Max Verstappen took the lead of the 2021 F1 Driver’s Championship for the first time in his career with a perfectly judged first Monaco Grand Prix victory ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and McLaren’s Lando Norris after pole sitter Charles Leclerc failed to make the start due to a driveshaft issue resulting from damage sustained a crash in qualifying.
On the Monegasque driver’s lap to grid he reported an issue and quickly returned to the pit lane. However, it swiftly became apparent that the home driver would not be taking part in the race and that Verstappen would start from P2, with an unobstructed view down to the first corner.
And when the lights went out to signal the start, the Dutchman got away well, and despite a small amount of wheelspin he was able to take the lead ahead of third-place starter Valtteri Bottas and as they powered out of Ste Devote, Max led from Bottas with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz third ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly.
Over the course of the open 10 laps, Verstappen was able to gradually build a slight gap to Bottas and then, as the Finn began to take too much life out of his tyres as he tried to stay with the race leader, the Dutchman was able to pull further away even further and by lap 27 he was almost five seconds clear of the Mercedes driver who was visibly struggling on his starting softs.
And as the pit stop window opened for those starting on the red walled tyres, Bottas’ race unravelled. The Finn pitted at the end of lap 30 but when he stopped on his marks his pit crew could not remove the front right wheel and with the wheel nut resolutely stuck he was forced to retire from the race.
Verstappen then made his first and only stop. And after taking on hard tyres in two seconds dead, the Dutchman rejoined in second place just behind team-mate Sergio Pérez who had jumped up the order as the field pitted around him.
One of those to pit ahead of the Mexican was Sebastian Vettel and a good stop for the Aston Martin driver saw him jump both Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and AlphaTauri’s Gasly, who had been holding up the world champion.
Aston Martin’s exploitation of Gasly’s pace relative to Hamilton was the cue for Red Bull to then pit Pérez and the Red Bull driver was able to make a 2.8s stop and still rejoin ahead of Vettel, in fourth place.
At the front and on fresh hard tyres, for Verstappen the race now became one of efficient management. And over the second half of the race the Dutch driver was flawless as he carefully managed tyre life while at the same time edging further and further away from Sainz. And after 78s laps the Red Bull driver took his first Monaco win, almost nine seconds ahead of the Ferrari driver. Norris took third place 11 seconds further back after spending the final third of the race fending off a charge from Pérez who thrived on the hard tyres..
Pierre Gasly took a deserved sixth place for AlphaTauri ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Lance Stroll was eighth for Aston Martin ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and the final point on offer went to Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi.
The victory in Monaco, allied to Hamilton’s P7, means Verstappen now has a four-point lead over the defending champion in the Drivers’ standings with 105 points to 101. The Team also takes the lead in the Constructors’ Championship with 149 points to Mercedes’ 150 points.
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
11 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren
13 Fernando Alonso Alpine
14 George Russell Williams
15 Nicholas Latifi Williams
16 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri
17 Nikita Mazepin Haas
18 Mick Schumacher Haas
DNF Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
DNS Charles Leclerc Ferrari