Here’s what to look out for in Monte Carlo this afternoon as the 2021 Formula 1 season continues...

Verstappen’s Lap 1 mentality

Going into this afternoon’s Monaco Grand Prix, Max Verstappen will know this is a rare opportunity to take a significant chunk out of Lewis Hamilton’s lead in the drivers’ championship, with the Mercedes driver struggling to get his tyres into the working window in qualifying, leaving him seventh on the grid.

So far in 2021, we’ve seen Verstappen take an aggressive approach on race starts, particularly when Hamilton is the man he has to overtake on the opening laps. 

Verstappen has managed to get ahead of Hamilton in each of the last three grands prix, although he failed to stay ahead in the last two due to the sheer advantage the seven-time champion has enjoyed over a race distance. 

The Dutchman has to weigh up two things: should he take a conservative approach into Turn 1, knowing Hamilton isn’t likely to make up too much ground from seventh given the overtaking difficulties around the principality. 

Conversely, Charles Leclerc knows this probably will be Ferrari’s best chance of a victory all season and thus he has less to lose than Verstappen because he’s not in the fight for the title.

Lap 1 will be crucial in deciding the outcome of the Monaco GP.

How likely is a Hamilton recovery?

It was a rare underperformance from the seven-time world champion in qualifying in Monte Carlo. 

Tyre temperature and getting the tyres into the right window appeared to be the main contributing factor to Hamilton only managing seventh on the grid.

While Bottas fared better in the second Mercedes, we saw at Imola earlier this season, how difficulties in getting the tyres working left the Finn well down the field. 

Hamilton’s struggles around the streets of Monte Carlo are reminiscent of 2017, where he qualified 14th.

14th wasn’t a true reflection of Hamilton’s pace as he was unable to improve on his final Q2 effort due to Stoffel Vandoorne’s crash in the final sector - similar to Leclerc’s in Q3 on Saturday.

Hamilton could only manage seventh on race day, despite Mercedes enjoying a greater advantage over its midfield rivals in 2017 compared to this year.

With overtaking nearly impossible, Hamilton will be relying on strategy to move up the order.

A long first stint could be the way to go as a significant amount of laps on the same tyre should give Hamilton enough tyre temperature to produce the lap times we’d expect.

Still, it’s likely Hamilton will not have that opportunity to show what he can do in clean air because the cars ahead probably will have a similar strategy in mind.

It’s likely to be a long afternoon for Hamilton.

Undercut or overcut?

As previously mentioned, with overtaking so difficult in Monaco, strategy will play a big part in deciding the outcome of the race. 

In F1, the undercut is when you stop earlier than your rival and you make the most of a fresh set of tyres to get ahead. While, the overcut is when you stay out and stop later than your rival, benefitting from the clear track.  

In 2019, an early Safety Car saw the leaders pit for fresh rubber meaning there was no variation in strategy besides Mercedes fitting mediums to Hamilton, while Red Bull and Ferrari opted for the hards with Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel respectively.

2017 is a better case study when the Ferrari duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel locked out the front row.

Raikkonen stopped first, while Vettel stayed out, allowing him to set faster times than his teammate and ultimately overcutting him to take the victory.

The same happened with Bottas and Ricciardo, with the Australian benefitting from a later stop to get ahead of the Mercedes driver as well as Red Bull teammate Verstappen.

The overcut is likely to be favoured given the midfield is significantly closer on performance than in previous years, thus the leaders are unlikely to generate a big enough gap to the cars behind.

An early undercut could prove to be disastrous if you come out in traffic so finding a gap on track will be critical.

Giovinazzi to end run of bad luck?

Antonio Giovinazzi has quietly been one of F1’s most impressive performers in 2021, but he still has no points to show for it.

Giovinazzi handed Alfa Romeo its first top ten start of the season in Monaco, once again, comprehensively out-performing veteran teammate Kimi Raikkonen over one lap. 

He doesn’t have lady luck on his side so far in 2021 as an unscheduled pit stop at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix dropped him out of the points.

In Barcelona his chances of points were ruined as when he stopped under the Safety Car, one of his tyres was already punctured resulting in a lengthy stop.

Had it not been for his issue at the pit stops in Spain, Giovinazzi would have had a serious shot at points.

Starting from tenth, the 27-year-old has the perfect chance to get off the mark. 

Similarly, Sebastian Vettel looked back to his best in Monte Carlo.

Vettel was consistently inside the top ten throughout the weekend and shares the fourth row on the grid alongside Hamilton. 

Remarkably, Vettel has yet to score since moving to Aston Martin.

Starting from eighth on the grid, it’s likely he will break his duck this afternoon.