Red Bull Motorsports
Gutted one day, given a gift the next. Just 24 hours after being denied a possible first Monaco Grand Prix pole by a red flag that ended qualifying prematurely, Max Verstappen's luck changed dramatically and with that reversal of Formula One fortune came a race win at the Grand Prix every driver covets.
The Red Bull Racing Honda driver's quest for pole position was thwarted by Charles Leclerc crashing his Ferrari in the dying stages of qualifying, the debris strewn across the circuit forcing the session to be red-flagged and leaving the Monegasque driver on pole position.
But when the Ferrari's driveshaft was too damaged for Leclerc to take to the grid for Sunday's race, Verstappen had the front row all to himself and after negotiating the tension of the run to the first corner, he controlled proceedings from there to take his 12th Grand Prix win.
With the victory, Verstappen assumed the lead of the Drivers' Championship for the first time in his 124-race career and 25-point haul. The combination of that result with a solid fourth place for team-mate Sergio Pérez saw Red Bull Racing Honda also jump into the lead of the Constructors' standings.
Between Verstappen and Pérez came Ferrari's Carlos Sainz in second and McLaren's Lando Norris in third, the former team-mates taking their first Monaco podiums. Monaco 2021 was all about Verstappen and Red Bull, though – not a line either team or driver would have considered likely after Leclerc took pole the day before.
Here's what went down in round five of the season in Monte Carlo.
Verstappen in cruise control
The ease of Verstappen's 8.9-second win came in stark contrast to his other results at this circuit; before Sunday, he'd never even stood on the podium there. (A second-place finish the last time F1 raced at Monaco in 2019 was demoted to fourth after he was penalised for an unsafe release at his pit stop.)
With Leclerc out of the picture, Verstappen pointed his car to the middle of the circuit as the lights went out to cover the fast-starting Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas on the manic 114m run to the first corner and led for the entire 78-lap distance. On lap 26, he led his 160th lap of the year, the most he's ever led in one season just five races into the 23-race campaign.
His victory was Red Bull Racing's fifth at the circuit since 2010 and Honda's first since 1992. And while it was a fairly straightforward race – without the usual Monaco drama for the fans – Sunday was just the second time in the past 11 races in Monaco not to feature the Safety Car. The Dutchman didn't mind one bit.
It's so special around here to win and also for me the it's the first time on the podium here
"You never know what's going to happen, but it was all about looking after your tyres. It was pretty much in control," he said. "It's so special around here to win and also for me the it's the first time on the podium here. It's a lot of laps around here and you really have to keep your focus, but it's really cool.
"You always want to win this Grand Prix. I remember when I was very little watching this race, so when you're standing here, of course I'm very proud. I'm also thinking ahead – it's a very long season, but this is a great way to continue."
The victory saw Verstappen move to 105 points in the Drivers' Championship, four points ahead of reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton, who endured a tough race for Mercedes and finished seventh.
Checo waits, then pounces
Sergio Pérez came oh-so-close to making it two Red Bulls on the podium, coming home fourth after a qualifying he described as a "disaster" when he finished ninth. He gained a spot on the start with Leclerc's misfortune and then his race came alive by putting in some storming laps as his rivals pitted, leapfrogging Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly and Hamilton after his lap 35 pit stop.
The Mexican roared onto the back of Norris in the closing laps and a second podium to add to his third place at Monaco in 2016 looked possible as the McLaren driver battled heavy tyre wear. Pérez was happy to settle for fourth however, a result that represented his first Monaco points in four years and moved him up to fifth in the Drivers' standings.
Pérez's 12 points saw Red Bull leave Monaco with a one-point lead (149–148) over Mercedes in the Constructors' Championship standings. This is the first time since the 2018 German Grand Prix, 53 races ago, that Mercedes haven't led both the Drivers' and Constructors' tables.
It was important for us to come here and score large, and that's what we've done
"It's been a phenomenal day,' Red Bull Racing Honda team principal Christian Horner beamed after the race. "Commiserations to Charles and Ferrari – obviously it was tough for them – but their loss was our gain. Max converted the race beautifully and controlled from the very first corner, and Checo had great pace today.
"Mercedes had a tough day, but that happens sometimes – that's racing. It's been a great day for us championship-wise. It's so close between the two teams, so it was important for us to come here and score large, and that's what we've done. Job done here, we've just got to keep that momentum going."
Gasly sparkles, Tsunoda learns
Sixth for Pierre Gasly was one place behind where he started, but the AlphaTauri driver enjoyed his best result of the young season, finally getting some reward for the qualifying pace that's seen him start inside the top 10 four times in five Grands Prix.
"It was very intense, because with Lewis Hamilton behind us for 78 laps, we knew we couldn't make any mistakes," Gasly said. "It was a good race, very intense, and I really pushed hard. I'm very happy with the way it's going with the team and also myself, I think I've developed well over the last two years. We're working very well with the team and we'll keep it that way."
Gasly's rookie team-mate Yuki Tsunoda – visiting Monaco for the first time in any category – started and finished in 16th place, the Japanese driver doing the longest first stint of the race on hard tyres (65 laps).
Tsunoda flew when he emerged for the final 12 laps – setting the second-fastest lap of the entire race – and will be better for the experience of the most unique F1 circuit of all.
Home heartbreak for Leclerc, Vettel off the mark
Charles Leclerc admitted he was concerned with the health of his Ferrari's gearbox after his crash that ended qualifying, but it was a driveshaft issue discovered soon after the pit lane opened to form the grid that sidelined the home driver, scuppering his best chance to end a curious run of outs that have seen him never finish a single race on his home track.
Second for Sainz eased some of Ferrari's pain, but a golden chance to win a first race since Italy 2019 went begging.
There were happier faces a few doors down at Aston Martin for Leclerc's old Ferrari team-mate Vettel, who finally scored his first points for his new team by finishing fifth after winning a high-stakes drag race with Gasly after his pit stop on lap 32.
Vettel jumped Hamilton in the pit stops, much to the seven-time world champion's annoyance, while it was even worse for the Brit's Mercedes team-mate Bottas, who retired in the pits on lap 30 after a stuck wheel nut wouldn't budge from his front right tyre.
A street circuit with a difference
From the most famous street track of all comes perhaps the most extreme – the Azerbaijan Grand Prix is next on the schedule on June 6.
The Baku circuit has produced three action-packed Grands Prix since it debuted in 2017 and it's one where the cars can nudge 370kph with a slipstream down the main straight to finish the lap, where the cars blast along a two-kilometre section of road parallel to the Caspian Sea.