Verstappen wins Monaco GP, takes F1 title lead from Hamilton

US and World Sports

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, left, during the start of the Monaco Grand Prix at the Monaco racetrack, in Monaco, Sunday, May 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

MONACO (AP) — Max Verstappen took the lead in the Formula One championship race for the first time in his career with a dominating victory Sunday at the Monaco Grand Prix, his first win on the vaunted circuit.

Verstappen took control of the race right at the start from the second position, in part because pole sitter Charles Leclerc did not start the race as a result of a mechanical issue.

Verstappen darted in front of Valtteri Bottas and led start to finish for his second win of the season and 12th of his career. The Red Bull driver took a four-point lead over seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton in the standings.

“That was master class and you’re leading the championship. Well done, mate,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner radioed to Verstappen as he crossed the finish line.

It is the first time since the German Grand Prix in 2018 that Mercedes has not led the championship. Hamilton finished seventh on an uncharacteristically bad day for the usually reliable Mercedes team.

Bottas retired from the race after a right-front wheel stub axle was stripped during his pit stop and Mercedes could not remove the tire.

Verstappen sprinted over to his team and jumped into their arms after the race.

“It is so special to win here. Of course I’m very proud,” Verstappen said. “But I’m thinking ahead to the rest of the season.”

He was then greeted by tennis star Serena Williams, who waved the checkered flag and was an honorary guest at the event.

“It’s so special around here to win. It’s my first time on the podium here,” said Verstappen, whose father Jos secured two podiums in 106 F1 races and was seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher’s teammate at Benetton.

“I remember when I was very little, you always want to win this one.”

Including the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP last year, Verstappen has won three and finished second in the last six races.

Verstappen finished 8.9 seconds ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr. of Ferrari.

“It’s a good result,” Sainz Jr. said. “If you would’ve told me before coming to Monaco I would finish second, I definitely would take it.”

Lando Norris scored his third career podium the same week he signed a contract extension with McLaren.

“I don’t know what to say, it’s a dream to be on the podium here,” the 21-year-old British driver said. “I didn’t think it was going to happen. I’ll cherish it.”

Sergio Perez was fourth for Red Bull, which moved back on top of the constructors championship ahead of Mercedes.

Mercedes has won the last seven drivers’ and constructors’ championships, but Sunday marked the first time in five races this season that Hamilton and Verstappen did not finish 1-2.

Sergio Perez was fourth for Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel — who won his four world titles with Red Bull from 2010-13 — was fifth for his best finish of the season with Aston Martin.

Leclerc’s chances of winning his home race from pole position ended when he pulled off track with a gearbox problem during a warmup. He crashed with 18 seconds remaining in Saturday qualifying and risked a five-place grid penalty if Ferrari changed his gearbox.

The team initially said Leclerc was good to go and the gearbox was fine, but about 20 minutes before the race Leclerc drove to the garage. Two years ago, Leclerc retired early in Monaco in his first season at Ferrari.

The race director decided not to move Verstappen up from second to pole and left that space blank, giving Bottas more room to overtake on the inside from the start. He never got the chance as Verstappen pounced.

The 3.4-kilometer (2.1-mile) course is the hardest in F1 to overtake on, and Hamilton found himself stuck in traffic for most of the race. Hamilton took a bonus point for the fastest lap toward the end, a rare bright spot on a dismal day for the defending champion and his team.

Bottas slipped down to fourth in what could be his last season at Mercedes, while Norris jumped up to third.

A young-looking podium with a combined age of 70 also offered a glimpse into the future even without the 23-year-old Leclerc, who has eight pole positions and two wins in his career.

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