Monaco GP: Ferrari gifts victory to Sergio Perez and Red Bull
Oh Ferrari. In TG’s 2022 F1 preview earlier this year, we reckoned the team desperately needed “to kick the habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory”, so often has it shot itself in the foot in recent years. Not to say we told you so, but…
The Scuderia were in the strongest possible position on Saturday, when Charles Leclerc set a blistering time to clinch pole position (and would’ve gone even quicker had a red flag not intervened late in Q3) ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz on the front row.
And because overtaking in Monaco is virtually impossible, locking out the front row means you’re definitely going to win. Unless, you know, something completely inexplicable happens.
Unfortunately, this is now Ferrari’s speciality. Remember last season? Leclerc set the fastest time in front of his home crowd, but inadvertently sealed pole position by crashing out and ending qualifying early, before anyone else had a chance to beat his time.
It wasn’t deliberate of course, but Ferrari failed to spot terminal damage when the car got back to the garage, and it only became apparent when Leclerc drove out to the grid the following afternoon. In the end the polesitter missed the race altogether.
There are lots more examples, spanning qualifying in Japan in 2018 (when it gave both its drivers intermediate tyres for a track that was bone dry) to, um, just last week, when a comfortable victory at the Spanish Grand Prix was lost to a mechanical failure.
This latest mishap might be the biggest self-inflicted wound yet. The grand prix was delayed for more than an hour due to heavy rain, but when it finally got underway Leclerc and Sainz were untroubled at the head of the field, the former establishing a five-second lead that should’ve been more than sufficient to fend off Red Bull.
The problem was that the soaked track was drying up quickly, and the race hinged on when the teams would pit to get rid of their wet tyres in favour of either intermediates or slicks.
Pierre Gasly was the catalyst for the chaos that followed: the Alpha Tauri driver gambled on inters shortly after the race start, and after struggling initially he started to come good, pulling off two of the few genuine on-track overtakes of the race on Zhou Guanyu and Daniel Ricciardo.
This gave Red Bull the green light to pit Sergio Perez for inters, but when Ferrari responded by calling Sainz in to do the same the Spaniard refused, saying they should wait until a little longer until the track was ready for dry tyres.
And so for two laps, Ferrari dithered. And when it finally called Leclerc in from the race lead for inters, Perez had already reduced the gap enough to take the position away from the Monegasque. Disaster.
From there Ferrari could still have won with Sainz, but after the Spaniard was called in for his only stop he was held up by a backmarker. That gave Perez just enough time to box again for slicks and emerge in front, where he stayed to record his third ever F1 victory.
To cap things off for Ferrari, it didn’t end there either: Leclerc was brought in again on the same lap as Sainz… by mistake. His race engineer shouted ‘Stay out! Stay out! Stay out!’ on the team radio, but by then Leclerc was already in the pit lane. He lost time waiting behind Sainz, and it allowed Max Verstappen to jump ahead for the final podium place.
It makes you wonder if Leclerc’s Monaco curse (this is the first time, both in F1 and the junior formulae, that he hasn’t DNF’d in his home race) is actually a thing. “I’m disappointed to have lost this win and it’s a tough one to take, especially at home,” he said afterwards. “It’s just impossible to overtake in Monaco without taking huge risks. Mistakes happen, unfortunately today we made too many.”
The result means Verstappen extended his championship lead to nine points, while Red Bull top the constructors’ standings having won four grands prix in a row.
Rain drama aside, could Perez be the Monaco GP’s last ever winner? Rumours are circling that F1 isn’t happy with the lack of overtaking, the relatively small race fee it gets from the principality, or local TV direction.
Would you keep Monaco on the calendar, or consign it to history?
TEXT Joe Holding