After a spin in qualifying on Saturday, Mexican Sergio Perez, on wearing tires, stayed cool under immense pressure from the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz Jr. and his Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen, to win his first Monaco GP.
In a race that was delayed by heavy rain and then a red flag for a big crash by Mick Schumacher, Red Bull used an overcut strategy to get Perez into the lead and Verstappen up to third from 4th. From there it was a matter of the Red Bulls, on softer mediums, managing their tires to the end and hold off the two Ferraris who were on hards and wearing better in a race shortened from 78 laps to 64 laps due to the 2-hour time limit.
“We did everything we had to, my out-lap stuck behind a lapped car cost me the race win,” said Sainz Jr.. “You can understand my frustration, it’s how sport is sometimes. Checo was unlucky in Jeddah, today he drove a great race.”
Polesitter Charles Leclerc was the big loser in the exchange of tires going from the lead to 4th where he was stuck behind the three leaders to the end.
George Russell brought his Mercedes home in 5th while his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton could only manage 8th, stuck behind the slower Alpine of Fernando Alonso in 7th.
Lando Norris came home 6th for McLaren.
It was the 3rd F1 career win for Perez, and to be fair, he has been exceptionally quick here all weekend. Smarting a bit from Spain, this was the perfect response.
“It’s a dream come true, as a driver you dream of winning here,” said Perez.
“After your home race, there is no more special weekend. With the graining, to not make any mistakes, to keep Carlos behind was not easy. It’s a massive day for myself and my country.”
“I did the best I could after yesterday,” said Verstappen.
“I think as a team we did a really good job with the strategy, it was a very hectic one, but I think we executed it well and I extended my points lead which I didn’t expect last night!”
Why did Red Bull change to mediums during the Schumacher Red Flag, instead of hards?
“We didn’t want to exposed at the restart, we thought the medium would be enough,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner. “That lock up by Perez was touch and go. He’s been on fire all weekend, strategically I don’t think we had the quickest car today, but we made it work,” in other words we outsmarted Ferrari yet again.
Verstappen has won every race he’s finished this year – until Monaco. But finishing ahead of the man who appears likely to be his main championship rival you’d imagine more than takes the sting out of not winning this one.
Red Bull got it right, but what on earth happened down at Ferrari today? If they’d have nailed their strategy, they’d have walked away with the win. They came so close to losing P2 to Verstappen in the pit stop period as well, the Dutchman coming out side-by-side with Sainz and losing out to the Spaniard because of his tires being cooler.
“It was a freaking disaster today,” said Leclerc.
“The win was clearly in our hands, we had the performance, we had everything. I just don’t really understand the call that I had, and I need explanations for now. I couldn’t do much, I was called just before the last corner, so couldn’t react or ask for any information, but that was clearly the wrong choice.”
With heavy rain falling ahead of the scheduled start, race control delayed the race by more than an hour. And when the race finally got underway it did so on a wet track and behind the Safety Car. A rolling start was decreed and when the safety car left the track polesitter Leclerc slithered into a cautious lead ahead of Sainz, Pérez and Verstappen. While the opening laps were nervous, the rain eventually began to recede. With risk aversion the key to success in such conditions, the field settled into a steady rhythm, with Leclerc running a couple of seconds ahead of Sainz and with Pérez a similar amount of time behind the Spaniard. McLaren’s Lando Norris held fifth place ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell and the Alpine of Fernando Alonso.
With Sainz running slightly slower than his team-mate, Leclerc was able to build a gap at the front and after 12 laps the lead Ferrari was more than five seconds clear of the Spaniard. Pérez was almost seven seconds off the lead, with Verstappen 1.3s behind his Mexican team-mate.
On lap 14 Pérez told his team saying that he felt the time was right to move to inters and his opening seemed to be confirmed by Pierre Gasly rising from 17th on the grid to P12 after his early switch to the green-banded tires at the start. Sainz, though, told the Ferrari pit wall that he wanted to go straight to dry tires.
Pérez was the first of the leaders to switch and he moved to inters at the end of lap 16. He rejoined in fifth behind Norris. Leclerc pitted at the end of lap 17, also taking intermediate tires and he was joined in the pit lane by Verstappen who made the same switch. That promoted Sainz to the lead, though the Spaniard was in need of a pit stop. Pérez armed with fresh tires, now lay in second, 3.4s ahead of Leclerc.
As he had requested, Sainz moved directly to dry hard tires at the end of lap 20, and Ferrari gave Leclerc the order to do the same. But at the last moment the Italian team’s engineers changed their minds and Leclerc was told to stay out. It was too late, however, and the Monegasque driver was already in the pit lane. He was switched to hard tires and released.
The hard tires proved difficult to switch on and as Sainz and Leclerc struggled for pace the Red Bulls drew away. Red Bull then pitted its drivers in a stacked pit stop for hard tires at the end of lap 21, and Pérez and Verstappen emerged in first and third respectively.
Behind the top four, Russell was now in fifth place, 1.3s ahead of Norris, while Alonso held seventh place ahead of Hamilton. Esteban Ocon was ninth in the second Alpine, while Valtteri Bottas held 10th for Alfa Romeo ahead of Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and Gasly whose progress had stalled in P12.
On lap 27, Mick Schumacher lost control of his Haas and hit the wall in the swimming pool section. The German appeared to lose the rear of his on a damp section in the middle of the track and he was pitched hard into the barriers. The Virtual Safety Car was initially deployed but soon the physical version appeared and the race was nullified. And with the barriers requiring repair, on lap 29 the race was red flagged. During the stoppage Red Bull switched its drivers to medium tires, though Ferrari left Sainz and Leclerc on used hard tires.
The race resumed with another rolling start and when the safety car left the track and Pérez held his lead ahead of Sainz, with Verstappen still third ahead of Leclerc.
The Mexican settled quickly and he began to eke out a slim gap to Sainz. By lap 43 he was 2.2s ahead of the Spaniard, while Max was just under two seconds further back. Leclerc, in fourth place, was 2.4s behind Max while Russell was fifth ahead of Norris, Alonso and Hamilton.
On lap 50, the comfort zone Pérez had enjoyed began to ebb as his medium tires began to grain and Sainz slowly began to close in. By lap 54 the Mexican was just 0.7s ahead of the Ferrari driver.
The final laps of the time-limited race then became a game of cat and mouse as Pérez tried to nurse his fading medium tires to the flag, while the three drivers behind him pushed to provoke any kind of mistake.
However, despite heavy graining, the Mexican racer kept his composure and after 64 laps Pérez crossed the line to take his third grand prix win. Behind him Sainz was forced to settle for second, while Verstappen’s third place extends his championship lead over fourth-place Leclerc by a further three points. With 125 points the Dutchman is now nine clear of Leclerc. Pérez is third on 110 points. Russell took fifth place ahead of Norris, Alonso and Hamilton, while Bottas took ninth. The final point on offer went to Aston Martins Sebastian Vettel.
|1||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing||64||+0.000s|
|2||55||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Ferrari||64||+1.154s|
|3||1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing||64||+1.491s|
|6||4||Lando Norris||McLaren Mercedes||64||+12.231s|
|7||14||Fernando Alonso||Alpine Renault||64||+46.358s|
|9||77||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||64||+52.525s|
|10||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||64||+53.536s|
|12||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine Renault||64||+55.644s|
|13||3||Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren Mercedes||64||+57.635s|
|14||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||64||+60.802s|
|15||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Mercedes||63||+1 lap|
|16||24||Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||63||+1 lap|
|17||22||Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri||63||+1 lap|
|NC||23||Alexander Albon||Williams Mercedes||48||DNF|
|NC||47||Mick Schumacher||Haas Ferrari||24||DNF|
|NC||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||19||DNF|