With the opening to the Monaco Grand Prix subjected to an absolute deluge of rain, Formula One had to ride out the weather but the downpour ultimately left Ferrari brutally exposed. Sergio Pérez’s win for Red Bull was a body blow for the Scuderia, whose failure to call tactical decisions at tense moments cost them the win.
This was potentially a crucial moment in a fiercely fought championship and Ferrari were found wanting, so much so that their title contender Charles Leclerc was left screaming in frustration.
Pérez won, with a fine drive from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in second place and the Spaniard’s teammate Charles Leclerc, who had started from pole, managed only fourth behind his title rival Max Verstappen.
Mercedes struggled, with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell making little progress from their starting positions, finishing in fifth and eighth respectively and Hamilton critical of the FIA for the hour-long delay before they went racing.
Leclerc, who is in a tooth‑and‑nail scrap with Verstappen this season, was more than aware of how costly these moments could prove in the title fight.
“We cannot do that, we cannot do that,” a forlorn Leclerc, at his home GP, told his team over the radio. He was spot on: failing to convert a front-row lockout and a pace advantage is inexcusable against a Red Bull squad that is so competitive.
Leclerc had a 46-point lead after the third round in Australia. Verstappen countered with three wins in a row – including when his rival retired with a mechanical problem while leading at the last round in Spain – and now enjoys a nine-point lead.
The Monegasque driver, an equitable and calm young man, was uncharacteristically critical of his team, knowing they had to take every chance this season. “Let down is not the word,” he said. “Some mistakes can happen but there have been too many mistakes today. We cannot do that, especially in the moment we are in now, when we are extremely strong. We need to take these opportunities, and it’s not even first to second, it’s first to fourth, because after the first mistake we’ve done another one.”
It was two errors as he identified, small but with the margins at the front of the field so small that they made the difference. After a delay of more than an hour to the start of the race because of the heavy rain, Leclerc held all the cards. He led from pole and was in control.
As the track dried, however, Red Bull acted swiftly and boldly. Pérez took the inters but Ferrari only pitted Leclerc two laps later, two too late it transpired. Pérez put in some very quick laps on his new rubber and made the undercut work. When Leclerc emerged he was behind the Mexican.
Then from indecision to chaos. Sainz had stayed out, Ferrari taking the chance on him holding his place long enough to change to full slicks. They did then pull him in but called Leclerc to pit at the same time, then belatedly told him to stay out – but too late. Leclerc was double‑stacked behind his teammate, losing even more time. He emerged in fourth behind Verstappen and left screaming his frustration on the radio.
Leclerc has not been in a title fight with Ferrari but will be aware their challenge against Mercedes in 2017 and 2018 fell away with a combination of driver and team errors. His assessment in Monaco was damning.
“I think the first one was a very clear decision and a very wrong one, and from that moment onward the mess started. I don’t know if it’s panic, I don’t know,” he said.
Leclerc will take no consolation from ending his curse of never having finished a race here in five previous attempts but it looks increasingly like Monaco is becoming something of a monkey on the Scuderia’s back, too. The last team that failed to convert a front-row lockout to a win in Monaco was Ferrari in 2016. Indeed their record here this century is shocking, with only one win since Michael Schumacher’s victory in 2001.
Ferrari protested against Verstappen’s exit from the pit lane in front of Leclerc, believing he crossed the pit-lane exit line to do so. It was not investigated during the race but both Verstappen and Pérez were summoned to the stewards afterwards for the alleged offence. Both protests were dismissed. Nonetheless the team principal, Mattia Binotto, held his hands up to a poor performance.
“We made mistakes and I take the blame for that and the responsibility,” he said. “We will improve. But overall it’s been a difficult race.”
For Pérez, it was the comeback he required, unhappy with being ordered to move over for Verstappen at the last round in Spain and having crashed in qualifying on Saturday. The Mexican was in tears on the podium with his first win in Monaco.
Once Red Bull had pulled off their coup he delivered with aplomb after a further delay when Mick Schumacher had a big shunt at the swimming pool.
When the race restarted the front four closed up as they lapped cars in the final laps and were nose to tail in some tense, close racing at the death.
Under great pressure, Pérez held his nerve with confident precision to seal a win he will treasure.
Ferrari, however, were left wondering how they had let this one get away from them and Leclerc, on the short walk home, to ponder what might have been. “I love my team and I am sure I will come back stronger but it hurts a lot,” he said.
Lando Norris was sixth for McLaren, Fernando Alonso seventh for Alpine. Valtteri Bottas was ninth for Alfa Romeo and Sebastian Vettel in 10th for Aston Martin.