Sunday Standouts: Monaco Magic
Monaco, the shiny, yacht dominated jewel of the Formula One crown. And also the circuit famous for the least overtakes. Most “passes” actually came from carefully planned pitstops, and such strategies consequently gained Sebastian Vettel two places (not that we saw it) and caused Mercedes to lose their until now, strong composure. Monaco has majorly shaken up this season’s standings, with Max Verstappen and Red Bull taking the lead of both the drivers’ and constructors’ championship. So now that the dust from this wild weekend has settled, here are the wins and misses of the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix.
————— Wins —————
5. Pierre Gasly
It was a solid weekend for Gasly as the Frenchman held off an increasingly irate Lewis Hamilton the entire 78 laps of the race. He was also able to stop Mercedes’ attempt at an undercut with good pace, prompting Hamilton’s “how am I still behind him, man?” Qualifying and placing 6th, Gasly has shown himself as Alpha Tauri’s first driver and an attractive choice if another team were to look for a new driver. He has seemed open to other offers if Red Bull decide not to keep him, and circling rumours link him to Alpine. But for now, Gasly sits in 9th place overall, a good place for a midfield driver and comfortably above teammate Yuki Tsunoda and both current Alpine drivers.
5. Antonio Giovinazzi
We didn’t actually see much of Giovinazzi either in the race, but the Italian put in a supreme effort to sneak into Q3 of qualifying. That top ten place continued until the end of the race to give both the Italian and Alfa Romeo a precious point in the standings. With that crucial point, Giovinazzi claimed P15 in the drivers’ championship and put Alfa Romeo at P8 for constructors’, while the rest of the drivers/teams below have yet to score points. Giovinazzi has been close to the top ten for the past few races, and if those in front make errors he is in a great position to take advantage in the future.
3. Sebastian Vettel
Last Sunday gave us a short but oh so sentimental glimpse of that world champion spark in Vettel as he gave a supreme effort for 5th place. Plagued by a slew of non-points finishes the past four weekends, he stunned skeptics in Monaco as he qualified 8th on Saturday, jumped Hamilton coming out of the pits, then engaged Gasly in a thrilling side-by-side drag race up Beau Rivage to continue his streak of always placing in the top 5 in Monaco. There is absolutely no doubt that Vettel still possesses the skills to be competing at the pinnacle of formula racing. With next week being Baku, another street circuit, could we possibly expect another strong showing from the German?
2. Carlos Sainz
Second place for the runner up, Sainz capitalised on teammate Charles Leclerc’s inability to start and Valtteri Bottas’ retirement. Being Ferrari’s only runner on race day, it was crucial that Sainz scored a healthy bout of points to keep the team close to McLaren in the constructors’ standings. And with Daniel Ricciardo unable to score, McLaren lead Ferrari by only 2 points. Sainz drove a relatively uneventful race, not quite able to catch the flying Verstappen but comfortably ahead of the fighting McLaren and Red Bull behind. Though a Monaco podium is hardly regretful, he mentioned post race he “genuinely thought we could win because I was so confident with the car.” If he truly felt that fast, perhaps McLaren’s early lead in the fight for best of the midfield will soon be rendered moot.
1. Lando Norris
I try not to place one podium finisher in the wins, let alone two, but the streak Norris has been on this season is incredibly impressive. Apart from the dip in Spain - if you call P8 a dip - he has placed in the top 5 all season. This is also his third career podium, two of which he won this season. During the race, the Brit fended off Sergio Perez for the last 13 laps, even when he had used up his track limits warnings and Perez was noticeably faster. With this drive and Bottas’ unfortunate retirement, he now splits the Mercedes duo in P3. Though that is his teammate Ricciardo’s number, Norris seems to enjoy staying on brand with threes, and hopefully he continues to capitalise on any rare errors the Mercedes and Red Bull teams make. He also leaves Monaco with a new multi-year contract extension, which is just the cherry on top of his terrific haul.
Bonus: Max Verstappen
Honestly, there was absolutely no way I could have left the flying Dutchman off this list. Claiming a maiden win as his first podium result in Monaco, catapulting Red Bull in front of Mercedes and now leading the world championship? Verstappen could yet turn the tide of this season’s results and lead in a new era of championship domination. Some would call him one of the most naturally gifted drivers, and with the years of experience he now has under his belt in F1, he poses a serious threat to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. This will be a title fight to watch, and the next 18 races are sure to remain spicy.
————— Misses —————
3. Daniel Ricciardo
With the success Ricciardo has experienced around Monaco - his helmet last week reading “these are my streets” - his drive was frankly painful to watch. Most fans will have winced as Norris lapped the Aussie with a wave from his cockpit, while hearing commentator Martin Brundle quip “ooh, that hurt.” This weekend also ended Ricciardo’s point-scoring streak, which until now, had been the longest of the drivers on the grid. He showed flashes of speed when he had clean air, but was unable to maintain that consistency throughout the weekend to excel as Norris did. Next week is Baku, another street circuit that Ricciardo has had his own wins and misses at. With an aim to slowly integrate into the new team, the Honey Badger gave an estimate of ”the second half of this year, the car will feel completely familiar for [him]”, so it will be a slow but hopefully successful climb to the top.
2. Yuki Tsunoda
Tsunoda might have found himself in uncomfortably warm water after the Monaco Grand Prix. The past month of racing has not been kind to the driver, who has been struggling a surprising amount since Bahrain. Given his rookie status, he could generally be excused, though Monaco seemed particularly dismal due to perhaps one stark fact: of the times both have finished, this is the first time Williams racer Nicholas Latifi has beaten Tsunoda. Tsunoda’s results seem to be declining since the start of the season, and unless he turns that around soon, he is nowhere near challenging Sergio Perez for his Red Bull seat.
1. Mercedes (Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas)
The big story of the weekend was to put it a little dramatically, Mercedes’ fall from grace and first place. But to the team who just won 7 constructors’ championships in a row, 7th and a DNF is a total outlier. Bottas had the door shut in his face twice, by Max Verstappen at lights out with some careful positioning to hold his lead into Sainte Devote then by his own team as a wheel gun machined smooth the nut of his right front wheel, dooming both that tyre and the remainder of Bottas’ race. (As of now it is still stuck until it can be removed back at the factory) The Finn technically had a good weekend, qualifying third behind Leclerc and Verstappen but was just unable to manage his tyres well enough to challenge despite the easier pace Verstappen was setting for his overcut strategy. Monaco will be his second DNF this season, and although it was of no fault of his own, it means a big amount of potential points lost.
In comparison, Hamilton might have had a worse weekend as he simply had no pace. Although he did finish in the points and scored a record-setting fastest lap, he lost the championship lead to Verstappen by one point and was left to languish in the midfield on Sunday. Mercedes attempted an undercut strategy, which not only failed and consequently led to overcuts from Vettel and Perez, but was also met with utter frustration from Hamilton who called it a “really, really poor performance from the team.” Mercedes aren’t strong with slow, smooth circuits, and not even a “Bono, my tyres are gone” could give Hamilton a big enough speed advantage to make any real progress around the famously slow track. With Baku looming in two weeks time, the team will have to focus on minimising their losses, notably keeping both drivers in the points and hoping that Perez doesn’t make significance progress in the RB 16B.
That is it for my Sunday Standouts for the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix, if you enjoyed it share it on Twitter! This a regular series for the 2021 season, so make sure follow my Twitter @castorscorner and fill out the subscribe form to stay updated!