its cars and, although it helped Ocon score a couple of points for the team, Alonso was too far back to make an impact. The team's performances have been mercurial so far, and they are going backwards this year. Giovinazzi produced a fine drive to take 10th and bagged the first points of the season for the team. The Italian was performing well on Saturday and finally came good on race day too! Raikkonen, his teammate, came close to opening his account for the season too. The Finn, however, had trouble with his drinks bottle pipe which got undone and was leaking throughout the race. Alfa Romeo was improving with each passing race, and if the trend continued, they could join the likes of Alpha Tauri and Alpine in the battle for 7th in the Constructors'.
Williams and Haas had a tough weekend, but thankfully all four drivers completed the race. Mazepin outperformed Schumacher for the first time this season and showed that the Russian was settling into life in F1.
Verstappen and Red Bull landed a big blow to Hamilton and Mercedes in Monaco. It was a great response after the strategic bungle in Catalunya. Hamilton and Mercedes now become the chasers, a position they haven't been in a long time.
On a day when the Silver Arrows missed the mark, and the Prancing Horse faltered, the Bulls charged through to victory and tipped the scales in their favour!
Baku beckons in a fortnight, and it could change all over again! The battle for supremacy in 2021 is well and truly on!