MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 23: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco at Circuit de Monaco on May 23, 2021 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool  // SI202105230161 // Usage for editorial use only // | Getty Images
Max Verstappen en route to victory during Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix. (Bryn Lennon/Getty Images for Red Bull photo)

Verstappen Cruises To Monaco Grand Prix Victory

MONTE CARLO, Monaco – Charles Leclerc’s misfortune ultimately handed Max Verstappen his first Monaco Grand Prix victory during Sunday’s 78-lap race on the streets of Monte Carlo.

Leclerc, who was scheduled to start from the pole position, was deemed unable to start by Ferrari due to a mechanical issue discovered on his way to the grid.

The failure was discovered late in the game and stemmed from a qualifying crash Saturday, after Leclerc ended up in the barriers at the final chicane despite setting the fastest lap in time trials.

With Leclerc out before the start, that handed the effective pole to Verstappen, who took the lead when the grid lights went out and was never challenged en route to his second win in five races this season.

It marked the 12th F-1 win of Verstappen’s career, tying him with Mario Andretti, Carlos Reutemann and Alan Jones for 24th on the all-time Grand Prix winners list.

In five previous Monaco starts, Verstappen had never been on the podium. Sunday changed all that.

“It’s so special to win around here, and also to be my first time on the podium here,” Verstappen said in parc ferme. “An amazing race. It’s a lot of laps around here and you really have to keep focused, but this is really cool.

“You never know what’s going to happen, but this was all about looking after your tires,” Verstappen added. “I found a good stop-gap … and I felt pretty much in control all the way through.”

It wasn’t a perfect race for Verstappen, who missed out on leading one lap when he pitted on lap 34 and ceded command to his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez for a brief moment, but it was a comfortable win in a drama-free – and caution-free – race.

The second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz chased Verstappen all the way but had to settle for second, 8.968 seconds back. Sainz later said there was little he could do to catch Verstappen throughout the race.

“This is a good result. If you would have told me before coming to Monaco that I would have finished second, I would have definitely taken it,” Sainz said. “Just difficult circumstances all weekend, with Charles crashing after setting the pole, me missing out on a good lap in qualifying yesterday … maybe some things we can clean up going forward.

“I’m sure when I reflect on the weekend, I’ll be very happy and proud about what we did here, and I feel like as a team, we have a lot to be proud of with the steps [forward] we’ve taken with the car.”

McLaren’s Lando Norris completed the podium, followed by Perez, who jumped from eighth to fourth by running long on his first set of hard-compound Pirelli tires before pitting at lap 35 of 78.

Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel earned his first points finish of the year with a fine drive to place fifth, ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who had a disappointing Sunday and finished a lowly seventh.

Hamilton did get a small consolation prize, however, by shattering the Monaco race lap record on lap 70 with a time of 1:12.909, earning a bonus championship point for setting the fastest lap of the race.

The second Aston Martin of Lance Stroll, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi closed out the top 10.

A disastrous race for the sister Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas saw the Finn sidelined on lap 31 when the right-front wheel nut machined to the axle of his race car, preventing the wheel from being removed or changed.

Bottas was scored 19th of the 20 drivers in the field, ahead of only Leclerc, who never completed a lap.

With his victory Sunday, Verstappen moved to the top of the driver standings for the first time in his career, taking a four-point lead over Hamilton. Red Bull also took a narrow one-point lead over Mercedes in the race for the constructor’s championship.

The Formula One season continues June 6 with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit.

The finish:

1. Max Verstappen, 2. Carlos Sainz, 3. Lando Norris, 4. Sergio Perez, 5. Sebastian Vettel, 6. Pierre Gasly, 7. Lewis Hamilton, 8. Lance Stroll, 9. Esteban Ocon, 10. Antonio Giovinazzi, 11. Kimi Raikkonen, 12. Daniel Ricciardo, 13. Fernando Alonso, 14. George Russell, 15. Nicholas Latifi, 16. Yuki Tsunoda, 17. Nikita Mazepin, 18. Mick Schumacher, 19. Valtteri Bottas, 20. Charles Leclerc (DNS).

Lap Leader(s): Max Verstappen 1-33, Sergio Perez 34, Max Verstappen 35-78