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F1 Grand Prix of Monaco

Five takeaways from the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix

F1 Grand Prix of Monaco

The Monaco Grand Prix was back on the Formula 1 calendar this year after being cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite usually being a procession and lacking track action, this year’s race was strategically interesting between teams going for the undercut and others for the overcut. That delivered some race highlights.

We were also served with a fair share of dramatic action both in-race and pre-race; some really “soap opera” level stuff.

So let’s have a look at our five takeaways from the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix.

Ferrari: What on earth are we going to do with you?

binotto charles leclerc 2021 monaco

Ferrari turned out to be the surprise favourites at Monaco. Although they are generally only good for third best this year, their SF21 seemed extremely handy around the Principality.

Carlos Sainz showed how well and fast he has integrated himself within his new team being convincingly fast from the start which is even more impressive around a track like Monaco. Despite losing the whole FP1 due to gearbox issues resulting in a gearbox change, Charles Leclerc was immediately on the pace in FP2 and a tenth faster than his teammate.

As it turned out, Ferrari’s pace was genuine and Leclerc went on to claim pole position despite his session ending crash on his second Q3 run. After this, things became interesting.

Although he was doing what any other driver would do, which is pushing to the limit, Charles has only himself to blame for his crash; and that has triggered the unfortunate sequence of events that followed.

The team deemed his gearbox race worthy and didn’t change it. On race day however, Leclerc’s car broke down on the reconnaissance lap.

Now Ferrari went out of their way saying that the gearbox was not the cause behind Leclerc not taking part in the race. They said that the left driveshaft was the culprit. Its failure “may or may not” have been related to Leclerc’s crash in qualifying.

Now that seems to be more of a smokescreen to cover the team’s shortcomings. 

Mattia Binotto admitted that the left driveshaft was not checked as the car was hit on the right side. But with these highly complicated cars; the gearbox, differential, and driveshaft assemblies are so intricately installed. So shouldn’t any hit at that “region” of the car – be it left or right – have warranted a full inspection?!

Now no one, including Ferrari themselves, was under any illusions that their excellent form around Monaco was anything other than a circuit related anomaly. But one cannot but feel that Binotto’s squad were lured by that freak chance to win a race this year to take some risks.

Instead of doing the safe thing for the championship by replacing all the suspected parts that may be compromised on the car (even if that meant starting from the pit-lane), and  at least giving their star driver a chance to race in his home event; they did the exact opposite. It is always better to race than not and you may never know what may happen during the race. 

The final result was another embarrassing moment from the sport’s most famous team for the whole world to see.

Binotto can thank Sainz for delivering a second place and Daniel Ricciardo for not scoring any points for McLaren, as this was the only reason why Ferrari didn’t lose more ground to McLaren. 

Now Leclerc was gracious throughout this fiasco, but how long will this honeymoon between him and his team last? Can Ferrari risk demoralizing him like Sebastian Vettel, and Fernando Alonso before him? How do you think Sainz will feel seeing his dream team pulling out such blunders? How do Ferrari expect to win again if that is the level of decision making they have? Honestly, if you give them Lewis Hamilton in the W12, they will still manage to lose the championship.

Mercedes: The bigger they are, the harder they fall

lewis hamilton monaco

Mercedes never seemed in contention for a win in Monaco. They admitted that their car won’t work as well on this track with its long wheel base and low rake concept. They struggled throughout practice, with Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas unable to get their tyres to work.

The W12’s strength of not working its tyres so hard gave the team the win in Spain. But that turned out to be the cause of Mercedes’ misery in Monte Carlo.

Nevertheless, we all expected some Hamilton magic in qualifying. That, however, didn’t materialize as the seven time champion had no confidence in his car whatsoever. That resulted in him being out-qualified by his teammate who was able to extract more speed from the car; qualifying third to Hamilton’s seventh. Regardless of Leclerc’s crash, both drivers didn’t have the speed to qualify any better.

In the race, things turned really ugly. They still didn’t have any speed with Lewis stuck behind Pierre Gasly which prompted the team to go for the undercut. That failed spectacularly! Not only were  they unable to pass Gasly, but they also lost positions to Sebastian Vettel in the Aston Martin and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.

Adding insult to injury, Bottas was out of the race after the team failed to remove his front right tyre during the pit stop due to the “machining” of the wheel nut.

For an impeccably operating team such as Mercedes, they really tend to implode every once in a while, but when they mess up, they mess up big time.

Although they have been so dominant recently, they got away with it as in Germany 2019 and Bahrain 2020. This may not be the case this year. After all, they did lose the lead in both championships to Red Bull and Max Verstappen who, on the other hand, had a fantastic weekend.

More interestingly though, was Hamilton’s attitude after qualifying when he said he will be having tough discussions with his engineers. His radio communication with his pit wall during the race only showed the level of his frustration with his team’s decisions. Before, the team would usually lean on him to reverse any mistakes they do with strategy. In this race he was helpless, not even able to get close to the impressive Gasly, and have a go at him. Lewis just didn’t make the difference this time.

I’ve said that Red Bull can’t afford to drop the ball this year. The same applies to Mercedes. They’ve had their off weekend in Monaco. They shouldn’t contemplate another.

Sebastian Vettel: Welcome to the party

vettel

Vettel was under the microscope this year with everyone waiting to see how he would perform after his poor run of form in his last two years with Ferrari.

His start to life with Aston Martin was a borderline nightmare. The German’s pre-season testing time was cut short due to reliability issues, and one cannot discount the role the team’s slow AMR21 played in his lacklustre performance. But Vettel also struggled to get to grips with his new ride as he so clearly admitted.

The four time champion was adamant that things weren’t as bad as they looked, that he needed at least five races to get used to his car, and be able to drive it intuitively. It turns out he was right.

Vettel qualified an excellent eighth and then drove a masterful race while executing the excellent strategy his team devised. He judged his pace perfectly in the opening stint and then put in some fast laps before pitting, making the overcut work. The move he pulled off on Gasly while exiting the pits to take fifth place was really serious racing stuff.

They say that in Monaco, the driver makes the difference. Seb showed that he is still a high quality driver with the performance he put in. It was also nice to see him relaxed and all cheery after the race. Both he and his team needed and deserved this result (Lance Stroll finished a strong eighth as well having started from 13th) which was a timely boost of confidence.

He now needs to validate his form by continuing this upward trend in performance and consistency over the whole season. But Monaco may have very well given Vettel his mojo back.

Daniel Ricciardo: The short-lived celebration

daniel ricciardo

Ricciardo announced after the Spanish Grand Prix that he has turned a corner in getting used to his new car. Can you blame him? He out-qualified and out-raced his on-form teammate Lando Norris in Barcelona on merit.

Then came Monaco, where he has won before and where he would be expected to keep the momentum going. But the Aussie was in for a reality check. He was never able to get up to speed and was outrightly beaten by Norris in qualifying by almost one second!

In the race he was not only beaten, but humiliated being overlapped by the sister car. What was more worrying for him was that he said he felt the car was ok but the lap times weren’t coming. It means he doesn’t know where the problem is. That is alarming!

The only good thing he had going for this race was his amazing retro-liveried MCL35M and gorgeous helmet design. Not enough though to ease his pain!

Championship fight: Reset

Verstappen F1 Grand Prix of Monaco

It’s funny that this point is the final takeaway from the race. But with Leclerc’s qualifying crash, Ferrari’s shenanigans, and Mercedes’ rare implosion; it had to wait.

The best thing that came out of the Monaco Grand Prix was the fact that Red Bull and their ace Max Verstappen have taken the lead in both championship standings. They were faultless this weekend.

One cannot ignore that many things came their way this race, but that is all part of racing, and doesn’t take anything away from them. They capitalized on their fast car, made the right calls from the pit wall, and Max didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend. A well earned result nonetheless.

However, their lead is so slim that we can effectively consider the next race at Baku as race one of the season. Music to F1’s fans’ ears.

Dishonourable mention: TV coverage

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 23: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda leads the field at the start of the race during the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco at Circuit de Monaco on May 23, 2021 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

I am not going to talk a lot about this, but when a Mercedes, Aston Martin, and AlphaTauri are having a dice in the pits for track position, and when Vettel and Gasly are having the only proper on-track fight in Monaco, it’s not a priority for us to see Stroll miss his corner and ride the curbs.

So even if FOM is not in charge of the TV coverage in Monaco, they shouldn’t let this pass.