- Round 5 of the 2021 Formula 1 campaign moves into the Monte Carlo this weekend for the Monaco Grand Prix
- Lewis Hamilton building Drivers’ Championship lead after second win on bounce in Spain last time out
- Paddock arrives in Monaco with further changes to calendar having been made
MONTE CARLO – As Formula 1 returns to Monaco this weekend, can Max Verstappen close the gap on Championship-leading Lewis Hamilton in the principality?
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Rascasse. Nouvelle. Saint Devote. Oh how we’ve missed you.
As Round 5 of the Formula 1 season returns to the millionaire’s playground this weekend, Monte Carlo hosts the Monaco Grand Prix for the first time in 24 months, after last year’s edition was shelved due to the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Home to many drivers in the paddock, a trip round the narrow city track is the favourite of many a driver in any season, but Monaco this year will feel just that little bit extra special.
One of the slower average speed circuits in any season, Monte Carlo’s tight environs are also the shortest in the calendar, having proved perhaps the hardest race for overtaking.
Despite this however, the Monaco GP has thrilled like the principality’s scenery has done for many a year, and in this year’s fascinating tussle, should be no different.
Verstappen in pursuit of Hamilton
Not least in terms of the World Drivers’ Championship, as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen continue their ding-dong duel in 2021.
For Hamilton, the Spanish GP of a fortnight ago saw the Briton take an early psychological pedestal recording successive wins, but with just 14 points separating both Mercedes and Red Bull drivers, a single race could yet flip that deficit.
Even though the season is just four races old, Barcelona last time out felt like a big moment for Hamilton in his quest for history and eight F1 titles, which makes Verstappen’s response this weekend, ever the more vital.
Whereas Hamilton has won in Monaco in 2016 and also the last time F1 descended on Monte Carlo in 2019, Verstappen’s is without as much as a podium however. Indeed, the Dutchman has been forced to retire here twice in his first two active seasons.
Then coming home fourth behind Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas two years ago, there were signs that progress was being made around the track’s tight turns.
As now a driver of greater maturity and above all experience, it remains to be seen however, whether the 23-year-old version of Verstappen can reel Mercedes back in this weekend.
Leclerc targeting home GP
For Charles Leclerc, a return to his native Monte Carlo this weekend will be one to relish.
In what will be the Monagesque’s third home GP around the streets he grew up on, Leclerc has yet to take a single point away from Monaco however, with two retirements as his record in the principality thus far.
That is not to say his efforts haven’t been laced with misfortune however, with his 2018 race seeing him crash out after an incident with Brendon Hartley, while 12 months later saw Leclerc sustain floor damage which forced an eventual boxing of the car, after failing to progress out of Q1 in qualifying.
But Leclerc will be hoping for greater fortune in 2021, and as Ferrari look to regain lost ground from last season – with Leclerc not having finished outside of top six this term – a weekend trip back home is something he is excited by, as he told F1.com.
“It’s one of my favourite tracks, and it is also very special because I’m born here, I’ve grown up here so I’m just very excited to be here. Unfortunately I’ve been quite unlucky here in the past, and I hope this luck will turn a little bit around for this year.
“[But] I’ve had a bit of a tough time at this track in the last three years, apart from last year where we didn’t race, but I love this track, I love city tracks in general. And here, I think it’s a special feeling for all drivers to be racing here.”
Styrian GP to replace Turkey
As hopes for a season with minimal disruption rolls on, F1 was given a gentle reminder as to the current climate it operates in during the past week, after the Turkish GP was cancelled following restrictions implemented by the UK government in travelling to the country.
Originally pencilled in for June, Istanbul’s omission will come as a shame to fans, given last season’s thrilling race in what turned into nothing short of a test drive on a skidpan.
Turkey’s cancellation means the French GP at Le Castellet will now be moved forward to June 20, with the Styrian GP making an unexpected return in Austria a week after.
With the Austrian GP itself retaining its June 27 date in Spielberg, the calendar changes now mean that races will be held over three back-to-back weekends for the first time.
That upcoming three-weekend arc could prove pivotal this season, but in the meantime and even at this relatively embryonic stage in the campaign, Monaco this weekend could yet set a number of team’s aspirations in stone.
The 2021 Monaco Grand Prix weekend begins on Thursday, at Circuit de Monaco in Monte Carlo.
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