The axe has once again fallen at Red Bull Racing in the middle of a Formula One season, as the former world champions announced that incumbent Pierre Gasly has been dropped in favour of star rookie Alexander Albon.
Before I get into my race report, I must touch on the tributes to Niki Lauda.
All of the drivers were wearing a red hat emblazoned with Niki across the front in tribute and took part in a minute’s silence before the race, huddled in a circle which had one of Niki’s helmets in the middle. Niki will be greatly missed in the F1 paddock for sure.
Off the start, Max Verstappen challenged Valtteri Bottas for second place but was just unable to get up the inside of the Finn into Sainte Devote.
Meanwhile, Charles Leclerc was making good on his promise to do some ‘extreme overtaking’. He overtook Lando Norris brilliantly on the inside of the Loews Hairpin for 13th position. Leclerc continued to be extremely aggressive while trying to overtake Romain Grosjean, eventually getting past the Frenchman with a dramatic lunge up the inside into Rascasse.
On the following lap, Leclerc made another lunge into Rascasse, this time on Nico Hulkenberg but was unsuccessful as he clipped the barrier with his right rear tyre. This caused Leclerc to have a puncture which caused a massive delamination of the right rear tyre as well as major damage to the floor.
Leclerc eventually retired as he found the car too difficult to drive because of the floor damage. A terrible end to a terrible weekend.
As Leclerc tried to get back to the pits as quickly as he possibly could, he left some debris on the track and so a safety car was deployed. Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Max Verstappen and Seb Vettel all took advantage of this by making a pit stop.
This was to end up being the defining part of the race as Verstappen had an unsafe release as he made contact with Bottas when leaving his pit box. Verstappen was duly awarded a five-second time penalty as a result while Bottas ended up behind Vettel as he needed to pit again due to a loss of tyre pressure because of the contact with Verstappen.
Further behind, Antonio Giovinazzi tried an opportunistic move on Robert Kubica at Rascasse but there was no gap and Kubica was spun around. Giovinazzi was awarded a ten-second time penalty for causing this collision.
At the front, Hamilton was struggling on his tyres, reporting that the front-left was ‘opening up’. This allowed Verstappen to keep touch with Hamilton and was told on the radio that he could push if he wanted to. Verstappen did just that and that then meant that his tyres began to deteriorate just like Hamilton’s.
The great action in the midfield continued as Lance Stroll locked up into the Loews Hairpin, going wide, allowing Kimi Raikkonen to try and make a move on the inside. Stroll then tried to get back on the racing line, making contact with Raikkonen in the process, much to the Alfa Romeo driver’s frustration. Stroll was awarded a five-second time penalty.
Sergio Perez was also getting his elbows out as he tried to overtake Kevin Magnussen up the inside of the Nouvelle Chicane. However, Magnussen did not yield the position and cut the chicane with Perez arguing on team radio that he should have got the position.
Meanwhile, back in front, Verstappen was told to lift and coast ‘and it’s not for fuel’ as his Red Bull suffered from overheating issues after following Hamilton for the majority of the race.
Verstappen did have another run at Hamilton in the last few laps of the race, consistently going to the outside of the Loews Hairpin to let Hamilton know that he was there. Hamilton parked his car slap bang on the racing line so the Dutchman couldn’t get past.
Then, three laps from the finish, Verstappen went for an overtake up the inside of Hamilton into the Nouvelle chicane. However, Verstappen locked up, made contact with Hamilton and couldn’t make the move stick. At least he had a go though.
From there on in, Hamilton was able to cruise to the finish for his third Monaco Grand Prix victory.
Peter Bonnington, Hamilton’s race engineer, declared, “That one is for Niki.”
Lewis Hamilton spoke to David Coulthard after the race and said, “That was probably the hardest race I’ve had.” He also acknowledged the passing of Niki Lauda, saying, “I know he’d be taking his hat off today. We truly miss him.”
Hamilton also reflected on Mercedes’ formidable start to the season, saying, “The team has done an incredible job. What we’ve achieved in the first six races is remarkable.”
After Niki Lauda’s funeral this week, Formula 1 will move on, as it always does. The next race is in Canada in a fortnight’s time.