Max Verstappen took victory and the lead in the world championship for the first time in his career in Monaco. The Red Bull driver had dominated the race from second on the grid after being unchallenged by Charles Leclerc after the Ferrari driver suffered a gearbox failure following a crash at the end of Q3.
Mercedes meanwhile had their worst weekend since Monza last year as Sir Lewis Hamilton could only manage seventh. Throughout the weekend it appears that the world champions struggled with the cool weather conditions and the street circuit meaning they have lost the lead of the championship for the first time since Hockenheim in 2018.
Leclerc despair again
Leclerc was the star of qualifying well up until the defining moment at the end of Q3 when he overcooked it through the exit of the Swimming Pool, where he hit the rear of the car breaking the suspension. While Ferrari repaired the damage, on his lap to the grid it emerged that he lost drive caused by the left-hand driveshaft.
The reason why Ferrari didn’t want to risk a gearbox change is because they knew it would give him a five-place grid penalty. But that decision meant he was unable to start his home race giving him the stat of never scoring points at his home Grand Prix. A disappointing end to what was shaping up to be one of the teams best weekends of the season.
Questions were asked of Ferrari in the aftermath of Leclerc’s DNS after it opted against changing his gearbox, having vowed it would “not gamble” on a retirement. But Mattia Binotto revealed after the race that it was a driveshaft issue that stopped him taking the start, meaning a change of gearbox wouldn’t have actually solved things.
However, the takeaway from the race was that Ferrari can be a challenge to McLaren after Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz delivered his strongest race weekends of the season. He managed to gain a podium, watching him rise from fourth in a strong race which could prove he is starting to understand and get more comfortable with the Ferrari.
Sainz finished nine seconds behind Verstappen despite having graining issues and was a reward, after he believed that he had a wasted opportunity for pole position and victory.
I still believe Monaco nature may mean we may not see a repeat of this performance by Ferrari, but street and low speed/high downforce circuits could be races where they are strong. Baku won’t I think give us answers as while it’s a street circuit it’s very different to Monte Carlo because of its long straights and wider nature.
More evidence of Red Bull serious challenge
Verstappen’s victory gave him the lead of the driver’s championship, which was impressive given his shaky record in Monaco, he went straight to the top of the podium. His win gives him an eighteen-point lead over Hamilton, meaning he has lost the lead of the championship for the first time since Hockenheim 2018.
We have always said two of the biggest challenges for Verstappen and Red Bull, is Mercedes tend to bounce back stronger following races like Monaco and grow stronger as the season progresses. However Red Bull managed to do that last year, this championship could become about who grows and out develops each other.
The other question is when Verstappen has his off weekend, which he will at some point, how will he bounce back? In my view, he is yet to really prove at a high level he can stop the root settling in which could be key in this title fight.
Red Bull also need Sergio Perez to be fighting up with Hamilton, to take points away from him as the feeling is that this championship could go all the way to Abu Dhabi. This means that Red Bull needs to take advantage where they can at races where they can, we cant conclude the unique situation.
But Verstappen is now in a very different position, he isn’t the hunter anymore for the moment as he leads the drivers championship, can he keep control and create a grip on the championship? He has the best chance to challenge for a championship but going up against Mercedes is a tough challenge.
Mercedes CTO James Allison said after the race that the mood in the team was “lower than a snake’s belly”, summing up just how badly the weekend had gone. The other factor may have been that Valtteri Bottas being forced to retire when the right-front wheel was clearly enjoying the race despite all that because it simply wouldn’t budge.
The team also believed that Hamilton trying the undercut the Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly, but that didn’t work and the Englishman was overcut by Sebastian Vettel and Sergio Perez were both able to get the overcut, leaving the seven-time world champion down in seventh once again.
Wolff explained the thinking behind Mercedes’ strategy after the race, saying the team believed the undercut was the best way to try and get ahead of Gasly. when asked by Motorsport.com about the strategy call, he said, “I think the undercut was the only chance that we had. We saw the tyre that came off, and there was nothing left, similar to Valtteri [Bottas]’s car.”
“There was some communication between him and the strategists, are we undercutting, and we felt the undercut had much bigger potential to kind of jump Gasly. And it wasn’t enough.”
The brewing row
This year’s technical row appears centred on the rear wing of the Red Bull, which appears to flex at high speed bending. The FIA are developing more stringent tests from the French Grand Prix onwards.
But that did not satisfy the concerns aired by some in the F1 paddock, with Wolff calling the decision “half baked” and McLaren’s Andreas Seidl saying it was “unacceptable” to wait so long before introducing the tests.
The technical regulations state that bodywork must be “rigidly secured to the entirely sprung part of the car” however the wing appears to move backwards on the straight before moving forward in the corners giving greater performance on the straight without compromising its performance in the corners.
Its widely expected that the wings will be illegal, but the three teams involved in this Red Bull, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, argue that they are sticking to the technical regulations which cannot simply be made midway through a season when, according to them, there is nothing illegal about their designs.
The tests aim to discover if there has been any non-linear behaviour in the wings when they bend: in effect, whether the natural bending expected on the body of an F1 car when it is racing is being exceeded for unfair gains.