MONACO: Max Verstappen capitalized on Ferrari pole-sitter Charles Leclerc’s cruel last-minute withdrawal to win Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix and go top of the drivers’ world championship for the first time. Carlos Sainz for Ferrari took second with Lando Norris of McLaren completing the podium. Red Bull’s Verstappen displaced Lewis Hamilton at the top of the 2021 standings after the Mercedes world champion finished in seventh. The Dutch driver pitched up in the Principality trailing Hamilton by 14 points, and leaves it four points ahead.
“It’s so special to win. The first time for me on the podium here. It was all about looking after the tyres. I was pretty much in control,” said Verstappen after taking the chequered flag waved by tennis superstar Serena Williams. Hamilton had a low key weekend, qualifying in seventh and finishing in seventh.
His teammate Valtteri Bottas was in contention to pounce on any mistake by Verstappen. But then his race came to an embarrassing end when a routine pitstop took a disastrous turn as a wheel refused to come off. The Finn’s frustration will have been nothing to the heartache Leclerc suffered just before the start when he reported a gearbox problem on his Ferrari. For the locally-born Leclerc it was a cruel end to his dream of winning his home grand prix.
‘Difficult to take’
“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.” His last minute absence was all the more unexpected as a couple of hours earlier Ferrari had announced repairs had been carried out without a grid penalty after Leclerc’s accident in qualifying 24 hours earlier.
For the 23-year-old it was just the latest misfortune at Monaco. Despite his familiarity with the narrow, unforgiving street circuit his record at his home race remains bleak. His ill luck at the Mediterranean jewel in F1’s crown had already resurfaced on Thursday after gearbox problems ruined his opening practice session. From then on his fortunes flipped. He topped FP2, then qualified in pole for the first time since Mexico in 2019. But his crash, which ended qualifying prematurely left him anxiously waiting for the all-clear from the mechanics working on his damaged car.
That came on Sunday morning, only for heartache to follow as he made his way around the circuit to the start when he came on the team radio reporting he had a problem, saying “No, no, no – the gearbox guys”. Back in the pits Ferrari mechanics pounced on the car to see if anything could be done to even allow him to start from the pitlane. When it became obvious that wasn’t possible, a dejected Leclerc emerged from his stricken car’s cockpit to head for the grid and the pre-race ceremonies, receiving a consoling hug from Prince Albert II of Monaco.
Leclerc’s absence will have come as a bitter disappointment to his supporters in the 7,500 crowd allowed to watch the race from the grandstands as coronavirus restrictions are gradually lifted. Verstappen inherited pole position which takes on greater significance in Monaco where overtaking opportunities are as rare as a royal flush at Monaco’s mythic Casino.
And so it proved with the Red Bull driver becoming the 12th winner from pole in the last 16 editions to enhance his claims as the main obstacle between Hamilton and a record eighth world title. The F1 circus next heads to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku in two weeks’ time. – AFP