Monaco Grand Prix conclusions: Charles Leclerc breakthrough, Kevin Magnussen ban and more

Oliver Harden
Charles Leclerc smiles and raises his trophy as he is lifted on to the shoulders of a Ferrari employee

Charles Leclerc: Prince of Monaco

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc claimed his first victory of the F1 2024 season at the Monaco Grand Prix, ending years of hurt at his home race.

Charles Leclerc dominated from pole position to finally break the dreaded ‘Monaco curse’ with Oscar Piastri second for McLaren and Carlos Sainz third. Here are our conclusions from Monte Carlo…

Conclusions from the 2024 Monaco Grand Prix

More Max Verstappen vibes as Charles Leclerc breaks Monaco curse

After Jenson Button ended his long wait for a maiden F1 victory at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix, the great motor-racing illustrator Jim Bamber produced a famous cartoon.

It portrayed Button clutching the winner’s trophy and glancing over his shoulder to glance at a giant monkey sitting on his back.

“Right,” Button tells the chimp. “You can f**k off for a start!”

F1 has had a couple of moments like that over recent weeks, all-round feelgood stories of talented drivers claiming long-deserved wins to breathe fresh life and renewed interest into a sport that had been at risk of becoming stale under the never-ending reign of Max Verstappen and Red Bull.

First came Lando Norris’s first victory in Miami – after a wait just three races short of Button’s – and now there is Charles Leclerc breaking his long run of misfortune at his home race.

Norris partied long into the night in Miami four weeks ago and Leclerc will doubtless do the same, but on both occasions the real winner was F1 itself.

Key headlines from the 2024 Monaco Grand Prix

👉 Charles Leclerc’s emotional tribute to late father after breaking Monaco GP curse

👉 Pierre Gasly: Esteban Ocon ‘needs to make a change’ after Monaco collision

Everybody knows that the Monaco Grand Prix is the greatest test of a racing driver – skill, judgement, commitment and all the rest of it –  but it often acts as an interesting gauge of their personal development too.

It was here in 2018, for instance, that Verstappen encountered the only major hurdle of his inevitable rise, his crash at the swimming pool in final practice, which ruled him out of qualifying that afternoon, representing rock bottom after an error-ridden start to the season.

When he returned three years later to dominate from pole position, taking the lead of the World Championship for the first time in his career, there was a distinct sense of journey.

It has somehow always seemed significant that Leclerc’s own crash in Monaco 2021 qualifying, which famously denied him from taking his place in pole position 24 hours later, not only occurred at the exact same spot but also at the exact same stage of his career (three full seasons and a handful of races) as Verstappen.

Like the Max of 2018, the Charles of 2021 was a driver who did not yet know his own strength and had not yet worked out how to harness and channel all his vast talent and potential to devastating effect.

He remains imperfect, yet might this be a key milestone moment in his path to consistently accessing a Max-like level of performance?

Gone was the all-out attack Gilles Villeneuve tribute act, constantly toeing the line between triumph and disaster, for the Leclerc of Monaco 2024 was noticeably more measured and contained, confident in the car and the team around him.

The traditional Monaco worries – that a single Safety Car at any moment could transform the complexion of the race, that sensation drivers often describe of the gap between the barriers narrowing with each passing lap – were still there.

Yet that jeopardy that has so often stalked Leclerc around these streets was gone. It all felt so… comfortable. So, well, Max-like.

It was that control that stood out most and, once again, the parallels with Verstappen blossoming before our very eyes in 2021, three years on from his lowest point, were unavoidable.

And so in the end, after all the heartbreak and tears of those previous near-misses in Monaco, that monkey on Leclerc’s back ended up being told in no uncertain terms where to go.

If the stewards won’t stand Kevin Magnussen down, Haas should act instead

There comes a point in a racing driver’s decline when a duty of care element must come into the equation.

If the driver is unable to spot the signs and recognise that he is a fading force – and, in the worst-case scenarios, becoming a danger to himself and those around him – the responsibility should be with their employers to do it for them.

The Haas team have been found wanting in this area before with Romain Grosjean, who was allowed to stagger on even as the mistakes became ever more frequent and increasingly odd in nature, and that didn’t end very well.

Grosjean’s fireball at Bahrain 2020 was one of the most shocking F1 moments of this century – yet strip away the human emotion and peek-through-your-fingers drama of it all and at its root was a dreadful, and sadly not uncharacteristic, mistake.

Which brings us to Kevin Magnussen, who like his former team-mate has been stumbling along without a tap on his shoulder for some time now.

With talk spreading with each passing year that the cars have outgrown these streets, for some years now the Monaco Grand Prix has only ever been one massive first-lap accident on the hill up to Massenet away from a serious debate about its place on the calendar.

Magnussen pretty much sparked that incident on Sunday, mindlessly hanging his front wing in a gap the natural kinks of the circuit dictated would soon be closed by Sergio Perez, but thankfully without the disastrous consequences that would have brought that difficult conversation to the fore.

It was a horrendous misjudgment, all the more “unnecessary” (as his own team-mate, Nico Hulkenberg, put it over team radio) as it came so soon after Magnussen found himself on the brink of a race ban for his defensive tactics in Miami.

Only last weekend at Imola, Haas team principal Ayao Komatsu detailed how he had held discussions with Magnussen after that race with both very mindful that a ban is not in either of their interests.

With that hanging over him, did it not occur to him to back out before Perez edged inevitably to the right?

The unspoken truth about Magnussen’s defensive driving against Lewis Hamilton in Miami is that he would not have had to resort to such spoiler tactics if the raw performance was still there.

And because it isn’t, because his team-mate is the only driver Haas can rely on to score consistent points these days, Magnussen has been reduced to the status of Hulkenberg’s bodyguard.

The current penalty points system in place in F1 is more a measure of incompetence than indiscipline, which is why nobody has come remotely close to a ban in the 10 years since its introduction.

They’re all too good, too streetwise to cross the line. It reflects so poorly on Magnussen, then, that he has come closer than most.

Threatening a ban is one thing, yet it has always been debatable whether, if push really did come to shove, the FIA would actually follow through with it.

Especially in this era when there is so much emphasis on the drivers and their personalities – all stars of Netflix, some central to F1’s appeal in certain parts of the world.

The inexplicable decision to take no further action, then, spoke volumes.

And if not now, then when?

Referees are often reminded to judge the incident, not the outcome, yet the sight of Perez’s crumpled Red Bull stripped down to its survival cell was enough to send a harsh reminder that such reckless racing is unacceptable.

If the stewards won’t stand him down, maybe Haas should do Magnussen a favour and do it for them.

He can’t go on like this. They can’t let him.

Have Red Bull finally been caught? It’s complicated

So is this it?

After the Max-a-thon of recent times, can the ice age finally be declared over with Formula 1 poised to return to a state of competitiveness at the front?

Have Red Bull, at long last, been caught?

It’s complicated. And depends on what you mean by “caught.”

It is only a month, after all, since Verstappen produced one of his most crushingly dominant performances of the last two years in China.

Even with the sizeable upgrades fitted by Ferrari and McLaren in the weeks since – something to which Max himself referred when asked on Saturday by media including to explain what had changed since Shanghai – has the competitive picture really changed so drastically in so little time?

Caught? Or simply caught out?

More likely is that the last few races have each thrown up a particular set of challenges Red Bull have struggled to overcome.

Take Miami, where the tricky relationship between the tyres and slippery track surface – potentially a function of the high-pressure water treatment the circuit had received since the 2023 race – ensured that weekend became a case of who struggled the least.

With nobody ever truly comfortable – and with limited practice time to optimise setup on a sprint weekend – it was almost a question of who was dialled in best when it mattered the most.

That happened to be Norris who, in a reminder of how volatile that weekend was (see also how Daniel Ricciardo faded into obscurity after a fine fourth place in the sprint), was well off the pace in qualifying only fifth.

Imola? Setup, setup, setup.

At a place requiring raised ride heights to cope with the kerbs and the circuit’s natural undulations, Red Bull spent the first half of the weekend reversing out of the setup they had initially brought to combat tyre graining in a frantic search for a happy-ish medium before qualifying.

With Sebastien Buemi (yep, that one) working overnight in the simulator on Friday to dig Red Bull out of the hole, happy-ish proved to be just enough in the end as Verstappen withstood the advances of McLaren on both Saturday and Sunday.

Monaco? This one was Singapore 2023 all over again with the kerbs, camber changes and bumps exploiting Red Bull’s one key – and clearly unresolved – weakness.

It is, Max told us, nothing new having been a characteristic of the 2022/23 cars. The difference this time? The opposition is now there to punish them.

And the signs were there last year if you looked closely enough as Verstappen was forced to go to uncomfortable extremes to see off the threat of Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin.

So how will the upcoming races add to this expanding, complex picture?

With bumps and kerbs making up much of the scenery in Montreal, Canada already has the look of another challenging weekend at a circuit where Verstappen already described the Red Bull as “not fantastic” in 2023.

All roads, then, lead to Barcelona – that great indicator of a racing car’s strengths and weaknesses – to determine where everyone really stands.

But hold on a minute: considering that the Spanish Grand Prix circuit seemed almost specifically tailored to last year’s RB19 as Verstappen won from pole by 24 seconds, isn’t there a possibility that Barcelona could actually flatter the Red Bull, inflate their advantage and again raise yet more questions than answers?

It’s complicated, you see…

Red Bull cannot afford Sergio Perez to become a passenger again

At least last year it was quick and painless, the Red Bull smeared against the Ste Devote barrier with just a single lap already on the board.

This time? Sergio Perez’s Q1 exit in Monaco was long, drawn out and excruciating, the ultimate humiliation.

First lap! No.

Another! Go again.

One more! That’s P18, Checo. P18.

And slower than Logan Sargeant’s Williams. How on earth did you manage that? Impressive.

The circumstances might be different, but after failing to reach Q3 for two weekends in succession (still some way to go to match last year’s five) the alarm bells are ringing ever louder that Perez is entering his now-traditional mid-season slump.

And with the competition becoming ever closer at the front – that much we can be sure of – Red Bull are unlikely to be as forgiving as they were in 2023.

In the afterglow of the most dominant season in history last year, Red Bull could convince themselves that Checo’s struggle season actually had its benefits, freeing Verstappen up to scale unprecedented heights after Perez’s two victories from the first four races had momentarily threatened inter-team peace.

By reverting to being Sergio Perez – uninspiring, slow, erratic – he allowed Max Verstappen to be Max Verstappen.

That dynamic was fine for as long as Red Bull remained unchallenged at the front, yet following the emergence of McLaren and Ferrari – both with driver lineups to die for – now they need Perez to perform a more traditional wingman role.

Falling in the first stage of qualifying, and getting caught up in silly first-lap accidents with drivers of Kevin Magnussen’s ilk, is no longer tolerable.

For the first time since 2021 he must be an active protagonist, not just a passenger – protecting Verstappen, stepping up whenever Max runs into trouble and taking points away from Leclerc, Norris and the rest as often as possible.

And if he can’t do it?

With Perez still without a contract for next year, Red Bull will just have to find someone who can.

Carlos Sainz has entered the chat.

Esteban Ocon/Pierre Gasly ‘partnership’ sums up Alpine incompetence

Anyone could have told Alpine’s senior management two years ago that putting Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly together would not be a very good idea.

There was too much underlying resentment, too much personal history stretching all the way back to their youth, to ever make a productive partnership out of those two.

Yet still they did it anyway.

So on the day Gasly was signed up as Ocon’s team-mate for 2023, Alpine also signed up for moments like Portier on the opening lap of the Monaco Grand Prix. Talk about reaping what you sow…

Would Ocon have made the move he did on Gasly on any other driver from any other team, laced with such forcefulness and venom?

If Ocon normally needs no invitation to leave a mark on a team-mate – gleefully pouncing on any opportunity to not only gain an advantage for himself but irritate the other guy – that instinctive hostility is only increased in the knowledge that it is his old friend Pierre in the sister car.

The risk of things getting personal and turning ugly is present every single time they are close together on track. It really should not come as a surprise, least of all to their bosses.

So Bruno Famin, the latest in a long line of hapless Alpine/Renault team principals, can bleat forever and a day about “consequences” and “tough” decisions, yet for as long as Ocon and Gasly drive the same car he is merely a bystander to an ongoing streetfight.

It should be part of the job description of an Alpine F1 team boss to deal with the fallout of such incidents without fanning the flames any further with such emotive language.

F1 teams in Alpine’s current situation often talk of the importance of teamwork in getting back on track, yet Famin cannot even rely on that from his drivers.

This pair of “team-mates” sum up the whole sorry mess this once-proud team has become.

And what exactly Audi see in Ocon – said to feature prominently on their list of alternatives if Sainz is unattainable for 2025, despite being one of the least popular drivers on the grid with one of the lowest profiles – is anyone’s guess.

Something has to give at Aston Martin

It is at times like this that all within Aston Martin must take a deep breath and remind each other that nothing really matters until 2026.

With Friday in Monaco marking exactly 12 months since the works partnership with Honda was announced, the team have a clear route to the top planned out for F1’s next rules reset.

Anything they achieve before then is really a bonus.

Yet how Aston Martin approach 2026 with any confidence after their progress has stalled so alarmingly? When every effort to upgrade the car over the last year has, to the untrained eye, looked like a downgrade?

2026 will bring opportunity, no doubt, but it is up to the team to position themselves to capitalise on it.

And little about Aston Martin’s direction since last May inspires belief that they – not Mercedes, not Ferrari, not Red Bull and their new Powertrains division – will be the ones to ace it.

When Alonso finished second to Verstappen here in 2023 – silently ruing the decision to pit for another set of dry tyres just as the rain in Monaco intensified – it felt for all the world that his 33rd F1 win, a decade after his last, was a matter of time.

Following two Q1 eliminations in the space of seven days, however, it suddenly feels as far away as it ever was.

The reaction of Lawrence Stroll to the latest disappointing upgrade at Imola last weekend has been described as volcanic in some quarters and came on a weekend the Aston Martin team owner spoke at length with Mattia Binotto, the Ferrari team principal, according to reports in Italy.

With Jonathan Wheatley, the Red Bull sporting director and the driving force behind the team’s peerless pit stop performance, also rumoured to be eyeing a move into team management, the pressure is rising on current team boss Mike Krack.

In his calmer moments, Mr Stroll must look at Fred Vasseur’s impact at Ferrari over the last 18 months and see how the addition of one brilliant individual, oozing ideas, leadership and charisma, can totally transform a team’s trajectory.

Could Binotto, a frighteningly talented and creative engineer unfairly tarnished by the way his Ferrari career ended, be that figure for Aston Martin?

Something has to give.

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