Max Verstappen took advantage of the cruel last-minute withdrawal of Ferrari poleman Charles Leclerc to win the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday and take the lead in the drivers’ world championship for the first time.
Carlos Sainz for Ferrari took second with McLaren’s Lando Norris completing the podium.
Red Bull’s Verstappen replaced Lewis Hamilton at the top of the 2021 standings after world champion Mercedes finished seventh.
The Dutchman arrived in the Principality behind Hamilton by 14 points, leaving him four points ahead.
“It’s so special to win. The first time for me on the podium here. It was about taking care of the tires. I was pretty much in control, ”Verstappen said after taking the checkered flag waved by tennis superstar Serena Williams.
# photo1Hamilton had a low-key weekend qualifying seventh and finishing seventh.
His team-mate Valtteri Bottas was in the running to pounce on any Verstappen mistake.
But his race came to an embarrassing end when a routine pit stop took a disastrous turn as one wheel refused to come off.
The Finn’s frustration will have been nothing to the grief Leclerc suffered just before the start when he reported a gearbox problem on his Ferrari.
For Leclerc, born in the region, it was a cruel end to his dream of winning his Grand Prix at home.
– ‘Difficult to take’ –
“In the garage it was very difficult to feel good, but I guess now I’m getting used to that feeling here unfortunately,” said Leclerc.
“I’ve never finished a race here – this year I’m not starting. It’s hard to take and I also feel for the team. “
# photo2 His last-minute absence was all the more unexpected as a few hours earlier, Ferrari had announced that repairs had been carried out without penalty on the grid after Leclerc’s accident in qualifying 24 hours earlier.
For the 23-year-old, it was just the latest misfortune in Monaco.
Despite his familiarity with the cramped and ruthless road circuit, his record in his home race remains bleak.
His bad luck at the Mediterranean jewel in F1’s crown had already resurfaced on Thursday after gearbox issues ruined his opening practice session.
From then on, his fortune changed. He dominated FP2, then qualified on pole for the first time since Mexico in 2019.
But his crash, which ended qualifying prematurely, left him anxiously awaiting the green light from the mechanics working on his damaged car.
It happened on Sunday morning, only for the heartache to follow as he made his way around the circuit for the start when he came on team radio reporting he had a problem, saying “No , no, no – the gearbox guys’.
Back in the pits, Ferrari mechanics jumped on the car to see if anything could be done to get it out of the pit lane.
When it became apparent that this was not possible, a downed Leclerc emerged from the cockpit of his distressed car to head for the grid and pre-race ceremonies, receiving a consoling hug from Prince Albert II of Monaco .
Leclerc’s absence will have been a bitter disappointment for his supporters among the 7,500 spectators allowed to watch the race from the stands as the coronavirus restrictions are gradually lifted.
Verstappen inherited the pole position which takes on greater importance in Monaco where overtaking opportunities are as rare as a royal flush at the legendary Casino de Monaco.
And it turned out with the Red Bull driver becoming the 12th pole winner in the last 16 editions to bolster his claims as the main obstacle between Hamilton and a record-breaking eighth world title.
The F1 circus then heads to the Azerbaijani Grand Prix in Baku in two weeks.
© 2021 AFP