Verstappen now leads the drivers' championship by four points
A win at Monaco is always special, but for Max Verstappen this one meant more than just the status of victory at Formula 1's most celebrated race.
It not only arrested the momentum Lewis Hamilton was building up in their private fight for the title, but also provided the perfect opportunity to fire back at some of the barbed comments the seven-time champion had been aiming in the direction of the Dutchman and his Red Bull team.
The Monaco weekend started with Hamilton saying he had "done well" to avoid colliding with Verstappen in their wheel-to-wheel battles in the first four races of the season, and that the younger man "feels he perhaps has a lot to prove".
Verstappen gave a pointed verbal response to that – but saved his most effective one for the track.
His drive to victory was aided by the removal from the race of pole-winner Charles Leclerc's Ferrari before it had even started. But what followed was a consummate, masterful drive, while Hamilton and Mercedes floundered behind him.
Never on the pace all weekend, Hamilton started seventh, and finished there, too. The seven-time champion was not only unable to get past Pierre Gasly's Alpha Tauri on pit strategy, but also lost places to Sergio Perez's Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel's Aston Martin.
The result was that Verstappen turned a 14-point deficit in the championship into a four-point lead.
"Actions always speak louder than words; that is a good lesson after this weekend," Verstappen said. "You have to talk on the track. That's what I like. As a team, so far we have made the smallest mistakes. That is why we are ahead. I hope we can keep that going for the rest of the season."
In that answer, Verstappen addressed not only Hamilton's pre-Monaco barb, but also ones he had made at previous races in reference to small mistakes the Red Bull driver had made that potentially harmed his chances.
Hamilton's response to all this?
"I'm not playing mind games," he said. "They did a great job this weekend and that's that. There are 17 races to go. I'm not going to get into a war of words. It's childish."
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Why did Hamilton's weekend unravel?
Verstappen and Red Bull went into the Monaco weekend as favourites. Ferrari's remarkable competitiveness was a surprise. But with Leclerc removed from the picture by a pre-race driveshaft failure, Verstappen converted what became de facto pole position into a lead at the first corner, and was in total control of the race from then on.
At Mercedes, meanwhile, serious questions were being asked about their lack of competitiveness.
Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas had managed to take third on the grid, but after Verstappen fended off the Finn's attack at the start, Bottas slowly but surely dropped away, coming under pressure from Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, before a stripped wheel nut forced his retirement at his pit stop.
Hamilton, meanwhile, was nowhere. Lacking confidence in the car in qualifying, he had struggled to generate tyre temperature, lacked grip as a result and been only seventh fastest on Saturday afternoon.
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Mercedes' pre-race plans had been to run longer than those in front of them and try to gain time and places back with some fast laps before a later pit stop.
But high tyre wear scuppered that. The drivers in front did not stop as early as Mercedes expected. When Hamilton pitted, pretty much at the point that had been planned, his tyres were shot.
And, although it was not broadcast on television, Hamilton had already been asking the engineers to try the undercut – stopping first and gaining time on fresh tyres – in an attempt to pass Gasly, before the engineers decided to do exactly that, reversing their pre-race plans.
"I don't feel any pain," Hamilton said. "It is not a great weekend but I am not dwelling on it. There is a lot we could have done better in terms of how we prepared. We've had some good conversations through the weekend but it's not good enough from all of us.
"We don't take it lightly but there is no point getting depressed. We have to look through the data and work out why we are in this position. We will be on calls the next few days and we all want answers."
Hamilton had won three out of the opening four races before heading to Monte Carlo
Why were Mercedes struggling so in Monaco, lacking speed when they had it before, using up their tyres quicker than others when in the first four races it had been the other way around?
"Monaco has never been a happy place for us," team boss Toto Wolff said. "You are building a car for 23 races and there will be outliers in both directions where you underperform and Monaco is definitely an outlier where you need a different car than for the average tracks."
Hamilton won there in 2019 but generally in recent years Red Bull and/or Ferrari have had the advantage around the streets, and so it was this year.
Part of the explanation lies in the philosophy of the Mercedes car itself. It is longer and the team run it flatter than other teams. This limits the total downforce the car can generate, and its size makes it cumbersome on such a tight track.
"We have the longest car," Hamilton said. "It is like a bus to turn and it is not as nimble as the others, but it's great elsewhere. There are things that don't work here that bode well for the other circuits."
Neither Hamilton nor Wolff, though, is under any illusion that they will necessarily automatically return to winning ways in two weeks' time in Baku, another street track but one with very different characteristics to Monaco, and the longest 'straight' on the calendar.
"It is going to be tough," Hamilton said. "I told you at the beginning of the season that they have a championship-winning car and they are going to be very hard to beat.
"I have been serious about it all year. We have won races we shouldn't have won, like in Bahrain. But it is not over. There is a long way to go. We can't afford another weekend like this but I am grateful l finished and got a point for fastest lap. Every point we get on a bad weekend like this can be important later on.
"The reasons we have all the championships we have is because we made mistakes but we learn from them and came back stronger. There is a lot to take from this weekend. We don't have all the answers but it will force us to go and have to search for them."
Disappointment for a resurgent Ferrari
Pole-sitter Leclerc was on hand to congratulate team-mate Sainz on his second-place finish
While Verstappen celebrated his victory, he spared a thought for Leclerc, the man who might have deprived him of it had his car been able to start the race.
"It's sad for Charles," Verstappen said. "Starting on pole at his home grand prix, it is never nice to not even do the start."
As Verstappen accelerated away from the grid towards a first Monaco win, Leclerc was alone with his girlfriend and his thoughts, clearly devastated by the turn of events.
"Sad," he said later. "Just very sad. A lot of emotions obviously in the helmet. It is a track that means something very special for me. As for every driver, I want to do well at home.
"I have never finished a race in Monaco. This year I start from pole and I don't even start it, so it is a difficult one to take."
When Leclerc's car failed on his first lap out of the pits before the race, and he radioed the team that the gearbox had failed, at first it seemed as if Ferrari might have made a terrible mistake.
Leclerc had taken pole on Saturday, after going fastest on his first lap in the final part of qualifying and then crashing on his second. That brought out the red flag and cost everyone else the chance of improving on their final runs.
The immediate concern was that his gearbox might be damaged, a regular occurrence in a crash, but one which means an automatic five-place penalty if it is replaced.
But Ferrari inspected it both on Saturday evening and on Sunday morning and could find no problems, so decided not to change it.
As it turned out, it was not the gearbox that failed on Leclerc's car, Ferrari said, but the left-hand driveshaft – the side of the car that did not hit the wall.
Did the crash damage the driveshaft and Ferrari fail to spot it? Initially, team boss Mattia Binotto said on Sunday evening that the driveshaft was "not damaged in the accident".
But pressed on it, Binotto did admit that he was "not sure" that the failure was not related to the accident in any way and said: "We need to find the answer."
Ferrari's hopes in the race were salvaged by Sainz, who was highly impressive all weekend.
The Spaniard had been frustrated to miss out on pole himself on Saturday, feeling it had been within his grasp. But the retirements of Leclerc and Bottas elevated him to a well deserved second place. He was delighted, even if he admitted it was "bittersweet", given that his pace over the weekend had convinced him a win was possible.
Ferrari have made a big step forward this season after a dire 2020 but admit not only that their pace in Monaco was a surprise but also that it will be a "one-off". It was related to the specifics of the track and their car, which is good in slow-speed corners but lacks straight-line speed.
Monaco was Saninz's first podium for Ferrari since his move from McLaren
"We expected to be good around Monaco," Sainz said. "We didn't expect to be fighting for pole and win, but we expected to be closer to the front.
"We managed to switch the tyres on all compounds. We nailed the set-up. Confidence was high in the car. So it is a combination of things that came together, and all of a sudden in a special place like here you can have a crack at it. And we were close."
They will have other good tracks, such as Hungary and – if the race happens in the pandemic – Singapore. But they admit neither are likely to be as favourable as this. So quite possibly their only chance of a win this year has gone.
Three hours after the race, though, Leclerc was already moving on.
"I feel I have done a good job this weekend," he said. "It was not easy to miss first practice [with a gearbox failure]. I recovered well in second practice. At the end of qualifying, I just tried a bit too much. It can happen in Monaco. It has happened in the past.
"Many times I have been very hard with myself but if there is any time I have to push it is Q3 in Monaco. You can always learn but I am not too hard on myself.
"It is difficult because it is at home and it is not every day we have the chance to be in such a good place, but it is part of motorsport.
"What I will try to remember is all the positive signs. We are coming back quite a long way. We are on the good road and working well. The luck was not on my side this weekend but that's life. I will get over it."