Race Weekend Central

F1 Review: Charles Leclerc Cashes In Pole Position To Win Elusive Monaco Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc controlled the race from start to finish at Monaco, waiting out a lengthy red flag and maintaining a comfortable lead throughout over McLaren’s Oscar Piastri to triumph on the Monte Carlo circuit on Sunday (May 26th). After Kevin Magnussen and Sergio Perez collided early on the first lap, Leclerc ran every lap after the restart on the one set of hard tires to complete the mission after two previous starts on the pole at Monaco.

“No words can explain that. It’s such a difficult race, I think the fact twice I’ve been starting on pole position and we couldn’t quite make it makes it even better in a way.

“It means a lot, obviously. It’s the race which made me dream of becoming a Formula 1 driver one day.

“Fifteen laps to the end, you’re hoping nothing happens, and the emotions are coming.”

Oscar Piastri and Carlos Sainz finished second and third, respectively, after two made contact in the first corner, puncturing Sainz’s left front tire and damaging Piastri’s right side. Lando Norris took third, while George Russell managed a set of mediums for the duration to finish fifth. Max Verstappen came home sixth, his first finish outside the top 2 this season, with the exception of his DNF at Australia.

Lewis Hamilton finished seventh and added an additional point for fastest lap. Yuki Tsunoda took eighth, scoring points in his third consecutive race, Alex Albon finished ninth, and Pierre Gasly finished 10th, surviving hard contact with Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon on the opening lap. 

In the driver standings, Verstappen leads Leclerc by 31 points, 169 to 138. Norris is third with 113, five points ahead of Sainz. 

In the constructor standings, Ferrari significantly cut into Red Bull’s lead, with Red Bull up by 24, 276 to 252, after entering Monaco with a 56-point lead. McLaren holds third with 184 points.

The Race

Leclerc held serve at lights out and held off Piastri into the tight Sainte-Dévote corner, while Piastri barely held off Sainz, who pulled even with the McLaren. But contact with Piastri punctured Sainz’s front left tire, forcing Sainz to pull off the track. Moments later, in Beau Rivage, Sergio Perez was clipped by the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, sending Perez hard into the wall and destroying his Red Bull. Niko Hulkenberg was collected in the melee, and both Haas were out on the first lap as the race was red-flagged. 

In addition to the Haas drama, the Alpines of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon made wheel-to-wheel contact, bouncing Ocon into the air and landing hard. Both cars continued to the pits, with a furious Gasly cursing his teammate over the radio. The Leclerc Monaco curse and the Gasly Monaco curse are two very different things. Ocon, however, was out of the race as his car was deemed too compromised to continue.

Sainz made his way back to the pits to await the stewards decision on the details of the restart.

After track cleanup and repairs, the race resumed 45 minutes later, with the original starting order in place minus the two Haas,’ Perez and Ocon. The two Ferraris and two McLarens started on hard tires in hopes of going the distance on those tires, with their tire change during the red flag qualifying as the mandatory one-tire change.

Leclerc again got the jump as the restart was clean, with Piastri remaining close to the Ferrari. The McLaren seemed to be showing no serious effects from the first start contact, albeit for a slight loss of downforce.

The early laps were business as usual, with little or no opportunities to pass on the narrow Monaco circuit. Leclerc was controlling the pace, and most drivers were in tire-management mode, albeit for Russell, who was in fifth on medium tires and looking for any chance to attack Norris. If you were looking for the potential for passing at Monaco, “tire management” are two words you do not want to hear.

Verstappen, in sixth, seemed content there for the time being, well aware that any improvement in his position would require patience.

After ten laps, the order was Leclerc, Piastri, Sainz, Norris, Russell, Verstappen, Hamilton, Tsunoda, Albon, and Gasly.

Russell again was urged to manage his tires as the strategy was to make that medium set go the duration. Russell obliged and described his travels around the circuit as “pootling.” In fact, pretty much every car on the track was “pootling.” And the outcome would be determined by who could “pootle” the best. In any case, it would be a stretch for Russell to make the medium tire last.

Valttieri Bottas pitted on lap 16 for a set of hard tires, which was notable because it differed from cars merely following each other around the track.

Piastri remained within a second of Leclerc as the cars completed lap 18. Sainz, in third, was less than a second behind Piastri, while Norris lagged back in fourth, content to keep his distance and go easy on his tires. 

Further back in the field, Tsunoda ran eighth, with Albon in ninth and Gasly in 10th after surviving the lap one contact with his teammate.

With 30 laps down, the order was the same as it was after 10 laps. 

It was that time of the race when tire degradation started to show. Sainz’s Ferrari was showing signs of graining as reported by McLaren, who may have simply reported that as a boost to Norris’ strategy. Despite all the talk of going the distance on a set of tires, it may have been just that—talk. Teams were now considering the ramifications of pit stops. Would the increased grip of new tires outweigh the loss of track position? It was a thought on the mind of Sainz, whose tire options, if he chose to stop, were hard and soft. 

At the midway point, the running order was again Leclerc, Piastri, Sainz, Norris, Russell, Verstappen, Hamilton, Tsunoda, Albon, and Gasly, with none of the top 10 to have yet made a stop under green.

As is often the case at Monaco, the main intrigue of the race involved seeing who, at all, of the front runners would pit and how the other drivers would react to that stop. 

Leclerc’s lead was nearing two seconds over Piastri at lap 43 as the Ferrari navigated lapped traffic. Once through the traffic, Leclerc’s lead was approaching three seconds.

Lance Stroll pitted on lap 43, switching his medium tires for hards while maintaining 11th. His task now was to hunt down Gasly, on older medium tires, for 10th place.

Stroll suffered a puncture on lap 50, ruining his chances for a points finish. More importantly, Stroll’s issue didn’t necessitate a safety car, which would have sent pit lane into chaotic activity. Stroll was able to make it to the pits and resumed with soft tires. His lap times on those tires greatly interested teams considering a pit stop for softs.

Hamilton pitted for hard tires on lap 52 and maintained seventh. Verstappen came in a lap later, also for hard tires, and remained in sixth, still behind Russell, who was on older medium tires. Moving up to fifth was in the cards for the world champion, who was looking to maximize points on what had been a lackluster weekend for him. Hamilton’s goal was also to overtake Russell. 

Hamilton and Verstappen traded fastest laps, showing Ferrari and McLaren the potential benefits of a fresh set of hard tires.

Verstappen closed to Russell’s tail by lap 62, but the Mercedes wasn’t going to go easily. Russell kept the Red Bull at bay, thanks to his team’s earlier advice to conserve his tires.

With ten laps remaining, the order was Leclerc, Piastri, Sainz, Norris, Russell, Verstappen, Hamilton, Tsunoda, Albon, and Gasly. Leclerc’s lead was a comfortable three seconds over Piastri, and Leclerc was on the verge of breaking his curse at his home circuit. 

Sainz was coming after Piastri, less than a second behind with six laps to go, hoping to pressure the Australian into a mistake, but Piastri held firm to beat the Spaniard.

Leclerc’s lead ballooned to close to nine seconds by lap 74, and he radioed his team the message “I’ll bring it home.” 

Leclerc did just that, taking the checkered flag by over eight seconds over Piastri and breaking his Monaco curse. Leclerc also won a race from the pole after failing in his previous 11 tries in F1.

The Good

In the last three races, two have been non-wins by Max Verstappen. For F1 fans dreaming of a competitive battle for the world championship, this is music to their ears. And this win by Leclerc wasn’t in the least bit a fluke, which could describe Norris’ win at Miami on May 5th, in which the timing of a safety car was the catalyst for Norris’ victory. Leclerc’s performance-based victory started with his dominant display in qualifying on Saturday (May 25th). And winning the pole at Monaco is practically 75% of what it takes to win the Grand Prix; the other 25% is winning the race to the first corner on Sunday.

But let’s not shed a tear for Verstappen. No one’s using the word “downfall” to describe Red Bull (unless you’re talking about Sergio Perez again failing to make it out of Q1). If they are, it’s much too premature. Has Red Bull’s car performance plateaued? Probably not, but they’ve been so far ahead for so long that other teams, Ferrari and McLaren specifically, were bound to close the gap somewhat. There’s still plenty of a gap to close, and I suspect Verstappen will make that evident in Canada in two weeks on a circuit much more suitable to Red Bull’s strengths than Monaco.

Martin’s Brundle’s Monaco “Grid Walk” was a star-studded event, with appearances by Anya Taylor-Joy, Michael Douglas, Alexandra Daddario, Mika Häkkinen, and a veritable who’s who of soccer players. For many of us, it was a veritable who’s that of soccer players. And French superstar Kylian Mbappé showed why he is arguably the best player in the world because he kicked Brundle to the curb. 

Brundle’s most interesting “Grid Walk” moment may have been his interview with Joe Jonas. Brundle admitted he recognized him as one of the Jonas Brothers but wasn’t quite sure which Jonas Brother it was. By process of elimination, Brundle could have narrowed it down to Joe or Nick, because Kevin is neither famous nor handsome enough to be on the Monaco grid. 

Pierre Gasly single-handedly reversed Alpine’s fortunes, first advancing to Q3 on Saturday (May 25th), then placing fifth in the GP, scoring only Alpine’s second point of the season. Sunday’s finish came despite an incident with Alpine teammate Ocon that could have easily taken Gasly out of the race. With teammates like Ocon, who needs enemies?    

The Bad

If you’re a fly on the wall at Haas and Alpine, you should leave that wall and flap your wings so you could be on the long list of things flying around, like blame, accusation, profanity, and projectiles aimed at heads.

Esteban Ocon notably received a public tongue-lashing from Alpine boss Bruno Famin, who probably prefaced his comments with the phrase “Pardon my French.” Ocon foolishly crowded Alpine teammate Pierre Gasly as the cars approached the tunnel. Their wheels made contact, sending Ocon’s Alpine into the air. In Ocon’s defense, he nailed the landing, but had to eventually retire the car. Gasly survived to finish 10th. Ocon was later penalized with a five-place grid penalty, to be served in Canada in two weeks. This could mean Ocon starts 25th in Canada.

Team principal Bruno Famin was spotted talking with Alpine reserve driver Jack Doohan after the race, prompting speculation that Ocon may be on his way out at the team.

I don’t know who to blame for the Sergio Perez-Kevin Magnussen incident, so I’ll apply blame equally to both—-they’re both idiots. Perez and Magnussen could have taken simple actions that prevented the accident. First of all, it’s the first lap in the Monaco Grand Prix on a circuit notorious for its narrowness and passing opportunities—-maybe back off and live to complete another lap towards what would, at best, have been a 14th or 15th-place finish. Perez and Magnussen are veteran drivers with multiple years of F1 experience; you would expect a bit more maturity from the two. Instead, you could call Perez and Magnussen’s simultaneous bad decisions and lack of maturity an “F1 Kids Simulcast.”

The Disappointing

If you like your drama packaged in the form of the potential of what might happen should a driver be in the top four pits and not what actually happened on the track, then this version of Monaco was for you. There’s more passing in a game of one-on-one basketball than there was at Monaco. Passing at Monaco is like James Vowles’ chin—-it doesn’t exist. In fact, the top 10 running order remained unchanged after the second race start. 

But in all honesty, does anyone come to Monaco expecting to see exciting racing on the track, or a pass for the lead, or a pass for any position for that matter? No, people come to Monaco to be seen, maybe on a giant yacht with a blocked view of the track, or just to say they’ve been to Monaco. 

Yes, the racing is boring, and often disappointing, but that doesn’t preclude it from being the most coveted win on an F1 driver’s bucket list. No other race on the F1 calendar will ever overtake Monaco in that respect. Let’s appreciate Monaco for what it is—a spectacle, and a pretty darn impressive one at that. 

My sympathies to Nico Hülkenberg. First, both Haas cars were DQ’d from qualifying after their rear wings failed a legality check. Haas chalked it up to a failure to have their mechanics properly trained on wing compliance. Then, Hülkenberg was KO’d from the race as collateral damage in the Perez-Magnussen incident. Hülkenberg suffered the double-whammy, first failed by his wingmen, then wrecked by his wingman.

The Driver

Leclerc capped a perfect weekend by being perfect in Sunday’s (May 26th) race, nailing two restarts and managing his tires and the gap to Piastri perfectly. Leclerc’s most difficult task of the day, however, may have been managing his mental state on a circuit defined more by his failures than his successes. 

The Results (Monaco Grand Prix, Circuit de Monaco)

POSNODRIVERCARLAPSTIME/RETIREDPTS
116Charles LeclercFERRARI782:23:15.55425
281Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES78+7.152s18
355Carlos SainzFERRARI78+7.585s15
44Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES78+8.650s12
563George RussellMERCEDES78+13.309s10
61Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT78+13.853s8
744Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES78+14.908s7
822Yuki TsunodaRB HONDA RBPT77+1 lap4
923Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES77+1 lap2
1010Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT77+1 lap1
1114Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES76+2 laps0
123Daniel RicciardoRB HONDA RBPT76+2 laps0
1377Valtteri BottasKICK SAUBER FERRARI76+2 laps0
1418Lance StrollASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES76+2 laps0
152Logan SargeantWILLIAMS MERCEDES76+2 laps0
1624Zhou GuanyuKICK SAUBER FERRARI76+2 laps0
NC31Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT0DNF0
NC11Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT0DNF0
NC27Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI0DNF0
NC20Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI0DNF0
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JD in NC

Yeah, if you weren’t watching qualifying on Saturday, you missed the real race. Sunday is just the victory lap…78 times. It’s supposedly the spectacle of Monaco. I actually knew who the soccer players were, not so much anyone else. Overall, I have zero interest in seeing any of these rich and famous people, I would however like to see a decent race. At least the F1 teams and drivers are getting more vocal about the lack of passing at Monaco. Maybe something will be done, or maybe not.

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