By Jesus Coronel
The Monaco Grand Prix, the first street circuit of the year, made this year’s Formula One championship chase more intense.
The rivalry between Mercedes and Red Bull intensified as Mercedes began to increase its lead in the championship in both the Constructors and Drivers categories.
During qualifying, it would be Ferrari that surprised the field, with Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc leading the way.
Leclerc, in his home country, would end up in pole position. But the way he ended up there wasn’t pretty.
After setting his first lap, he would hit the barrier and end up losing his front wing. The session was soon red flagged and ended early.
But even with the glory of pole position obtained, disaster would strike.
The damage to his car was significant enough on the next day that the gearbox wouldn’t function properly, ending his race before it started.
“It’s just very sad,” Leclerc said in an interview. “I also feel sad for the team because they’ve been checking everything. It’s a difficult one to take.”
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen would start the Monaco Grand Prix on May 23 on pole with Leclerc out. His teammate, Sergio Perez, who was under pressure by the team to have a good performance, started at eighth.
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas started second, while championship leader Lewis Hamilton started at a surprising seventh.
Ferrari’s hopes rested on Carlos Sainz, who started third.
Verstappen fended off an early overtake attempt by Bottas on the first lap, closing a gap on the very first turn of the circuit.
Mercedes was hoping to close the gap to the Red Bull drivers, but an unfortunate turn of events ruined them.
When Hamilton pitted on Lap 29, he was surprisingly overtaken by Perez, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel when he exited the pit lane.
More disaster struck when Bottas pitted to get his tires changed on Lap 31. The wheel gun had machined the nut onto the car’s axle, which caused the axle to be stuck and forced him to retire from the race due to being unable to change tires.
“I couldn’t believe what happened,” he said. “It is a big mistake by us as a team.”
That gave a big opening for Sainz, Perez and McLaren’s Lando Norris to finish in the podium.
Verstappen and Sainz quickly separated from the group behind to get a 10 second gap between them and third.
Meanwhile, Norris and Perez were in a close battle for the podium as five to six seconds separated both of them for that third position.
The gap would slowly shorten as Norris struggled to keep his car running well. He reported to the team that it felt “undriveable.”
Perez would get as close as 0.8 seconds to Norris, but that was as close as he would get before Norris concentrated on keeping him out of the podium position.
Back in the front, Sainz was told by his crew to attack Verstappen on Lap 55, but he would come nowhere close to the Dutchman as he won the Monaco Grand Prix.
This win was huge for Red Bull and for Verstappen. The team now leads the Constructors Championship over Mercedes by one point with Verstappen’s victory and Perez’s fourth place finish.
It also gave Verstappen the lead in the Drivers Championship, making it the first time in his career that he led the championship race.
“It’s so special to win here,” he said. “The first time for me on the podium here. It was all about looking after the tires. I was pretty much in control.”
Even with Leclerc’s misfortune, Sainz propelled Ferrari back in the mix with a second place finish.
“It is a good result,” he said. “If you told me before coming to Monaco I would finish second, I would take it.”