Sergio Perez won a chaotic and exciting Monaco Grand Prix as Charles Leclerc’s dreams of winning on home soil were dashed by his flat-footed Ferrari team.
Leclerc navigated a wet start – delayed by more than an hour after a torrential downpour just a dozen minutes before the lights were due to go out at Formula 1’s most famous race – to control the early stages.
But the Monegasque’s race fell apart when Ferrari’s strategy was exposed by Red Bull. Perez moved up from third to first in the switch from wet to slick rubber, Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz was second and World Champion Max Verstappen third.
Leclerc crossed the line in fourth, one place ahead of George Russell, Lando Norris in sixth.
Lewis Hamilton started eighth and finished the race in the same position, while Mick Schumacher escaped unhurt from an accident that sensationally split his Haas machine in two.
After a frenetic climax, Perez finished just 1.1 seconds ahead of Sainz, with the top 4 less than three seconds away.
Leclerc took pole position here on Saturday under blue skies, but a downpour in the moments leading up to Sunday’s race changed his afternoon.
The planned 3pm getaway was delayed by nine minutes and then again at 3:16pm.
The race started – albeit behind the safety car – but as the rain continued to pelt the Monte Carlo tarmac, Eduardo Freitas, refereeing only his second F1 race, pulled out of the event after just two laps and four minutes.
A 45-minute wait ensued before Portuguese Freitas was ready to race. Leclerc led the field and tiptoed around the two-mile course with Sainz behind and the Red Bull duo of Perez and Verstappen at the rear.
A dry line quickly emerged, but with track position being essential at a circuit where overtaking is virtually impossible, the leaders were reluctant to switch to new rubber.
But Red Bull blinked first by putting Perez on the Intermediate tires on lap 16 and it proved to be a masterstroke. The Mexican put in two fast laps and when Leclerc stopped for a stop just two laps later, he came up behind Perez.
Things would get worse for the Monegasque when he had to queue behind Sainz in a pit stop mix-up when both Ferrari men switched to slicks.
Within a few laps, Leclerc, who has never won on home soil, had dropped from first to fourth place. Call out a series of expletives from Leclerc’s cockpit.
Further back, Hamilton also turned the air blue as he dueled with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon.
“Damn it,” yelled the seven-time world champion. “He just stuck me in the wall. I don’t know if the car is damaged.”
Ocon later received a five-second penalty for causing a collision while Hamilton feared damage, but he was able to continue.
Then, on lap 28, the TV cameras dramatically cut to an image of Schumacher’s car being ripped in two at the high-speed pool chicane.
The German – son of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher – turned right into the barrier, then pirouetted across the track and slammed into the Armco barrier on the opposite side of the circuit.
“I’m fine,” said the 23-year-old. “I just do not understand.”
A virtual safety car and real safety car were then deployed in front of a full red flag to remove the two pieces of Schumacher’s destroyed machine and repair the barrier.
The drivers returned to the pits and Leclerc was visibly angry as he stomped off to the Ferrari garage.
After a 20-minute delay, the race resumed, but with a three-hour time limit, only 64 of the allotted 77 laps were completed.
Despite a late attack from Sainz, Perez kept his cool and won for the first time in Monte Carlo and a third time in F1.
Third place increased Verstappen’s lead over Leclerc from six to nine points.
Hamilton, wedged behind Fernando Alonso’s Alpine, finished 50 seconds back.