For the first time in three years, the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix saw Mercedes at the top of neither the drivers’ nor the constructors’ championship on Sunday evening. It was a show of resurgence and driving excellence yet again from Max Verstappen, who took full advantage of inheriting pole position from Charles Leclerc‘s non-starting Ferrari and was the first race in a long time where Mercedes seemed to decisively drop the ball.
After a topsy-turvy year, last weekend’s race also allowed the Formula 1 community to rally around the track they love to hate. Monaco’s procession wasn’t the most rejectful thing on Sunday. Let’s take a look at what was.
Everyone at Mercedes wins Reject of the Race – except Bottas
Indeed it was very simple in the end. Whilst we here at Grand Prix Rejects might be buying yet again into another vain narrative of a championship battle that will inevitably end up with Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes winning seven races on the trot, we also have to acknowledge just how embarrassing the crown jewel of the Formula One calendar was for them as a whole – only Valtteri Bottas coming out unscathed from a weekend where the Silver Arrows couldn’t get to grip with the twisty Monaco layout.
Particularly, Lewis Hamilton struggled all weekend long with his W12, never seemingly getting comfortable with the car enough to push it around. In qualifying, he had already showed he wasn’t particularly up to grips with the car, even before getting caught out in Q3, when Charles Leclerc put his Ferrari in the wall. When it came to Sunday, the seven time world champion never ran higher than 6th throughout the whole race, and the strategy Mercedes engineered for him eventually didn’t work out. The who-blinks-first strategy on tyres for once did not go Mercedes’ way, and it dropped Hamilton behind Sebastian Vettel and Sergio Pérez – both extending their stints to jump the Englishman – and Pierre Gasly, whom Hamilton sat behind for the entire race.
There was another Mercedes driver who had far more reason to complain on Sunday, however. Valtteri Bottas seemed to have found better balance in his W12 compared to Hamilton for the first time this season, and after putting the car in 3rd on the grid (2nd, after Leclerc failed to start), he applied pressure on Verstappen during the majority of the first stint before tyre wear kicked in. Whilst his overall pace never implied he would have taken the race win, to finish ahead of Lewis alone would have been a confidence gain for the Finn.
Instead, from a guaranteed second place, Bottas suffered disaster as his right-front wheel refused to come off in the pits, and stayed there until Tuesday. There was nothing the mechanics could do, and a possible 18 points were stolen from the number 77 – a cruel fate for a man who needs to take every positive he can in his fight to stay at Mercedes for 2022. It was such typical rotten luck for Bottas, and as a result of all of this, the community awarded everyone at Mercedes – except Valtteri Bottas – Reject of the Race for a real disaster-show entirely unlike them.
Daniel Ricciardo is another driver who gets no excuses. We wrote in our post-Spain awards that Barcelona looked like finally putting Ricciardo and Lando Norris in a proper intra-team battle, but that remark already seems dated after the Australian’s struggles across the weekend. Lapped by a teammate who took a second podium in five races, Daniel just can’t seem to get the hang of the car, and it cost him very dearly. At a certain point in the race, it did seem Daniel had found the correct balance in his car – he was faster than Lando on track at that time, before hitting traffic – but he needs that kind of pace to be there from the get go on practice and qualifying. The lack of testing certainly hasn’t helped, but Ricciardo himself has realized that these type of performances are not good enough and that he needs to recalibrate further to get up close to Norris on pace.
Of course we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the large red elephant in the room, that being the empty grid slot caused by Charles Leclerc’s no-show at the race start. The Monégasque was the town hero on Saturday, even after he crashed his car into the wall after the swimming pool, getting the first home pole since Louis Chiron in 1936. Immediate concerns, despite getting pole position, showed up at the Scuderia, regarding possible gearbox damage. Sunday morning, the team confirmed that everything was a-ok with his SF21 – or so they thought.
When Leclerc left pit-road for his installation lap, he reported something was wrong, and his race was done and dusted there, Ferrari having not checked damage to the driveshaft after his crash – even if the team have claimed that the issue might have been unrelated to his qualifying crash. It was a combination of errors – from Leclerc’s crash to Ferrari’s (possible) lack of check – that eventually took away the chance of Leclerc fighting for victory around streets of the principality.
Talking about the principality, a light-hearted second place nomination went to the broadcaster Tele Monte Carlo. Their ineptitude was on particularly good display this year, as the only two overtakes that took place were both cut away from exactly as they happened, leading to the creation of a number of internet memes mocking the inauspicious situation. At the very least they prepared us for a mighty chequered flag wave from Serena Williams, who even with her upper-body strength had great difficulty getting that flag waved against the high winds. In the great pantheon of celebrity flag-wavers, she still comes out as one of the best. Good job, Serena!
Sebastian Vettel turns his season around with a 5th place and an IIDOTR award
Sebastian Vettel was in top form all weekend. His pointless opening rounds this year saw him break his own record of consecutive pointless finishes, and many commentators were predicting the sad end to a great career for the German. But instantly he put those critics to rest with a faultless drive: qualifying well at the circuit where it matters the most, and then using strategy to jump Hamilton and Gasly in, what has so far, seemed like the inferior car compared to the Mercedes (obviously) and the AlphaTauri.
To repeat, it was faultless, and he reigned over most of the grid, and perhaps just as importantly, his teammate (who also ran very good race to 8th place), to show that he’s still got it. The question remains however: was Monaco, a track where Vettel usually excels no matter what, a one-off, or will we see this Vettel for the rest of the season?
Carlos Sainz Jr. deserves a mention for picking up the pieces left by Leclerc and Bottas. With all the attention on the home-boy, Sainz still qualified an excellent 4th in an ever-improving Ferrari. To drive without fault and get his first podium for the team (and the team’s first since Turkey last year) was exactly what he and Ferrari needed.
Sergio Pérez, as well, put on a very measured and comfortable drive, using his tyre wear skills and outright pace – the Mexican has shown strong race pace thus far in the Red Bull, it’s on Saturdays where he struggles – to jump three cars and put himself in fourth place. He then gave chase to Norris, but found the narrow streets of Monte Carlo too narrow to pull off an overtake on the Brit. Every race is a new test for the Mexican, and he hasn’t upset Helmut Marko – yet. Baku is a track where he has excelled over the years, so it’s going to be a challenge to see if he can finally extract the maximum out of his RB16B over the course of a race weekend.
And of course, Antonio Giovinazzi deserves the final mention for his Q3 appearance and the first points for Alfa Romeo all year. Both him and Kimi drove very solid races, and probably could’ve both overtaken Ocon on track (who put on a very solid drive in a weekend where both Alpine‘s struggled for pace and balance) if Monaco proved to be wide enough for these cars to race one. The team are sharing the fight for 8th in the constructors championship alongside Williams and Haas, and such a result is much-needed in the long season ahead.
|REJECT OF THE RACE||INFINITE IMPROBABILITY DRIVE OF THE RACE|
|Everyone at Mercedes (except Bottas)||56% (19)||Sebastian Vettel||69% (22)|
|Tele Monte Carlo||29% (10)||Carlos Sainz Jr.||13% (4)|
|Charles Leclerc’s side of the garage||12% (4)||Antonio Giovinazzi||9% (3)|
|Daniel Ricciardo||3% (1)||Sergio Pérez|
|Number of votes: 34||Number of votes: 32|
Disclaimer: The ROTR and IIDOTR awards are purely for fun purposes.
The IIDOTR is a democratically-decided award, based on the assumption that, at any moment in time, there is a non-zero probability that even the slowest, most inexperienced and least reliable of underdogs might win the race. That under every rock, there might be a gold nugget. This is the award for that first podium that we all celebrate, for the overtake no-one was expecting, for the underdog’s first win. This is the award, in short, for the driver or team that makes you go “Woah! Where did THAT come from?!”.
The ROTR is a medal of dishonour that celebrates the most noteworthy failure of a Grand Prix weekend, based on expectations heading into the weekend and general performance. That one brainfade, the silliest mistake or the most patent nonsense going on, all that is what being the ROTR is all about.