In the weeks leading up to the Monaco Grand Prix, one of the most anticipated races in the F1 calendar, the talk was all about the future of the race in the Principality.
The race has been a constant fixture since the start of the championship and is known for glitz, glamour, celebrities and the opulence on display with swanky boats parked on the harbour and parties that go on all night.
Considering the eyeballs and exposure F1 gets racing around the enclave of the wealthy, the Monaco GP receives preferential treatment in terms of revenue distribution.
Unlike other races which pay exorbitant race fees to the promoter to host a race, Monaco’s fees are modest in comparison. More importantly, Monaco has the right to make money off track-side advertising, unlike other races where track-side revenue is for the F1 promoters to sell and monetise.
However, it is understood the promoter wants to cut the concessions before signing the new deal with Monaco, especially considering there are many places in the world that want to host an F1 race.
It doesn't help that the Monaco GP is the slowest race on the F1 calendar with the track winding its way through the tight, twisty and narrow roads of Monte Carlo. The race is often the least entertaining as overtaking is virtually impossible and the guy in pole position is more often than not likely to win the race. The only challenge of driving around Monaco is threading that fine needle of being fast just enough without crashing into the walls and barriers.
So when Charles Leclerc, the son of the soil, put his Ferrari on pole on Saturday, it was widely expected he would become the first Monagesque to win the Monaco Grand Prix.
Leclerc incidentally was on pole last year as well but crashed in qualifying on his final lap which prevented anyone from beating his time that year. On race day, however, his gearbox failed on the way to the grid due to the crash during qualifying and he did not start the race in 2021.
This year, the Ferrari driver once again set the fastest time in the final part of qualifying, taking provisional pole after his first run. On the second run, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez crashed forcing a premature end to the qualifying session, with Carlos Sainz in second and championship leader Max Verstappen starting fourth.
All that Leclerc would have hoped for is a straightforward race without any variables. However, just minutes before the race, the heavens opened, throwing a curveball in his plans. Though the rain was light, the FIA, the sports governing body in charge of running the event, did not cover itself in glory.
The Race Director took a cautious approach in delaying the start of the race and after a few reconnaissance laps behind the Safety Car, the race was red-flagged as more showers hit the track. The ideal way would have been to start the race on wet tyres and then figure out if the rain increased.
Eventually, the race began more than one hour after the scheduled start and the top four led away on full wet tyres without change in position.
Leclerc had slowly opened up a good lead over teammate Sainz, with the Red Bull cars of Perez and Verstappen behind.
As the track started drying, some drivers outside of the points started to pit for intermediate tyres. Red Bull reacted first by pitting Perez while Sainz in the Ferrari told his team that he would stay on the full wets until the track was dry enough for normal slick dry weather tyres and thus avoiding an extra pit stop of running on inters before eventually stopping again for slicks.
It is here that Ferrari lost the plot as they panicked seeing Perez’s rapid times and pitted race leader Leclerc for inters. But by the time, they had left the race leader out for long enough on worn wet tyres for him to lose track position to Perez.
A few laps later, the track was dry enough for slick tyres and Ferrari stopped Sainz for his only stop of the race and Leclerc on the same lap with the latter losing further time and a place to his teammate.
To make it worse, both drivers were stuck behind lapped slower cars on their lap after the pitstop and couldn't set quick times immediately on fresh rubber. Red Bull was once again sharp and stopped both its drivers in the subsequent laps that allowed Perez to keep his lead while Verstappen managed to jump to third ahead of Leclerc.
It was the perfect storm for Leclerc who went from first to fourth through no fault of his own as his team floundered on strategy and his poor luck at his home race continued.
Later, a brief red flag after Mick Schumacher’s crash allowed all teams to swap tyres and it is where Red Bull made things harder than they needed to be.
Perez and Verstappen changed to quicker but less durable medium tyres while Ferrari stayed on the durable hard tyres.
Perez looked like he was in control for the rest of the afternoon, which was to end at the two-hour mark from the start of the race, but towards the end of the race, his tyres began to degrade.
It gave Sainz a slim chance of trying to make a move with the Spaniard trying a few half moves towards the end, spicing up the race. The nature of the circuit though meant that all Perez needed to do was place his car in the right places and there was no way anyone could overtake around the narrow confines of the street circuit.
The Mexican did just that and sealed a sensational win. He won himself a new two-year deal at Red Bull and also moved to just 15 points behind Verstappen in the standings.
Leclerc was livid with his team and the only silver lining was maybe the fact that he finished the race in Monaco for the first time in his F1 career. However, it would be no consolation for the Ferrari driver who had a chance to retake the lead in the drivers’ championship but ended up losing further ground to Verstappen.
The unforced error from Ferrari and later Perez’s tyre troubles towards the end meant there was enough excitement throughout the race.
While it is hard to guess if it is enough to help Monaco secure a new deal to stay on the F1 calendar, at least the odds are higher than it would have been if it had been a normal race weekend in which Leclerc won from pole position.
Maybe the Monagesque’s misfortunes might have just saved his home race for the next few years.