Verstappen wins Monaco GP to take F1 lead after Leclerc withdrawal

Published May 24, 2021
RED BULL’S Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives during the Monaco F1 Grand Prix at the Monaco street circuit on Sunday.—AFP
RED BULL’S Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives during the Monaco F1 Grand Prix at the Monaco street circuit on Sunday.—AFP

MONACO: Max Verstappen won the Monaco Grand Prix for the first time to take the Formula One championship lead from Lewis Hamilton on Sunday, while pole-sitter Charles Leclerc pulled out just before the race started.

The 23-year-old Dutch driver started the day 14 points behind Mercedes’ seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and ended it four clear.

Hamilton finished seventh on a bad day for the usually ultra-reliable Mercedes team.

His team-mate Valtteri Bottas went from second place to out of the race before the midway point after his team botched a tyre change.

“It’s so special around here to win and, also for me, the first time on the podium here. An amazing race. I was pretty much in control,” said Verstappen after taking the chequered flag waved by tennis superstar Serena Williams.

“You always want to win this grand prix. I remember when I was very little, already watching this grand prix, so standing here I’m very proud.”

Verstappen finished 8.9 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. in second place. The podium was the Spaniard’s first since he joined Ferrari this year.

Britain’s Lando Norris, Sainz’s team mate last year at McLaren, held off Red Bull’s Sergio Perez to complete the top three.

The victory was Verstappen’s second of the season and also the first time he had stood on the podium at the sport’s most glamorous race.

He now has 105 points to Hamilton’s 101, with Norris moving up to third on 56.

As Red Bull celebrated a breakthrough weekend, going top of the constructors’ standings by a single point, champions Mercedes dropped the ball.

Hamilton fumed after an early pitstop strategy backfired while Finnish team-mate Bottas retired from second place when mechanics were unable to remove the right front wheel.

“I don’t understand guys. I saved the tyres to go longer and you made me stop before,” said Hamilton over the team radio.

Leclercs chances of winning his home race from pole position ended when he pulled out with a gearbox problem.

Leclerc damaged it crashing 18 seconds from the end of qualifying. He risked a five-place grid penalty if the gearbox was changed, but Ferrari said earlier on Sunday he could race with it.

About 20 minutes before the race Ferrari gave up and he pulled out. Two years ago, Leclerc retired early in Monaco in his first season at Ferrari.

“In the garage it was very difficult to feel ok, but I guess now I’m getting used to this feeling here unfortunately,” said Leclerc. “I’ve never finished a race here — this year, I don’t start it. It’s a difficult one to take and I also feel for the team.”

The race director decided not to move Verstappen up from second to pole and left that space blank, giving Bottas more room to overtake on the inside.

He started well, but Verstappen held him off.

The sinewy 3.4-kilometre course is the hardest in F1 to overtake on, and Hamilton was in sixth and stuck behind Pierre Gasly when he changed for new hard tyres on Lap 30 of 78, followed by Bottas on the next lap.

But Mercedes could not fit Bottas’ tires and his race ended.

Verstappen’s tyre change on Lap 34 was a slick two seconds and he came back out just behind Perez, who switched tyres on Lap 36 allowing Verstappen to regain the lead.

The Dutchman started cruising as Hamilton sounded frustrated on team radio.

“How am I still behind [Gasly]? Come on,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton took a bonus point for the fastest lap toward the end, a rare bright spot on a dismal day for the defending champion and his team.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2021

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