Verstappen wins Monaco Grand Prix to leapfrog Hamilton in title battle

By Sports Desk May 23, 2021

Max Verstappen roared to victory at the Monaco Grand Prix and jumped above reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton at the top of the drivers' standings.

The Red Bull driver benefited from the shock withdrawal of pole-sitter Charles Leclerc ahead of the race, producing an immaculate drive to stay out of trouble and finish ahead of the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.

McLaren's Lando Norris completed the podium, securing his second third place of the season, with Sergio Perez, Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly all coming home ahead of Hamilton, who trailed in a distant seventh.

The outcome saw Verstappen, thanks to his first Monaco triumph, move four points in front of Hamilton after five rounds of the 23-race championship. He leads the championship for the first time in his career, a further sign that Hamilton could face a major battle to cling to his crown as he chases a record-breaking eighth title.

Just 20 minutes before the race began, Ferrari dropped the bombshell that Leclerc had been ruled out due to a driveshaft problem.

It was a crushing blow for the Monegasque driver, whose pole was secured in dramatic fashion on Saturday when he crashed his Ferrari in the final minute of qualifying, denying his rivals a clear track and the chance to set a faster time. Leclerc feared gearbox trouble but was initially given the all-clear to race, until he was pulled from the line-up.

What it meant was that Verstappen, second on the grid, had the chance to gain the early ascendancy on the tight circuit where he had never previously achieved a podium finish, and he demonstrated his prowess as a front-runner.

Valtteri Bottas was sitting second when the Finn pitted on the 31st lap, and he joined Leclerc in the bad-luck club when Mercedes were unable to remove his front-right wheel. After a desperate minute of waiting, Bottas climbed out of his car, his race over.

Sebastian Vettel managed to get ahead of Pierre Gasly and Hamilton when the three pitted, the Aston Martin going almost wheel to wheel with Gasly's Alpha Tauri as he completed a stunning overcut.

That moment imperilled Hamilton's leadership of the championship, putting him down in seventh place, as Mercedes suffered a miserable couple of minutes. 

It proved the last major twist of the race, with Hamilton securing a bonus point for a late fastest lap. Small consolation on a dismal day for Mercedes, as Verstappen and Perez's performance also saw Red Bull go ahead of the Silver Arrows in the constructors' standings.

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  • Hamilton tips Antonelli to replace him at Mercedes Hamilton tips Antonelli to replace him at Mercedes

    Lewis Hamilton would choose Andrea Kimi Antonelli to take his Mercedes seat when he makes the move to Ferrari next year.

    In February, Hamilton stunned the Formula One world by announcing he was exercising a break clause in his contract with the Silver Arrows and would join Ferrari from 2025. 

    Several drivers have been linked with the upcoming vacancy at Mercedes, including world champion Max Verstappen, though he is thought likely to stay with Red Bull for next season.

    Carlos Sainz – who will lose his Ferrari seat to Hamilton – has also been tipped as a potential candidate, but Hamilton thinks 17-year-old prodigy Antonelli deserves a chance.

    "Carlos is a great driver, so wherever he goes I think he would be a positive for any team," Hamilton said of Sainz. 

    "Honestly, I have no idea what Toto [Wolff]'s plans are, but for me, taking on a youngster, I would probably take on Kimi."

    Antonelli has been part of Mercedes' junior team since 2019 and currently competes for Prema Racing in Formula Two, sitting sixth in the drivers' championship standings after four rounds of the 2024 season.

    Speaking at Sunday's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, team principal Wolff hinted the teenager was under serious consideration for next year.

    "I guess for the Italians it's super exciting to have Lewis Hamilton in red next year. We will get used to the outfits, but we have got to look at ourselves," he said.

    "Maybe there is an option where we can shine more with an Italian in our car, so we're pushing back hard."

  • Russell will not 'sulk' about losing position to Hamilton as Mercedes struggle again Russell will not 'sulk' about losing position to Hamilton as Mercedes struggle again

    George Russell will not "sulk" after giving up sixth place to team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, where Mercedes failed to arrest their slide.

    Hamilton and Russell finished sixth and seventh respectively as Max Verstappen held off a charging Lando Norris for his third successive victory at the Imola event.

    Russell was ahead of Hamilton as his tyres began to wear late in the race, leading Mercedes to call him in for a pit stop and bring him out ahead of eighth-placed Sergio Perez.

    That ensured Hamilton finished above his team-mate for a second straight race, having failed to top him in any of the first five races of 2024.

    Russell refused to criticise the team's strategy after the race, though he lamented their continued struggles with their W15 car.

    "You're never going to be happy with P6 and P7," Russell told Sky Sports.

    "At the end of the day, as a team we scored an extra point. I lost my position to Lewis but I'm not going to sulk over losing a P6."

    Asked to explain the decision, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said: "[Russell's] lap times were getting slower and slower, and our forecast saw he was not going to make it to the end and we didn't want to lose the position to Perez.

    "Lewis would have probably taken him anyway. The point being that we are racing for P6 and P7 and wanted to keep the Red Bull behind. It was a safety call."

    Russell is currently seventh in the drivers' championship standings with Hamilton in eighth, with neither driver managing a podium finish so far this year.

    McLaren have emerged as the foremost challengers to Red Bull and Ferrari in recent weeks, leaving Mercedes marooned in a disappointing fourth place in the team standings. 

    "This is where we are right now, a little bit in no man's land behind the Ferraris and McLarens but ahead of the midfield," Russell said of their struggles.

    "Everyone is still super motivated, the morale isn't dropping at all, which is quite inspiring to say. Everyone is trying to make this work and improve it."

  • Norris excited to see McLaren challenging Red Bull Norris excited to see McLaren challenging Red Bull

    Lando Norris is excited to see McLaren emerging as the foremost challengers to Red Bull, after he narrowly missed out on a second straight win at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

    Norris started second at Imola on Sunday as a grid penalty dropped his McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri to fifth. 

    It initially looked like Norris might face a battle for second as Charles Leclerc closed on him, but he found extraordinary pace late on as leader Max Verstappen started to struggle.

    Verstappen complained of grip problems over team radio as Norris drew within 0.7 seconds of the world champion by the final lap, but he was just unable to pass him in a tense finish.

    "It hurts me to say it, but one or two more laps and I think I would have had him," Norris told Sky Sports. 

    "It's tough. I just lost out too much to Max in the beginning. He was stronger in the first stint.

    "We are at a point now where we can say we are in a position with Ferrari and Red Bull. We have to get used to it. We are fighting for first and second now.

    "It is still a surprise to say we are disappointed not to win, but it is what we should start to expect."

    Norris has now managed four podium finishes in the last five races, and he sits fourth in the drivers' championship standings, six points behind Sergio Perez in third.

    He finished second at the Chinese Grand Prix last month, then beat Verstappen to claim his first race win in Miami in early May, benefitting from effective upgrades to McLaren's MCL38 car.

    "Hopefully, it continues like that because it's exciting, it's tough, and it gets you excited every weekend, so I'm looking forward to the next few," he said.

    "We also had a second in China, so we've had second, first, second, and I think that’s a good sign."

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