After a one-year absence as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the glitzy Monaco Grand Prix returned to the F1 calendar and brought dramatic changes at the top of the order.
Max Verstappen and Red Bull took advantage of a poor afternoon for Mercedes to win in Monte Carlo and take the lead in both world championships at an otherwise low-key race.
However, there was plenty to take away from events at the principality as Sportsmail looks at ten things we learned from the Monaco Grand Prix.
Mercedes can get it wrong
This was arguably Mercedes’ worst Formula One weekend since the German Grand Prix in 2019 when Lewis Hamilton could only bring home two points for the team based on a technicality of the Alfa Romeos being disqualified.
Back then the world champions’ carnage was caused by the rain, in Monaco however their race strategy was nothing short of calamitous.
Hamilton may have qualified seventh before starting sixth but even on a circuit notoriously difficult for overtaking there were hopes of a podium.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton endured a frustrating race stuck behind AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly
Instead the world champion started the race staring at the rear wing of Pierre Gasly and ended the race doing the exact same thing. In between, having spent the early part of the event nursing his tyres, Hamilton was perplexed to be called in early for a pitstop when he was intending to stay out longer than anyone else. Then he was irate when he was leapfrogged in the pits by Sergio Perez and Sebastian Vettel with no gain in places.
Race ruined for the Brit, but his team-mate came off even worse. Valtteri Bottas at least had second place in his hands but his pitstop saw his front right tyre fail to come off due a bizarre wheel nut issue, putting him out of the race.
Mercedes’ race strategy this season has been nigh on perfect, so it’s incredibly unusual to see them get it so badly wrong. It’s a reminder though that even the best in the business can make mistakes.
Mercedes’ day was made worse when Valtteri Bottas was forced to retire while in the pits
Max Verstappen’s title charge is sticking around
Verstappen’s talent and speed is no longer questionable. Ask any team who they would sign tomorrow based on that alone with no other limitations, and they would all leap at the chance to sign the 23-year-old.
But a couple of recent Hamilton victories, including his crushing comeback to snatch victory in Spain last time out after dominating in Portugal had left a feeling that Red Bull’s title hopes were starting to slowly fade away.
Instead of that, they exited Monaco leading both world championships for the first time since 2013, and with Verstappen having put in a mature drive to turn a 14-point deficit to Hamilton into a four-point advantage.
Verstappen dominated from start to finish and never looked like he was in danger of being challenged for the win. When put under pressure by either Bottas or Carlos Sainz he just improved his own pace.
So comfortable was his afternoon that his team had put a call in to his radio mid-race to make sure everything was ok, to which the Dutchman casually and calmly replied all was good as if he was enjoying a relaxed Sunday drive around Monaco rather than competing in a full blooded grand prix.
Verstappen’s win ensured Red Bull left Monaco in the lead of both world championships
Charles Leclerc has the speed but is still error prone
Qualifying perhaps summed up Charles Leclerc’s Formula One career to date. Incredibly fast, often devastatingly so, but also prone to highly costly errors.
His lap to put the Ferrari on pole position was typical of the Monegasque to deliver the goods when the chips were down… but his crash on his following lap also showed that his speed still carries a bit of recklessness of it.
There were concerns over whether he had damaged the gearbox, and deciding not to risk the five-place grid penalty for changing the component, Ferrari appeared to have paid the ultimate price half-an-hour before the race when Leclerc left the pits complaining about a gearbox issue.
Charles Leclerc congratulates Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz on his second place
While the mechanical issue that caused Leclerc to exit the race before he had even started it appears to have come elsewhere, it’s still likely the damage was caused by his Saturday crash.
It’s not the first time he has paid the price in qualifying too. In 2019, he was destined for pole in Azerbaijan having shown blistering pace, only to end up crashing out of the session and ruining his chance of victory.
There’s a world championship winning quality driver in Leclerc but he needs to reduce his major blunders that have slightly blotted his copybook early on in his Formula One career.
Leclerc’s Ferrari developed a terminal problem before the race on the way to the grid
Lando Norris could fly British flag when Hamilton exits
Late last season, much of the talk on the young drivers looking to take over as Britain’s lead Formula One driver once Hamilton retires were focused on George Russell after he sat in for the seven-time world champion.
Only team errors prevented him from sensationally winning his debut race in Sakhir before Hamilton returned and Russell was once more pushed out of sight at the back of the grid to Williams.
But while Russell continues to get the most out of a slow package, his compatriot Lando Norris is doing a similar job nearer the front of the grid for McLaren.
On the circuit which provides the ultimate test of driver ability and concentration, Norris secured his third F1 podium after fending off a late charge on worn tyres from Sergio Perez.
That’s already two podiums this season for the 21-year-old who sits only behind Verstappen and Hamilton in the world championship standings.
Russell may still be a threat in the future, but right now it is Norris’s stock which is arguably on the rise quicker than any other driver on the F1 grid.
Britain’s Lando Norris enjoyed another stunning race to take his third Formula One podium
Daniel Ricciardo endures new McLaren low
It’s turning into a nightmare season already for Daniel Ricciardo, who joined McLaren over the winter after ending his Renault tenure on a high with two podium finishes in his last season to reinforce his status as one of F1’s top drivers.
But right now he is taking a hammering by Norris in the sister McLaren. And nothing highlighted his struggles more on Sunday when he was lapped by the Brit at a circuit he had only won at as recently as 2018 – his last F1 victory.
The charismatic Australian put a brave face on after the race trying to explain his struggles but also didn’t try to hide his shortcomings, admitting he had a terrible weekend where he could not get on Norris’s pace.
Concerns rest on the 31-year-old’s troubles adapting to the McLaren and while this can be overcome as he learns more about the car over the course of the season, few expected him to be so far away from Norris despite the Brit’s blossoming talents.
Norris’s McLaren team-mate Daniel Ricciardo had a more bumpy ride around Monte Carlo
Monaco is less suitable than ever to grand prix racing
While grand prix racing cars have evolved unimaginably since the 1950s, the streets of Monaco have not kept up with them despite tweaks to the circuit layout over the decades.
It’s the elephant in the room but now more than ever F1 cars look incredibly unsuited to racing around the principality.
Today, the cars are longer than they have ever been and remain so vulnerable to any aerodynamic change that just following another car destabilises their handling and contributes to tyre wear.
Monaco was always difficult to overtake at and when you factor in the above, it makes it near enough impossible. There were hardly any on-track passes for position on Sunday, with the notable exception of Mick Schumacher overtaking his Haas team-mate Nikita Mazepin at the hairpin near the start of the race.
Hamilton, who is one of the best overtakers in the sport, could not get near to the AlphaTauri of Gasly directly in front of him for 78 laps. It’s a problem for the Monaco Grand Prix and its racing appeal.
The tight and twisty nature of the streets of Monaco have been outgrown by modern F1 cars
Carlos Sainz proves Ferrari’s progress
Leclerc’s race may have effectively ended on Saturday but the potential of the Ferrari on race day was proven by Carlos Sainz.
The Spaniard enjoyed his best finish in his F1 career with a comfortable drive to second, having been putting pressure on Bottas for the position before the Finn’s retirement.
Sainz could have even been on pole had Leclerc’s crash resulting in red flags to stop the session not ruined his team-mate’s quick lap.
Monaco is often an outlier of a circuit in terms of performance, so while this return to form for Ferrari is unlikely to stick around for Azerbaijan at the next race, it does at least indicate that the team are heading in a positive direction after their horror 2020 season which was their worst in 40 years.
Ferrari are on the mend after a horror 2020 with Sainz taking an impressive second place
Father Time catching up with Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso was still just as quick as he ever was when he walked away from the sport at the end of 2018, but it appears in his two-year absence the advancing years are now starting to show.
It was a completely forgettable weekend for the two-time world champion who was dumped out in the first qualifying session before finishing an anonymous 13th. Even on a miserable weekend for Alpine anyway this was still a fair way behind team-mate Esteban Ocon who was ninth.
Alonso was incredibly unfortunate at the opening race in Bahrain where he dazzled before mechanical gremlins forced him into retirement, but since then he has finished behind Ocon at the following four races.
The Frenchman of course is a very talented F1 driver, but this is Alonso we are talking about and throughout his first F1 tenure was never consistently beaten by another driver over five races.
Sakhir proves he can still produce the goods, and he hasn’t been too far away from Ocon’s pace elsewhere. But as he approaches 40 in July, it looks like we have already seen the magnificent best of the Spaniard.
Fernando Alonso has endured a poor start to the season on his F1 return after two years away
…but Sebastian Vettel finally stepped up
The last two or three years of Sebastian Vettel’s Formula One career have been a tough watch for his fans, as his dreams of winning a world championship for Ferrari slowly dwindled into being released by the team believing his best years had been and gone.
The four-time world champion moved to Aston Martin over the winter and the first four races did little to dispel the notion that the 33-year-old was on a continuous slump down the grid.
But on Sunday, the German ended a seven-race run outside the points – his longest drought in F1 – to take a stunning fifth place.
It was a performance like the Vettel of old from his title winning days at Red Bull. When needed to produce ultra quick laps on a track with no margin for error, he delivered to leap two places above Hamilton and Gasly in the pit-stop phase and take his first points for the team, putting him ahead of his team-mate Lance Stroll for the first time this season in the world championship.
Sebastian Vettel (left) came out ahead of Gasly from the pits to take a credible fifth place
Sergio Perez slowly coming good for Red Bull
One of Red Bull’s main concerns since Ricciardo left the team at the end of 2018 has been finding a team-mate that can keep Verstappen in sight let alone be on the same pace as him.
Gasly and Alex Albon have tried and failed to do so, while Sergio Perez’s early season struggles suggest he also will find it difficult to lay a credible challenge to the Dutchman.
But Perez is bagging the points he is perhaps expected to at this stage on a par score even if his pace is still a little off. Red Bull need him challenging at the front a bit more to help give Mercedes more headaches when it comes to developing in-race strategies.
Qualifying was a disaster for the Mexican at Monte Carlo down in ninth, but on race day he leaped above the likes of Hamilton for a credible fourth and on a track easier to pass it could have been third, given his late-race pace compared to Norris.
Verstappen’s the real bread winner at Red Bull but with the team leading the constructors championship, Perez is playing his role too.
Sergio Perez’s (right) performances are slightly improving as he adapts to the Red Bull car