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Max Verstappen had to fight the weather for victory in Monaco (Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool)
Max Verstappen had to fight the weather for victory in Monaco (Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool)

Verstappen dominates rain soaked Monaco Grand Prix

Reigning World Champion has to master treacherous conditions to win on famous streets

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Max Verstappen wins a thrilling Monaco Grand Prix, that saw a deluge of rain transform the race at the principality. 

Max Verstappen and Red Bull led into turn one, and fought hard to stay there (Image Credit: @redbullracing on Twitter)
Max Verstappen and Red Bull led into turn one and fought hard to stay there (Image Credit: @redbullracing on Twitter)

A day of penalties and pure driving skill proved the highlight in Monaco, with teams attempting to forecast rain, and optimistic overtaking causing drama during the race.

Pre-race

After one of the closest qualifying sessions in recent memory on Saturday, expectations were sky-high on Sunday. The principality baked in glorious sunshine, with Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso ready to duel on the streets of Monaco. The threat of a shower hung in the air, with teams crossing their fingers the weather stayed dry.

Several drivers had something to prove in the race. Home hero Charles Leclerc started in P6 after being awarded a three-place grid penalty. Sergio Perez needed a miracle to feature in proceedings, after crashing out in Q1. Lance Stroll was hoping for better luck after set-up struggles saw him start in P14.

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon arrived on the grid beaming as he moved up to P3 on the grid as a result of Leclerc’s penalty. With McLaren and Alpine level on points, a good result could see Alpine stretch clear in the standings.

The rain that threatened the start never arrived and with no drama before lights out, the cars prepared for lights out under the usual grid chaos at Monaco. All eyes were glued to the front row, with Verstappen and Alonso both targeting the lead into Saint Devote.

Alonso’s Aston Martin opted to start on hard tyres, while Verstappen decided on mediums. This could give Red Bull breathing space at the start, but cause problems when pitting and needing a gap. How would this game of chess play out?

Lights out

Verstappen led into Saint Devote, with the field all behaving well, with no major incidents. But Nico Hulkenberg, Logan Sargeant and Lance Stroll came together at Mirabeau, causing a traffic jam at the hairpin. Sargeant had to dive out of the way of Hulkenberg before Stroll was then hit as the cars became almost stationary.

Hulkenberg made up four places on lap one but had no choice but to pit due to damage. Perez and Red Bull pulled off an opportune stop, leapfrogging them both. Haas then had to relay the bad news that Hulkenberg had been awarded a five-second penalty.

George Russell then found himself under investigation for being too far forward in his grid box. The stewards stated no further investigation was needed, his P8 was safe.

A game of cat and mouse

Verstappen immediately began to pull away, 1.5 seconds clear at the end of lap three. The tactical nature of the race then began to show itself. Red Bull needed to decide the length of the gap its driver needed. Steadily pulling away, it became evident that Verstappen was holding station, opting not to race off into the distance. Alonso and Aston Martin followed suit, matching Verstappen’s pace.

The main factor of this race would prove to be tyre longevity. Race pace proved slow in the early stages, the field lapping over six seconds slower than qualifying. Further down the order, drivers stalked their rivals, focusing on tyre temperatures.

The closest battle in the early stages was Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari attempting to pass Esteban Ocon’s Alpine. Sainz made an optimistic lunge coming out of the tunnel on lap 12, but hit the Alpine, damaging his front wing. The team opted not to change the damaged wing and continued stalking the Alpine.

Home hero Charles Leclerc stalked Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes but proved unable to pass, while Hamilton ran over the debris of Sainz. The FIA took a dim view of the move on Ocon, waving a black and white driving standards flag.

Battles begins

With the battle at the front beginning to settle, the battles further down the grid began to take shape as the medium tyre runners started to struggle. Sargeant in P15 suddenly found his Williams engulfed on lap 19. In the space of one lap, the American had Magnussen pass him at Mirabeau, then Stroll and the recovering Perez at La Rasscasse.

Teammate Albon opted to pit at the end of the lap, while teammate Sargeant continued.  Hulkenberg passed the Williams on the next lap, Sargeant’s tyres now well past their best.

Pit lane bluffing then came into play, with the Ferrari pit crew venturing out to service Sainz, only to tell the Spaniard to stay out. The second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc continued to wait to pounce on Hamilton’s Mercedes.

Aston Martin then saw the true pace of Verstappen’s Red Bull. By lap 24, Alonso trailed the Red Bull by 11 seconds.

Magnussen’s medium tyres then fell off a cliff, leaving him vulnerable to Lance Stroll. An aggressive defence from the Dane kept the Haas ahead of the Aston Martin. Perez remained vigil behind them both, stuck in P16 without needing to stop again.

Teams then began to radio drivers to say rain was forecast. A waiting game began to see if the weather could have a part to play in the afternoon’s proceedings. Medium tyre runners chose not to pit for fear of losing track position.

Ocon’s strong pace continued, the Frenchman holding back Sainz in P3, allowing Verstappen and Alonso ahead to stretch away.

Traffic comes into play

Verstappen caught the back of the field on lap 31. Caught amongst the backmarkers, the 11-second gap the Red Bull had built began to disappear. One lap later the gap was now 7.1 seconds.

Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes was first to pit.  Ferrari told Leclerc to push, the Monegasque continuing for many more laps. Ferrari was hoping for the rain to arrive to keep position over the Mercedes.

Ocon was next but with a slow pit stop. Despite this, the Alpine remained ahead of the Ferrari. The Spaniard questioned the Scuderia’s strategy but continued.

Perez dived down the outside of Lance Stroll when the Aston Martin let Verstappen through, but hit the Canadian. Perez pushed for a penalty but instead hit the Haas of Kevin Magnussen at the Nouvelle chicane on the next lap. A front-wing replacement was needed and wrecked any chance of a decent race for the Mexican.

Lance Stroll then dived down the outside of Magnussen’s Haas at the final corner, but the Dane firmly closed the door. The Canadian complained of damage but opted not to pit.  Stroll became the second driver to receive a black and white flag from the stewards.

Back at the front of the field, Verstappen’s medium tyres were beginning to fade. His pace was strong and the gap began to extend to Alonso once more, the Aston Martin now stuck in traffic.  Verstappen’s gap to Charles Leclerc in P3 had crossed the barrier for a full pit stop, but Red Bull did not pit the Dutchman while the threat of rain increased.

Leclerc finally pitted on lap 45, on his way in just 2.2 seconds. However, this was ultimately not enough to avoid losing track position to Hamilton.

Rain or no rain?

Red Bull gave detailed reports of rain to Verstappen on lap 50.  The team said “pockets of rain” were coming, before Russell said it had began spitting at turn three.  McLaren opted to pit Norris on lap 52, just as the rain began to get more heavy in sector one.

Drivers lost temperature and struggled. Only Stroll and Bottas pitted for intermediate tyres, while the rest of the grid bunched up on cold tyres. Mirabeau saw the worst of the rain, with drivers on the lead lap trying to not trip up over backmarkers.  Sainz and Ocon continued their duel, with Sainz complaining the Alpine not leaving room.

Alonso pulled a surprise pit stop, going for new medium tyres, believing the conditions were isolated.  Sainz hit the barrier at Mirabeau before pitting. Leclerc and Sainz were forced into a problematic double stack, allowing Alonso to rejoin in P2, but Aston Martin’s chances of victory were all but gone.

Hamilton and Verstappen all hit the barriers but continued unscathed. Stroll was not so lucky, hitting the barriers and retiring. After the chaos of the pit stops, the top three remained unchanged, but both Mercedes had moved into P4 and P5, challenging Ocon ahead. The remaining driver on dry tyres was Kevin Magnussen, and he pitted for full wets.  He hit the wall at La Rascasse, his dry tyres crying enough.

Russell received a 5-second penalty for an unsafe rejoining the track after running wide at Mirabeau but was far enough ahead of Leclerc not to lose position.

Alonso’s pace initially evaporated on the intermediates, losing 19 seconds before finding his confidence and pulling away from Ocon. He lapped over a second faster than Verstappen, the Red Bull sliding around the track. This proved to be a false dawn, as Verstappen began pulling away again.

Last gasp bursts of speed

As the track began to try up the McLarens began to move up the order at the expense of Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri. Lando Norris passed Tsunoda into Saint Devote on lap 68, before Piastri repeated the manoeuvre a lap later. Brake issues for Tsunoda then led the Japanese driver to run wide into Mirabeau.

Perez and Hulkenberg continued their race-long battle, the Red Bull running on wet tyres to act as a guinea pig for race leader Verstappen. He pitted for intermediates on lap 73, his race very much compromised.

The McLarens showed an almost unbelievable pace in as the track dried, with Norris and Piastri lapping almost three seconds faster than race leader Verstappen. Half a minute down on Sainz in P9, the papaya cars could not exploit its pace.  Magnussen retired on lap 77 after an eventful afternoon.

Verstappen took the chequered flag 26 seconds ahead of Alonso’s Aston Martin, with Ocon completing a commendable drive to take P3. Mercedes were pleased with their upgrades to take P4 and P5. Leclerc and Ferrari threw away a strong result, ending up P6 and P8, with Gasly P7, and the two McLarens rounding out the top ten.

Final race classification:

Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool 

 

 

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