Checo dominates dramatic Monaco
Sergio Pérez defied treacherous wet conditions, Safety Cars and fading tyres to take a brilliant first Monaco Grand Prix win ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, as Max Verstappen took his 65th career podium with a third-place finish that extends his title lead over Charles Leclerc who took the flag in fourth place.
Max, with 125 points, is now nine clear of Leclerc at the top of the Driver’s standings, while victory in the Principality means Checo is now just six points behind the Monégasque driver. First and third in the race mean the Team now has 235 Constructors’ Championship points, 36 ahead of Ferrari.
Discussing his first win of the year, driver Sergio Perez said: “It was really hard for me to think straight after the race, I was full of adrenaline and so much energy going through the race. Once I heard my national anthem on the podium here it hit me, it is a dream come true for any driver in the world to tick that box in Monaco and I can just be extremely happy.
“We were quick all weekend, we kept our heads down and knew today with the right strategy we could make things happen. This win was for my mum and all my family, she was very sick last week so I had very good motivation going into this race to get her a victory.
“It’s been an incredible day, I am super happy for the whole Team and I hope my country are proud too. You don’t win Monaco many times in your life so the first one is very special.”
With heavy rain falling ahead of the scheduled start, race control delayed the race by more than an hour and when the Monaco Grand Prix finally began it did so on a wet track and behind the Safety Car.
After two laps, a rolling start was decreed and when racing resumed polesitter Leclerc kept hold of the lead ahead of Sainz, Checo and Max. The rain began to recede and though conditions improved the track was still treacherous.
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, with Checo 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 slower than his teammate, Leclerc was able to build a gap at the front and after 12 laps the Monégasque driver was more than five seconds clear of the Spaniard. That left Checo almost seven seconds off the lead, with Max 1.3s behind his Mexican teammate.
On lap 14, Checo radioed through to the Team saying that the time had come to make the switch to inters, a feeling confirmed when Gasly, who had moved to the green-banded tyres at the start, began to carve his way through the order, rising from P17 on the grid to P12 by lap 14. Sainz, though, was of a different opinion, telling the Ferrari pit wall that he wanted to go straight to dry tyres.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton then pitted for inters from P8 at the end of lap 15 and as Gasly pumped in the fastest lap of the race, the Team pitted Checo at the end of the next tour. The Mexican moved to inters in a 2.3s switch and re-joined in fifth behind Norris.
Leclerc pitted at the end of lap 17 and he too moved to intermediate tyres in a 2.7s stop, a move repeated by Max on the same lap. That promoted Sainz to the lead, though the Spaniard was in need of a stop. Checo’s undercut had proved immensely powerful, however, and armed with fresh tyres he now lay in second, 3.4s ahead of Leclerc.
As he had requested, Sainz skipped inters and moved directly to dry hard tyres 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 pit wall changed its mind and told Leclerc to stay out. It was too late, however, and Leclerc was already in the pit lane. He was switched to hard tyres and released but he’d lost a huge amount of ground.
The Team then opted to cover the Ferraris and Checo and Max were pitted in turn at the end of lap 21, with both making the switch to hard compound slick tyres. Checo now led the race, 0.8s ahead of Sainz and 3.1s clear of Max who was now in third ahead of Leclerc.
On his P3, driver Max Verstappen said: “First of all congratulations to Checo, he did an incredible job today. As a Team we did a really great job, we managed a good strategy. Of course finishing third for me is not ideal but I wasn’t able to improve my lap time yesterday so that’s just how it goes.
“In the heat of the battle and with the hectic start, we stayed calm as a Team, we made good decisions. The strategy paid off with Checo winning so that was the biggest positive of the day. I’m really proud of the Team effort this weekend and to get two cars onto the podium.”
Behind the top four, Russell was now in P5, 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, however, 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. He quickly reported that he was OK, but admitted “I just don’t understand it”. 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, the Team switched both drivers to fresh medium tyres, though Ferrari left Sainz and Leclerc on used hard tyres.
The race resumed with another rolling start and when the Safety Car left the track, Checo held his lead ahead of Sainz, with Max third ahead of Leclerc. There was a nervous moment soon after, however, when a bird flew out in front of Checo and the Mexican locked up heavily on the run down from Casino square.
The Mexican settled quickly, however, 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 Checo had enjoyed began to erode as his medium tyres began to grain and Sainz slowly began to eat into the gap to the lead. And by lap 54 the Mexican was just seven-tenths of a second ahead of the Ferrari driver, with Max a further second back and Leclerc right behind Max.
The final laps of the time-limited race then became a game of cat and mouse as Checo tried to nurse his fading medium tyres to the flag, while the three drivers behind him pushed to provoke any kind of mistake.
But despite heavy graining, the Mexican racer drove beautifully, repeatedly working a small gap through the tunnel to see off any threat from Sainz into the Nouvelle Chicane. And as the seconds ticked by, victory drew ever closer, until after 64 laps Checo crossed the line to take his third Grand Prix win, and perhaps the sweetest of all.
Behind him, Sainz was forced to settle for second, while Max’s third place extended his championship lead over fourth-place Leclerc by another three points. Russell took fifth place ahead of Norris, Alonso and Hamilton, while Bottas took ninth. The final point on offer went to Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel.
Commenting on Checo’s win, Team Principal Christian Horner said: “It has been an amazing day for us and an amazing day for Checo, he’s been on it all weekend so it’s a well-deserved victory.
“The teamwork and for both of our drivers to pick off a Ferrari was fantastic. Checo is doing a great job this year, in Jeddah he had that amazing pole and the time delta between him and Max has been a lot closer this year. To win this race is a deserved victory.
“Max hasn’t quite had the car where he wanted this weekend, but he’s pleased with that result, he’s beaten Charles and kept his championship lead which was the goal. Through great teamwork from the drivers, on the pit wall, in the garage and back in Milton Keynes we optimised our performance this weekend, so we are very happy.”
There is now a week’s break before the paddock heads to Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.