Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Monaco, 2021

Will Verstappen’s need to beat Hamilton outweigh his desire to beat Leclerc?

2021 Monaco Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Charles Leclerc took pole position in dramatic fashion at his home race.

While Max Verstappen may be frustrated at missing out on the top spot, he and Red Bull still have an opportunity to make the most of Lewis Hamilton qualifying seventh.

In the title fight between Verstappen and Hamilton, Monaco looked likely to give Red Bull a chance to claw back points against Mercedes. Sergio Perez and Verstappen began the weekend strongly, leading a one-two in cool conditions during first practice.

The Ferrari tipped their hand, Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr heading the next session. On Saturday morning, Mercedes were clearly adrift in final practice.

With Verstappen ultimately qualifying second and Hamilton seventh, Monte Carlo could present an opportunity for Red Bull to take a significant chunk out of Hamilton’s current lead. But starting behind Leclerc means his afternoon isn’t going to be as straightforward as he may have expected.

The order

Leclerc got too close to the barriers in qualifying
Until this weekend, Ferrari have not looked in contention for pole position since midway through the 2019 season. Despite substantial improvements this year, relative to last, most teams and drivers seemed taken aback by their pace in Monte Carlo.

As things stand, Leclerc starts on pole, with Verstappen alongside him. Ferrari are yet to confirm they won’t be changing his gearbox, and therefore incurring a penalty which would cost him pole position, but on Saturday evening the dropped a heavy hint they won’t need to.

Don’t take that for granted, however – it could be gamesmanship. If they do err on the side of caution, he will fall to sixth on the grid, putting Verstappen on pole position and leaving Hamilton still seventh.

Assuming that doesn’t happen, Valtteri Bottas will line up with Sainz on the second row, Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly behind them. It’s not until the fourth row that you find Hamilton, with Sebastian Vettel.

Not only does this put Hamilton right down the order, he’ll find himself in the busy midfield – with all attendant risks of cars fighting closely on a street circuit. Two places behind him is Sergio Perez, who Red Bull will surely deploy if possible to cover off any tactical moves Mercedes might attempt.

Strategy calls

Hamilton’s points lead is vulnerable
Hamilton expects his car will be more competitive on Sunday than it was in qualifying. “You’ve obviously seen in other races we’re very strong in the race,” he acknowledged. But will he have the chance to use that speed?

With on-track overtaking at Monaco so rare in Formula 1, the timing of pit stops are more likely to influence the order. Tyre degradation is unlikely to be a huge factor around low-speed Monaco. Particularly as the weather is likely to be similar to what we saw in final practice and qualifying.

Teams can therefore consider the possibility of using either the ‘undercut’ or ‘overcut’ to jump ahead of a rival. Running long increases your chances of encountering traffic, but a well-timed Safety Car (real or virtual) is a gift for a driver who chooses to run long.

This is invariably a one-stop race, which limited how many places drivers are likely to gain or lose. Sainz, distraught by what he perceived as a lost chance at pole after the red flag in Q3, lamented that starting fourth was useless because “you can undercut one car, but you cannot undercut three.”

Red Bull’s sub-two-second pit stop record could make a big difference around a track where two or three tenths of a second of speed a lap can’t always be found. But the worst thing a team could do in the race would be to make a mistake during a pit stop. Red Bull have recent experience of this, too.

Fast pit work will be critical on Sunday
Daniel Ricciardo’s loss of the win in 2016 via a bungled pit stop was about the worst example recently around the principality. Mercedes pit stops haven’t been the best this year. A problem with a wheel gun caused an 11-second stop for Bottas in Bahrain and Hamilton had a less dramatic but still slow stop during the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.

Both Red Bull and Mercedes have proven excellent at making last-second – or even completely unannounced – pit stop calls, as seen in Barcelona. Ferrari, however, have not been in a position to need to worry about fighting for the lead for some time and the two cars ahead of Hamilton, a McLaren and an AlphaTauri, are from teams that can definitely take an opportunistic advantage but are not used to having to fight Mercedes. They may be a little rusty in this respect.

How daring Red Bull choose to be with their strategy call depends on their ultimate objective for the race: Risk it all to deny Ferrari a win at the most prestigious venue on the track, or ensure their championship rivals are covered? Team principal Christian Horner’s mantra that the championship is “a marathon, not a sprint” suggests the latter. In the heat of the moment, Verstappen may need to be reminded his biggest rival on the track is not the one starting in front of him.

What could change things?

Leclerc has a shot at a popular home win
The drop in temperatures between Thursday and Saturday had a significant effect on qualifying. Saturday as a whole was colder and much cloudier than Thursday, with overcast skies keeping Monte Carlo’s tarmac cool, without absorbing heat from sunlight. The track temperature at the end of qualifying was 21C lower than at the start of second practice and, as Hamilton noted, that hurt Mercedes’ chances of turning on the tyres. Cooler temperatures also means lower tyre degradation, potentially widening teams’ strategy options, unless they encounter graining.

Safety Car periods at Monaco have been extraordinarily short. The well-drilled marshals have removed crashed Formula 2 cars from the track before the field had circulated back around, sometimes negating the need for interruptions entirely, or necessitating only a brief Virtual Safety Car period. If a team was able to make a quick enough call, especially if they had the opportunity to pit where a rival had already passed the pit lane entry, it could be a big advantage, but they’ll have to be brave.

That could tempt someone into making an early stop for hard tyres, which Pirelli’s head of F1 Mario Isola believes is a viable option. “The hard compound is probably also an option for the race, as it was in some cases two years ago when we had the Safety Car at lap 11 and so some teams decided to move from soft to hard to finish the race, more than 60 laps on the hard.

“It was quite a long distance, but they did it. So it is possible if we have a Safety Car at the beginning of the race.”

At present rain is not forecast for tomorrow’s race. Currently there is a 20% chance of precipitation over the scheduled slot.

But an unexpected pre-race shower enlivened the Saturday morning Formula 2 sprint race, and Hamilton is wishing for more of the same.

“A lot of the work [here] gets done on the Saturday, so I’ll definitely say [we’re] obviously out of contention for the win.

“But I’m hopeful that it could potentially rain. I don’t know, I don’t think it’s going to rain. But it’d be nice if it did.”

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Qualifying times in full

DriverCarQ1

Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Charles LeclercFerrari1’11.1131’10.597 (-0.516)1’10.346 (-0.251)
2Max VerstappenRed Bull1’11.1241’10.650 (-0.474)1’10.576 (-0.074)
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’10.9381’10.695 (-0.243)1’10.601 (-0.094)
4Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’11.3241’10.806 (-0.518)1’10.611 (-0.195)
5Lando NorrisMcLaren1’11.3211’11.031 (-0.290)1’10.620 (-0.411)
6Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1’11.5601’11.179 (-0.381)1’10.900 (-0.279)
7Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’11.6221’11.116 (-0.506)1’11.095 (-0.021)
8Sebastian VettelAston Martin1’12.0781’11.309 (-0.769)1’11.419 (+0.110)
9Sergio PerezRed Bull1’11.6441’11.019 (-0.625)1’11.573 (+0.554)
10Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’11.6581’11.409 (-0.249)1’11.779 (+0.370)
11Esteban OconAlpine1’11.7401’11.486 (-0.254)
12Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1’11.7471’11.598 (-0.149)
13Lance StrollAston Martin1’11.9791’11.600 (-0.379)
14Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’11.8991’11.642 (-0.257)
15George RussellWilliams1’12.0161’11.830 (-0.186)
16Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1’12.096
17Fernando AlonsoAlpine1’12.205
18Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’12.366
19Nikita MazepinHaas1’12.958

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Charles Leclerc18.612 (6)32.983 (1)18.740 (1)
Max Verstappen18.438 (1)33.206 (5)18.755 (2)
Valtteri Bottas18.489 (3)33.041 (2)18.790 (4)
Carlos Sainz Jnr18.443 (2)33.084 (3)18.812 (5)
Lando Norris18.633 (7)33.219 (6)18.768 (3)
Pierre Gasly18.715 (8)33.171 (4)18.985 (10)
Lewis Hamilton18.507 (4)33.263 (7)18.989 (11)
Sebastian Vettel18.734 (10)33.465 (9)19.015 (12)
Sergio Perez18.579 (5)33.409 (8)18.932 (7)
Antonio Giovinazzi18.842 (13)33.535 (10)18.921 (6)
Esteban Ocon18.820 (11)33.603 (11)19.063 (14)
Daniel Ricciardo18.845 (14)33.711 (13)18.945 (9)
Lance Stroll18.871 (15)33.700 (12)18.944 (8)
Kimi Raikkonen18.840 (12)33.745 (14)19.031 (13)
George Russell18.717 (9)33.790 (17)19.230 (15)
Yuki Tsunoda19.058 (17)33.774 (15)19.264 (16)
Fernando Alonso19.098 (18)33.784 (16)19.323 (18)
Nicholas Latifi18.986 (16)33.971 (18)19.321 (17)
Nikita Mazepin19.372 (19)34.119 (19)19.437 (19)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Daniel RicciardoMcLarenMercedes287.6 (178.7)
2Sebastian VettelAston MartinMercedes286.2 (177.8)-1.4
3Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes286.0 (177.7)-1.6
4Lance StrollAston MartinMercedes285.4 (177.3)-2.2
5George RussellWilliamsMercedes285.0 (177.1)-2.6
6Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedes284.5 (176.8)-3.1
7Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes284.4 (176.7)-3.2
8Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes284.2 (176.6)-3.4
9Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrari283.9 (176.4)-3.7
10Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari283.7 (176.3)-3.9
11Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari283.6 (176.2)-4.0
12Nikita MazepinHaasFerrari283.2 (176.0)-4.4
13Max VerstappenRed BullHonda283.1 (175.9)-4.5
14Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda282.6 (175.6)-5.0
15Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari282.6 (175.6)-5.0
16Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriHonda282.4 (175.5)-5.2
17Sergio PerezRed BullHonda281.1 (174.7)-6.5
18Esteban OconAlpineRenault280.9 (174.5)-6.7
19Fernando AlonsoAlpineRenault280.3 (174.2)-7.3

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Over to you

Will Leclerc keep his pole position – and convert it into victory? What can Hamilton make of his weekend from seventh on the grid?

Share your views on the Monaco Grand Prix in the comments.

2021 Monaco Grand Prix

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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36 comments on “Will Verstappen’s need to beat Hamilton outweigh his desire to beat Leclerc?”

  1. Nice write up. This will be a championship defining race. If Hamilton can get the win it will be one for the ages. All eyes are on Verstappen, it’s his advantage to lose.

    I’m surprised Hamilton would be hoping for rain against Verstappen of all drivers, who’d be more likely to lap the field in those conditions than anything.

    1. Rain mid-race means critical timing of the pit for new tyres, always a chance for Red Bull to get it wrong or Mercedes to get it right. 2/3 of Hamilton’s wins at Monaco have been in such conditions. As for Max, I don’t know, he’s been kind of lucky (mixed with supreme skill of course!) with his wet track incidents, able to recover from spins and so on. Some time that luck is going to run out. Not sure rain is that likely though (no idea actually).

    2. Championship defining?!
      No way, regardless of results.

      Yes, it is intriguing and can yield many points to the most lucky one, but it won’t be defining by any means.

      1. Baku could/should give more of an idea of how strong Red Bull can be this season. I think @skipgamer has a point, though, that this is a race Verstappen now has to capitalize on.

    3. I think Hamilton likes his chances against anyone in the rain. But right now the forecast is 1 percent chance.

      I see bottas as desperate to show himself and without worrying about deferring to Hamilton on strategy he may get very bold at the start or into Lowes.

      I think Hamilton’s best play in the dry may be to make sure gets in verstappens way when he latter stops, in hopes bottas can can undercut him, as long as his own race isn’t compromised.

      1. @dmw isn’t it a damming show of Bottas’ driving skill that I’d totally forgotten about him no one talking about him being in the mix and messing up Verstappen’s race by jumping him at the start. He could do Hamilton a favour..! I’m sure he’s not thinking about helping his buddy out though.

    4. @skipgamer Lewis is the best rain racer, heads and shoulder above Max.

      1. That’s quite a statement given they’ve never had the same equipment. They’re both excellent at handling adverse conditions and have gotten the better of each other of seperate occasions

      2. @noname
        Yeah, it clearly showed in Imola……..and Germany……..

        Head and shoulders above Max when it comes to parking his car in the barrier 😂😂😂

        1. @niki101 – (troll?)
          You’re really going there considering Max crashed his car going to the grid in wet conditions. What does it prove? Doesn’t matter how good you are these things happen and in both cases went on to redeem themselves brilliantly.

          For the record if I had to choose between the two for wet weather performance I’m picking Hamilton.

  2. I don’t think Max will risk contact into Turn 1. He needs to play the long-game here, and I’m not talking about the championship, but the race. Monaco is one of the few tracks that the overcut is actually effective on, so if he can stay within 1.5-2s of Leclerc whilst managing his tyres better, he should be able to overcut the Ferrari easily. The only issue is that the Red Bull has generally been quite harsh on its tyres, so this might not necessarily work. I fully expect Hamilton to go really long on his first stint, so Max needs to make sure he himself isn’t at risk of getting overcut.

    1. @mashiat max is not known to be safe long runner type, he alwasy goes for it no matter the outcome and one of the traits he will have to learn in order to be a GOAT, if not he will be somewhat another montoya…

      1. Montoya is actually a name that gets mentioned when it comes to someone with lots of potential unfulfilled, like my father called verstappen sometime ago, but I’d say he’s become less mistake prone after 2018.

  3. The worst thing Verstappen could do tomorrow, is to be overly aggressive and potentially get caught up in an accident.
    Helmut Marko was also very clear about their strategy for tomorrow: “We don’t care about Leclerc. Our main rivals are Mercedes and Hamilton.”
    A save P2 is more valuable to them than a potential win. Verstappen needs to think about the championship, which certainly won’t be won tomorrow, but he could very likely loose it already by taking unecessarily high risks and potentially loose points to Hamilton.

    1. @srga91 Verstappen is a bit like a lose canon, let’s wait and see if Verstappen sees the bigger picture and understands that he races Hamilton technically.

      1. @noname

        Yeah, such a lose cannon, he keeps parking his car in the barrier….. oh wait.

        Only thing Lewis has on Max is superior equipment, corrupt race control and a lot of luck.

  4. I’d really like to know what Mercedes discuss with Bottas. Surely they’d want him to return a favour and aggressively compete with Verstappen on the first corners if VB gets a better start?

    1. I doubt Bottas state of mind suits such a scenario. He’ll be looking at outscoring Lewis firstly and secondly it won’t hurt him if Lewis looses points to Max. If anything he’d be risking his car and a zero score for him.

      1. That’s the bit that fascinates me. Verstappen’s real concern is Hamilton not Bottas. Which actually gives VB a bit of brinkmanship advantage, reversing the tables on MV versus Hamilton the past few races, since Verstappen should be more likely to yield and focus on outscoring Lewis. I could imagine Mercedes making that argument to Bottas. Because if VB does get ahead, Mercedes control the race (leaving aside Leclerc). But then there’s the question of whether Max would yield or, like you said, whether Bottas prefers to play safe. I mean Valterri should go for it. I just don’t know if he likes taking the risk.

        1. Yes, that’s an interesting thing indeed.

        2. @david-br Great point, ultimately Bottas needs to prove he can step up this isn’t much about Hamilton but WCC points so if he can keep it together and deliver I.e stay close at a massive push overtake/pressure Max then I’d happy be with that if I’m Toto.

          All Hamilton has to do is keep Perez behind and of course safely make up places.

          1. @icarby The thing is, if Bottas trails in behind Max in the race, it doesn’t do him that much good. He outscores Hamilton, say, but that’s all really. He neither proves anything new to Mercedes or makes an effective impact on the championship table. But if he gets ahead, outscores Max, and helps Hamilton minimize the deficit to Verstappen, then he still scores more points relative to both and has an impressive weekend. Plus a confidence boost for himself. So not really the moment to play safe when he has a real opportunity to upset the expected Verstappen-Leclerc battle.

          2. I look for Max to nail his start like he has been doing, and between he and CL I’d bet more on Max doing so. I think Max has to think only of nailing his start, for he has to think of VB too. So depending on how their starts go, it will only be then that Max will decide his next move as to yield or not, based on where VB is too. If Max nails his start he may force CL into deciding to yield and accept the highest finishing position possible while staying intact, and not taking out one of the Championship contenders. For me there is only one option for Max and that is to at least go for the nailed start, for he can’t engineer a conservative one and still expect to keep VB away from him, a VB that might be playing the team game of helping LH already.

  5. @david-br if bottas can get a better get away than max it will be tough call for Max, he knows he should play it safe, but he is not known to use his common sense in head to head situations, and risks too much and usually looses more than he can gain… once or twice he gets away with it but more than not he doesnt when esp he is too full of himself with adrenaline rush :)

    1. @mysticus Well it would be a test for sure! Precisely the kind of scenario he hasn’t really faced before.

      1. Indeed, he usually isn’t in the title fight, so this is a situation he has to be more careful than in the past years.

        1. @esploratore Plus Bottas has some payback due to give for Verstappen jumping ahead in the pit and damaging his car in a previous Monaco race…

  6. Ideal for Verstappen would be to keep 2nd without risk in the lap 1 and undercut Charles.

    With Norris and Gasly up in the front, I expect gaps to increase quickly and pit stops to come quickly. Hence, rhe undercut will be more efficient compared to the overcut.

  7. Track temp may have been lower yesterday versus Thursday, but the ambient was in the same number range.
    Anyway, I reckon Leclerc will win if he leaves Sainte Devote still leading unless something happens to him later in the race. On pretty much any other circuit, he’d eventually get overtaken by a Red Bull and Mercedes, but Monaco is different, so the win is his to lose.
    From Hamilton, I don’t expect much improvement from starting position without something more extraordinary occurring.

    1. I really hope Leclerc keeps pole, because I expect that Red Bull and Mercedes will be considerably faster than Ferrari on race pace and we could get a repeat of Monaco 1992 (or 2019).
      And I agree with you about Hamilton. He might get Gasly and Norris at the pitstops (or Gasly at the start), but I can’t see him getting any further than that.

  8. I suspect we’re about to see why Monaco should only be run with sprinklers. Everyone will be sensible, and go long.

  9. The question is more how aggressive Bottas will be into turn 1. Bottas has nothing to lose and needs to beat Verstappen to get back in contention for the WDC.

  10. The question is essentially rhetorical. I mean. have you seen VER race? The only thing on his mind will be to win the GP. Long-game considerations might kick in at some point, but I doubt that will be in the 5th race of the season.

  11. One thing is usual, Monaco throws up surprises into the mix. Mazepin is odds on to cause an incident, safety car or VSC and other rookies may well do the same. That does lend itself to opportunities for the strategists if they can capitalise quickly enough and Mercedes seem the nimblest in that regard.

    Even if he retains the lead after lap one I just can’t imagine Leclerc winning and I expect MV to triumph. But I have confidence in Lewis to at least get close to a podium.
    Fingers crossed for the Ferrari gearbox to start the race.

  12. I feel there might be a very untimely safety car period, which can completely turn the race on its head.
    In earlier races, the safety car didn’t affect the outcome of the race too much. For example, in 2013 and 2014 it was late enough in the race for the leaders to safely come in and change tires. In 2019 there was a very early safety car period, but by then the leaders were already a pit-stop ahead of everyone else, so it didn’t affect them (too much). However, behind them, Ricciardo and Magnussen, the leaders of the midfield train, decided to pit as well and lost out as they got trapped behind Norris, who deliberately slowed down to enable his teammate Sainz and a few others to make a free stop later in the race.
    This year’s race might be similar to the 2019 midfield race, as I expect the speed differentials to be small. What if there is another early-race safety car period? Should you pit or not? In case of split strategies, traffic will very likely determine the outcome of the race. So the race result is very hard to predict.

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