When we talk about a Casino, luxurious yachts, a posh lifestyle and one of the most iconic Formula 1 venues of all time it can only be Monaco. The race is considered to be one of the most prestigious events and it is part of the triple crown. The old street circuit has given us legendary winners like Aryton Senna, Michael Schumacher and even current grid members Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel got to stand on the top step. But as overtaking has always been difficult around there it is an intense game of strategy and luck. As for the winner, he gets not only a unique trophy but also incomparable prestige and glory.

Free practice:

On Thursday at 11.30 am local time we finally got to see the Formula 1 cars back on the iconic streets of Monaco. The classic street circuit with only a few overtaking opportunities was absent from the 2020 calendar due to Covid-19 so everyone was really eager to get out on track.

But FP1 came to an early end for local star Leclerc only 4 minutes into the session as he reported a gearbox issue. He wasn’t able to come back out and finished in P20. Another incident happened halfway through as Alonso clipped the barrier at the final corner and brought out the safety car. He ended the session in P13. Ending the session on top was Perez with a 1.12.487 min on soft tyres. P2 was occupied by a very impressive performance from Ferrari and Sainz on medium tyres while Verstappen ended his session in P3 on the same tyres. Gasly came home in P4 on soft. He was followed by the two Mercedes drivers on mediums who both didn’t get into a grove around the busy track. With a new contract and even more confidence, Norris achieved a solid P7. His teammate Ricciardo though finished down in P15 due to the testing of new settings. A refreshed Vettel finally seemed to have found his form and made it into P8. Even though he’s still not back where he once was he got himself ahead of his teammate Stroll who finished down in P11. Young Alpha Tauri driver Tsunoda was a rookie around the streets of Monaco but still got himself into P9. Raikkönen rounded off the top 10 and managed to stay ahead of his teammate Giovinazzi in P12. Alpine driver Ocon was very happy to return to Monaco after three years but needed some time to settle back in and ended in P16.  At the back of the field, Williams was celebrating their 750th Grand Prix with Latifi in P14 and Russel only in P19. The Haas drivers managed P17 and P19 with Mazepin ahead of Schumacher.

Less than three hours later the roaring of engines could be heard around Monaco again. As expected this session didn’t go quite to plan as some minor incidents occurred but let’s start at the beginning.

Ferrari looked once again very quick as they were the only cars to make it into the 1.11 min. Throughout most of the session, a very confident Sainz seemed to be the man on top but Leclerc made an amazing comeback from his issue in FP1 and demoted his teammate back to P2. Hamilton finished his session in P3 ahead of his teammate Bottas and his championship rival Verstappen. Still, though he was not as close to the Ferrari as expected. Verstappen who finished in P4 complained about a lot of understeer and was certainly not happy to be off the pace at a track where he expected to be much stronger. Hamilton’s teammate Bottas was even half a second off of P1 in P5. Certainly a strange situation for Mercedes. Behind him, Norris and Gasly performed once again solid with P6 and P7. Second Red Bull driver Perez spent most of the session on the medium tyres which he seemed confident on. But when he put the soft tyres on he just wasn’t able to get a lap together which explains his P8. P9 was occupied by Giovinazzi who took advantage of the clear track in the beginning. The top 10 were finally completed by Vettel who suffered an issue midway through the session. The two experienced world champions Raikkönen and Alonso finished in P11 and P12 respectively. Vettel’s teammate Stroll again only managed P13. Ocon though improved compared to the first session and ended in P14 this time. Ricciardo in the second McLaren came home in P15 as he was slowed down by Vettel on his fast lap. The two Williams finished in P16 and P17 with Russel having a tricky moment of understeer in the Hairpin. Mazepin stayed ahead of his teammate once again as Schumacher crashed at Massenet and brought the session to an end. P20 though was occupied by Tsunoda who couldn’t participate anymore after he hit the barriers at the exit of the swimming pool earlier in the session.

Traditionally the Friday in Monaco race week was without any F1 cars on track and we came back on Saturday for FP3, the final rehearsal for Qualifying. It’s safe to say that this session was the messiest of the whole weekend as we had two red flags. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Until almost the very end of the session, it seemed like Ferrari would comfortably take the top 2 positions but after the first red flag which was brought out by a crash of Latifi at the swimming pool, Verstappen put himself on the top spot by only a very small margin. The two Mercedes still seemed off the pace as Bottas finished in P4 with a gap of 0.5s to P1 and Hamilton down in P7. Though it is to mention that the second one never used his soft tyres in that session. Perez also improved his Thursday pace and managed to split the Mercedes cars with P5. Norris settled for P6 as Gasly came home in P9. Both of them again showing a solid performance. The Top 10 were completed by former teammates Raikkönen and Vettel who finished P8 snd P10 respectively. The second Alfa Romeo came home in P11 and the Aston Martin of Stroll in P12. While his teammate once again cruised in the top 10 Ricciardo had another tough session in which he struggled for pace and only ended P13. But a welcoming surprise proved to be a late soft tyre run from Schumacher as he put his Haas in P14. The joy though was only short-lived as he put it in the wall at the exit of casino square. With only very little time remaining on the clock the second red flag was simultaneously also the session terminator. The two Alpine finished P15 and P20 while Williams managed P17 and P18. Rookie Tsunoda once again occupied P19.

Qualifying:

It was then finally time for the most anticipated session of the weekend; Qualifying. We would see the driver going head to head to secure probably the most important pole position of the season. But everyone knows that there is a fine line between keeping it out of the barriers and still driving at the limit. If we look back to FP3 we had two heavy crashes for Latifi and Schumacher and only one team was able to get their car ready for Qualifying. Schumacher lost out and couldn’t take part in the session which put him down in P20. The drivers on track though were truly eager to get on with it and headed out immediately. Sainz was the first one to take the top spot but soon tumbled down as Bottas finished the Q1 fastest overall. His teammate Hamilton struggled even more with his car than in free practice as he completed 14 laps to only secure P7. The session didn’t go well for Alonso who got eliminated along with Tsunoda, Latif, Mazepin and Schumacher. Russell though got himself once again into Q2 as well as Vettel.

Q2 saw once again Sainz taking the top spot with a 1min 10s. But Verstappen soon took over and Leclerc found even more pace to finish the segment in P1. As the session was coming to an end Giovinazzi was still in the dropout zone but he put in a stellar lap to reach Q3 for the first time in 2021. Vettel proved his Monaco form as well as he escaped elimination. The unlucky ones though were Ocon, Raikkönen, Russel, Ricciardo and Stroll. The Aston Martin driver touched the barriers and ended up in P13 while Ricciardo was left wondering as his teammate finished in P6.

For the final segment the tension was high and the pressure on. The fight for pole was between the two Ferraris, Bottas and Verstappen. The first runs were quickly done and Leclerc secured provisional pole with Verstappen in P2 and Bottas in P3. Sainz had a big slide that cost him and pushed him down to P4. Reigning champion Hamilton didn’t get a good lap together as he locked up at Rascasse to slot in P7. For the final runs, Leclerc lead the group on track but he touched the wall at the chicane and crashed into the wall ending the session. These incidents denied several drivers a shot at pole including Bottas and Verstappen who improved their first sector before they backed off. As a result, the order didn’t change giving Leclerc pole, Verstappen P2 and Bottas P3. The top 10 were completed by Sainz in P4, Norris in P5, Gasly in P6, Hamilton in P7, Vettel in P8, Perez in P9 and Giovinazzi in P10. Very impressive and solid results for Mclaren, Alpha Tauri, Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo.

The race:

When Sunday came around it was finally time to go racing in the principality of Monaco. Ferrari couldn’t identify any gearbox damage on Leclerc’s car and he was able to keep pole position. But when it was time to go to the grid his Monaco curse continued. The young Monegasque reported a problem that ruled him out of the race. Later onwards it was identified as a driveshaft issue which denied him a finish in his home race for the 4th year in a row. As a consequence, Verstappen was promoted to pole with Bottas in P2 and Sainz in P3. The grid though didn’t change their formation giving Bottas a clear view – a slight advantage for the Mercedes driver.

At 3 pm local time we were then able to hear the iconic ‘Lights out and away we go!’.

Verstappen had a lot of wheelspin at the start but his aggressiveness allowed him to go head-to-head with Bottas who caught a better start into Turn 1. The Finn though had to settle for P2 as Verstappen squeezed ahead. In the midfield, Sainz, Norris, Gasly and Hamilton all kept their positions through Sainte Devote. One of the few overtakes we got to see on the opening lap was at the Hairpin as Schumacher tried to make up for his missed qualifying by overtaking his teammate. A very risky but great move by the young German. The two drivers who lost out were Russel who had to go over the runoff area at Turn 1 and Ricciardo who got passed by Stroll and Raikkönen. For the first 25 laps, the field drove in formation and Verstappen was able to pull a 4s gap to Bottas in P2 who soon started complaining about his tyres. Running in third place Sainz always stayed close to the Finn while also pulling a gap to his former teammate Norris in P4. The young Brit though gave his engineers a headache after already cutting the chicane two times and being shown Black & White flags. To avoid a time penalty he was instructed to drive more carefully. Soon it came the moment for the strategy department and the pit crew to shine to help their drivers gain positions. The first one to pit was the reigning world champion on lap 29 as he tried an undercut. Closely after followed Norris, Gasly and Bottas. And that’s when the nightmare started for Mercedes. The pit crew weren’t able to remove the front right tyre of the Finns car due to a stuck wheelnut. They had to retire and lost out on a comfortable P2. The second disaster followed in Hamilton being overcut by Gasly, Vettel and Perez. Vettel was able to gain two places through his pit stop and even made one of the most spectacular overtakes of the race. As he exited the pit lane he went head-to-head with Gasly up the hill and magically squeezed ahead. Red Bulls strategy department had also done a great job by getting Perez down from P8 up to P4. The one who couldn’t understand the world anymore was Hamilton as he drove a frustrating race. Meanwhile, Verstappen managed to set the pace and built a comfortable lead over Sainz in P2. After Bottas retirement Norris was promoted to P3 where he had to defend from Perez in the closing stages of the race. In the end, Max Verstappen became a Monaco race winner for the first time. He was accompanied by Carlos Sainz who took his first podium in red and Lando Norris who secured his second podium of 2021. With Perez also finishing in P4 Red Bull were able to take the lead in both the driver- and the team championship since 2013. Hamilton only brought his Mercedes home in P7 promising the team a long debrief. One of the stars of Monaco was Vettel who looked comfortable the whole weekend and brought home P5. Gasly also confirmed his form and managed to keep his P6. The top 10 were completed by the second Aston Martin of Stroll, Ocon and Giovinazzi who scored his first points of 2021. His teammate Raikkönen came home just outside the points in P11 followed by Ricciardo who had yet another bad weekend. P13  was occupied by Alonso ahead of Russel and Latifi. Monaco rookie Tsunoda secured P16 after he almost crashed into one of the Wiliams at Rascasse. Mazepin meanwhile finished for the first time ahead of his teammate who had an issue during the race which hampered his performance.

What a weekend at one of the most iconic and scenic locations that Formula 1 visits. It was truly great to be back even though the race always lacks a bit of action. Nevertheless, this strategy battle and the prestige and glory that comes with a Monaco win are too much of a tradition to be missed. With Red Bull now in the lead of both championships Monaco has played a key role in the championship battle and we are in for one hell of a season…

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