F1 news and analysis - Race Review: Red Bull turn the screw as Mercedes and Ferrari lose theirs
After a Monaco Grand Prix that didn’t go as any of us expected, Pete Sharland looks back at what might have been for both Mercedes and Ferrari, and what ended up being for Red Bull. We have new leaders in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships and that may not change as the paddock prepares to head to Baku.
MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 23: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing and Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walk to the grid during the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco at Circuit de Monaco on May 23, 2021 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.
"I know everyone will be working flat out to make sure that hopefully this kind of weekend doesn't happen again."
If Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes didn’t know they were in a title race before, they do now.
Except they did know. Hamilton, in particular, knew and he was keen to stress that the team had won races already that perhaps they shouldn’t have won, whilst constantly talking up the talent of Max Verstappen and his Red Bull car.
That is why Mercedes simply couldn’t have had a weekend like the one they just had. It’s why Hamilton said after a catastrophic Monaco weekend that "we definitely can't afford another weekend like this.”
It’s hard to see where it went right for Hamilton this weekend. He was constantly off the pace in testing and then in qualifying, being beaten by team-mate Valtteri Bottas. Then in the race his team overrode his thoughts on their pit strategy costing him valuable position.
“How am I still behind him man?!
What has just happened guys, I just lose two places?!
“I don’t understand it guys, I saved the tyres to go longer then you make me stop before everyone.
“I’ve lost position to [Sergio] Perez?!”
That is a selection of the radio messages from Hamilton to his engineer Peter “Bono” Bonnington, who afterwards apologised for a “s*** weekend.” That is an understatement. Verstappen and Red Bull are now top of their respective championships after a fairly flawless weekend, at least compared to Mercedes.
Toto Wolff’s headache was exacerbated when Bottas came into the pits, and then didn’t ever come out again. The Finn was undone after the "wheel nut machined onto the axle.” Speaking afterwards, Mercedes team principal Wolff said it had “never happened to that extent before,” and it is “something we need to understand.”
They had better learn quickly, as they watch Red Bull go top of the standings for the first time in the hybrid area. Speaking afterwards, Red Bull principal Christian Horner said “it was important to take our chances here.
“Mercedes had a rare off day and it was important to convert that. So as a team, we’ve done that.”
He’s not wrong, So many times in the past, just when it felt like they were being reeled in, Mercedes or Hamilton punished a mistake, even a minute one, to turn the screw in. The very visible chink in Mercedes’ armour is welcome news for people who want a more competitive sport.
They weren’t the only ones to suffer this weekend, and it was full of highs and lows for Ferrari. Their practice and qualifying sessions were brilliant, confirming pre-weekend suggestions that they could make some noise, until things started to go sour when pole-sitter Charles Leclerc crashed in the final qualifying lap. Eventually it was decided that Leclerc couldn’t start the race, another heartbreaking moment for the youngster in his home race. It was assumed that the issue stemmed from the crash but, speaking to Sky Sports F1, Ferrari chief Mattia Binotto said that wasn’t the case and they hadn’t identified the cause yet.
"We need to fully understand what happened," he said.
"The failure is on the driveshaft into the hub on the left-hand side, so it's not a gearbox problem we had.
"The gearbox has been inspected yesterday evening, it has been rebuilt, and the gearbox was okay for the race. What happened is on the opposite side compared to the accident, so it may be completely unrelated to the accident. But something on which we need to carefully understand and analyse.
"We have no answer right now."
On the other hand it was a brilliant weekend for Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard continued to prove why he’s one of the most underrated drivers on the grid, getting fourth in qualifying that he bumped up to a superb second on race-day. Some may say this is what is expected of Sainz but that doesn’t factor in all the work that goes in when it comes to switching teams. That Sainz doesn’t appear to have lost time is a fantastic achievement, only highlighted more so by the real struggles of Daniel Ricciardo compared to his McLaren team-mate Lando Norris, who grabbed another podium.
Finally, it was great to see Sebastian Vettel get a chance to ring his bell once more. Vettel’s end at Ferrari was not nice to watch and his start with Aston Martin wasn’t much better. However the team got their strategy right throughout the weekend and Vettel produced a brilliant performance to finish fifth on Sunday along with driver of the day. His move to take Pierre Gasly and Lewis Hamilton at once was sublime and the best piece of driving we saw all weekend. Perhaps this can be the start of something for the former world-champion and his new team.
The grid now heads to Baku in two weeks' time, another track that is expected to favour the Red Bull car. Mercedes and Ferrari will have their work cut out in the mean time to figure out what went wrong with their cars, and how they can gain as much as time as possible to give Verstappen and Horner something to think about. For now though, things are coming up orange.