Monaco GP: Charles Leclerc breaks his Monaco curse as Sergio Perez walks away from scary crash

Michelle Foster
Charles Leclerc celebrates in Monaco

Curse? What Monaco curse?

Charles Leclerc obliterated his Monaco curse as the pole-sitter stayed P1 in two starts to win a game of cat-and-mouse against McLaren in a red-flagged Monaco Grand Pix.

The race was red-flagged on the opening lap when Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen crashed, the Red Bull shooting nose-first into the Armco barrier with enough force to dent it while his RB20 was destroyed.

The Monaco Grand Prix, it’s all about crashes and processions

Charles Leclerc made a great start from pole position with his team-mate Carlos Sainz immediately attacking Oscar Piastri for second. However, tagging the McLaren, Sainz suffered a front left puncture and found himself the wrong way up an escape road.

Further back there was big drama as Sergio Perez was tagged up the hill by Kevin Magnussen and shot 90° nose-first into the Armco barrier. He was then collected by both Haas drivers, his RB20 was destroyed, shedding bodywork across the entire width of the track.

Perez thankfully climbed unaided from his stricken RB20 with the race red-flagged. It was set to be a long stop as the Armco barrier was dented.

Replays of the opening lap showed Esteban Ocon lunged on Pierre Gasly into Turn 8 before the tunnel, clipped his team-mate’s wheel and went airborne. Ocon was out of the race.

Sainz was handed a lifeline by Race Control who announced the restart order would be based on the Safety Car 2 line on the opening lap: Leclerc, Piastri, Sainz, Norris, Russell, Verstappen, Hamilton, Tsunoda, Albon, Gasly, Stroll, Ricciardo, Alonso, Sargeant, Bottas and Zhou.

Leclerc, Piastri, Sainz and Norris swapped their medium Pirellis for hard tyres, as too did Tsunoda and Albon, while Russell, Verstappen and Hamilton went from hard to medium.

It was a clean start the second time around, for what was billed as lap three of 78, as Leclerc led off the line ahead of Piastri and Sainz. But in keeping with Monaco traditions, crashes or processions, Russell was told on lap 6 already to back off from Norris to manage his tyres. Russell complained he’d “open a pit stop for them” if he slowed back.

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Verstappen was told by his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase he didn’t “know why” Russell was going to slow, but he assumed it was tyre management. Verstappen was 12s off the lead on lap 10.

Leclerc too was managing his pace, a cat-and-mouse game with Piastri as he kept the Aussie at bay with Sainz and Norris right behind them. The top four ran wing-to-wing and separated by three seconds. “Is Charles managing a bit?” asked Sainz.

25 laps in Leclerc upped his pace to break out of DRS range of Piastri, who in turn also put a few more tenths between himself and Sainz. Norris reported tyre wear, McLaren letting him know that Sainz’s tyres are “graining” but his are only “abrasions”. Leclerc was told by Ferrari he was “doing a good job” with his tyre management.

Further back Verstappen continued to run in the middle of a Mercedes sandwich at the halfway stage and summed up the race: “This is really boring, I should have brought my pillow.”

Meanwhile, Albon sat on Tsunoda’s rear wing in the race for eighth place and Alonso in 12th place backed up the cars behind him to give his team-mate Stroll breathing room.

As Ferrari contemplated potential strategies, Leclerc was told to drive even slower to stop Norris from gaining a pitstop gap to Russell in fifth. “If you can we need to slow down a bit” to “prevent” McLaren from getting a pitstop window. But going slow was hurting his tyre temperature. Sainz too was worried about the McLarens and their window.

There was finally action in the pits on lap 43 when Stroll came in for fresh tyres, coming out a lap down behind Norris on the track but still ahead of Alonso in the running order. Seven laps later he was back in the pits having suffered a rear right puncture with the carcass coming off as he entered the pit lane. He was down to 16th and last.

As the tyre and pitstop window debate continued, Ferrari told Leclerc they were “not interested” in his viewpoint. “That’s rude,” he replied.

Hamilton was the first of the top ten to pit, coming in on lap 52 to put a new set of hard tyres with Verstappen in the very next lap. They came back out as they were, P6 and 7 with the Red Bull driver ahead.

While Ferrari and McLaren continued the tyre debate, the teams noted Verstappen’s pace on new hard tyres as well as Stroll’s on the softs as he sliced his way through the field. With Verstappen and Hamilton closing in, Leclerc picked up the pace.

Verstappen was onto the back of Russell’s rear wing on lap 62, but the Briton did well to keep him at bay as Hamilton, laying down fastest laps, closed in on the back of their tussle. But as everyone knows, in Monaco it’s easier to catch than it is to pass.

Leclerc raced his way to the chequered flag to record not only his first Monaco Grand Prix win, but it was also his first-ever podium at his home race.

Piastri was second with Sainz completing the podium while Norris brought his McLaren home in fourth place.

Russell held off Verstappen for fifth, the Red Bull driver finishing as he started in the middle of a Mercedes sandwich with Hamilton P7. Tsunoda, Albon and Gasly completed the points.

Result

1 Charles LECLERC 2:23:15.554
2 Oscar PIASTRI +7.152
3 Carlos SAINZ +7.585
4 Lando NORRIS +8.650
5 George RUSSELL +13.309
6 Max VERSTAPPEN +13.853
7 Lewis HAMILTON +14.908
8 Yuki TSUNODA +1 lap
9 Alexander ALBON +1 lap
10 Pierre GASLY +1 lap
11 Fernando ALONSO +2 laps
12 Daniel RICCIARDO +2 laps
13 Valtteri BOTTAS +2 laps
14 Lance STROLL +2 laps
15 Logan SARGEANT +2 laps
16 Guanyu ZHOU +2 laps

Did not finish

Esteban Ocon Alpine crash – lap 1
Kevin Magnussen Haas crash – lap 1
Nico Hulkenberg Haas crash – lap 1
Sergio Perez Red Bull crash – lap 1

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