A dejected Max Verstappen declared that "sometimes you can hate this sport" after a late crash cost him victory in a dramatic Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Verstappen looked destined to take the top step of the podium in Baku until he suffered a tyre blowout when he was leading with five laps to go.

The Red Bull driver booted his car after smashing into a wall, having missed the opportunity to extend his lead over Lewis Hamilton in the battle for the Formula One title.

Verstappen was able to retain his four-point advantage over Hamilton after the seven-time world champion locked up his tyres and ran into an escape road when the street circuit race restarted for a two-lap sprint.

Sergio Perez celebrated his first victory for Red Bull ahead of Sebastian Vettel, with Hamilton crossing the line in 15th place after being second on the grid when the race got under way again.

Verstappen was left to reflect on what might have been, but the Dutchman said he would not dwell on the cruel setback.

He said: "Frustrating and very disappointing so close to the finish to retire with a tyre blowout.

"It's a big shame. Sometimes you can hate this sport - for a few hours, then I'll be fine again.

"Honestly up until that point it was a great day – the car was on fire, I was just matching whatever I needed to do behind me, I was quite comfortably in the lead. It would have, let's say, have been an easy win. But, of course, there are no guarantees in the sport."

Verstappen added: "It's a shame because we missed out on the opportunity to make the gap bigger [in the championship] because we know when we get to normal tracks Mercedes normally are very strong. So it's a bit of a shame not to open the gap a bit more.

"Of course then at the end we got a bit lucky with Lewis going straight at Turn 1, so we are still leading the world championship, but it's not the way we wanted it to be.

"I wanted to really open up that gap today and win that race because it would have been great for the team."

Christian Horner described the "rollercoaster" of Red Bull's Azerbaijan Grand Prix success as Sergio Perez revealed he almost followed team-mate Max Verstappen out of the race.

Red Bull claimed consecutive wins for just the second time in the Hybrid Era, but it was Perez rather than Verstappen who led them to glory.

Verstappen was in complete control and set to head a Red Bull one-two when his left-rear tyre blew out in the closing stages. The same issue had ruled out Lance Stroll of Aston Martin.

That left the door open for title rival Lewis Hamilton to profit, but an error from the defending champion from the restart allowed Perez to race clear.

Red Bull boss Horner told Sky Sports: "I think I've aged about 20 years.

"We were staring down the barrel of our first one-two since 2016. Everything in control, we'd just checked in with Max, all okay, and then boom.

"The tyre went, and we don't know why. It looked like the wear was in good shape, so whether it's debris or something has happened.

"You can see it's a big place to have an accident. Thankfully, he's okay."

He added: "We were feeling at that point like the world had dropped from under us."

Worse might have been to come for Red Bull as Perez finished the race but then immediately broke down, receiving frantic messages over the radio as he celebrated his first victory for the team.

The Mexican, who has five consecutive top-five finishes for the first time in his career, said: "I'm so, so happy for today. Normally, Baku is pretty crazy.

"First of all, I have to say for Max I'm sorry. He did a tremendous race and really deserved the win, and it would have been incredible to get that one-two for the team.

"But at the end, it is a fantastic day for us. We were close to retiring the car but, luckily, we were able to finish the race. It was quite difficult all the way in the end."

Horner lauded Perez, whose victory moved Red Bull 26 points clear in the constructors' championship on a day Mercedes failed to score.

"He's a wily driver, a canny racer. He races really, really well," Horner said.

"We went from the despair of 'We've lost Max, we're going to lose the championship lead, Lewis could pass him at the restart and win the race'.

"It just shows the rollercoaster you go through in this sport.

"Suddenly it not being quite so bad, we've actually maintained the same lead in the drivers' championship leaving here and extended the constructors'."

Red Bull dedicated the victory to Mansour Ojjeh, the McLaren shareholder who passed away ahead of the race.

"He had the biggest heart and always carried the biggest smile," ex-McLaren man Hamilton posted on Twitter. "I am so grateful to have known such a man."

Remarkable late drama at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix saw Sergio Perez handed victory after Max Verstappen crashed out and title rival Lewis Hamilton incredibly finished outside the points.

Verstappen looked to be coasting to a second consecutive Formula One win and seventh straight podium – both career firsts.

The Red Bull driver, four points ahead of Hamilton in the standings prior to the race, was well in the clear after earlier benefitting from a slow Hamilton pit stop.

But Verstappen's left-rear tyre blew out and ended his race, prompting the furious Dutchman to kick his car in anger.

Lance Stroll had encountered the same issue with the hard Pirelli tyres, swerving out of control when he had been fourth, albeit without pitting.

A red flag – requested by a concerned Red Bull team – followed Verstappen's crash with just three laps remaining, meaning a standing start with Perez ahead of Hamilton on the front row of the grid following the delay.

In another twist, Hamilton and his smoking brakes careered off the circuit from the restart and Perez raced away to lift Red Bull spirits.

With Hamilton way back in 15th, it meant a positive end to the day for Verstappen's team, even if the season leader will continue to rue his misfortune.

Both Verstappen and Perez jumped ahead of Hamilton when he was delayed in the pit lane by Pierre Gasly, having quickly caught pole-sitter Charles Leclerc.

Stroll's mishap threw a spanner in the works, yet Verstappen pulled ahead clear from the restart following the safety car, with Perez again getting the better of Hamilton.

Sebastian Vettel's climb to fourth and attempt to reel in old foe Hamilton looked the most likely source of intrigue in the closing stages, only for Verstappen's blow to bring the race to a standstill.

Hamilton admitted his error when his restart sensationally failed, though, and Perez hung on, his car breaking down moments after crossing the line before Vettel – who achieved a first Aston Martin podium.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen would like to see team bosses Toto Wolff and Christian Horner don boxing gloves to settle their differences.

Hamilton and Verstappen are engaged in a title tussle in Formula One but have so far maintained pleasantries off the track in front of the media.

The same cannot be said for Mercedes chief Wolff and Red Bull counterpart Horner.

When Horner this week suggested his opposite number "keep [his] mouth shut" as the Silver Arrows struggled in practice at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Wolff fired back that the Red Bull boss was "a bit of a windbag who wants to be on camera".

For Hamilton, who qualified in second, and Verstappen, in third, the row was the source of some amusement in Baku on Saturday.

"We should get them in a ring," Hamilton offered.

Verstappen added: "Yeah, but I think the weight division is a bit of a problem. In the height, the reach...

"I mean I'm all for a ring anyway, even in Formula One – instead of penalties!"

Pressed for further comment, Verstappen said: "It's Formula One. There are a lot of stakes involved so everyone wants to win, everyone is competitive.

"I guess it's just a natural thing and it's good for people to read, right? A bit of fire behind it."

Hamilton said: "Naturally, they're the two top leaders of the teams and they've both contributed hugely to the success of both teams.

"[They are] great leaders and of course they're head to head because we are head to head in this tight battle. We generally just like to do our talking on the track, so we're just keeping our heads down."

Hamilton did just that in qualifying, although he had not anticipated such a competitive display.

The defending champion was seventh in FP1, 11th in FP2 and "still pretty much a disaster" in third in FP3.

However, Hamilton was only denied a 101st career pole by Charles Leclerc, who again profited from a late red flag – this time caused by an incident involving team-mate Carlos Sainz, having himself crashed last time out.

"Honestly, it's one of the greatest feelings for us, for the difficult experience we've gone through and being out of the top 10 all weekend and really struggling to understand and extract performance from our car," Hamilton said.

"It feels fantastic. Congratulations to Charles, who did a fantastic job given the difficult circumstances out there.

"Yeah, it's just a bit overwhelming, really happy to be up here, grateful to have got the lap in, and it puts us in for a much different race than we anticipated after yesterday."

Verstappen was less impressed by how qualifying panned out, bemoaning "all this s*** all the time happening" when the session was cut short.

With Red Bull concurrently leading both the drivers' championship and the constructors' championship for the first time since 2013, Verstappen is looking for the first back-to-back wins of his career.

Not since the Hybrid Era began in 2014 have his team had two victories in a row.

Meanwhile, Lando Norris, a distant third in the standings, will start from P9 due to a three-place grid penalty.

Norris, who has earned points at a career-best 10 consecutive races, qualified in sixth but was deemed to have continued on the track under one of the session's record-equalling four red flags.

Charles Leclerc joked "it was quite a s*** lap" after he clinched pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen.

In a qualifying session littered with crashes on Saturday, it was Ferrari's Leclerc who came out on top, recording a time of one minute and 41.218 seconds.

The frantic session on the streets of Baku saw four red flags raised, equalling the record for the most in qualifying, which was set ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2016.

Indeed, it was the fourth red flag which all but sealed Leclerc's pole, his second in a row after he started at the front of the grid in Monaco last time out – he is the first driver to take back-to-back poles this season.

World champion Hamilton struggled in practice, but was second when Yuki Tsunoda's crash into the barriers ended qualifying and came in a tenth of a second quicker than Verstappen, who had crashed out in the final practice session.

Leclerc was not best pleased with his efforts, but had no qualms about securing pole.

"It was quite a s*** lap I thought!" Leclerc, who set his fastest time with the help of a slipstream from Hamilton, joked to Sky Sports.

"There were like two or three corners where I did mistakes, but of course I had the big tow from Lewis in the last sector which helped me a little bit.

"But overall I think we would have been there or thereabouts for pole without the slipstream, so it's a good day. I did not expect to be as competitive as we were today. I was improving again [before] the red flag but it's like this, another pole, and I'm happy anyway."

Meanwhile, Hamilton was left to reflect on what he labelled a "monumental" result for Mercedes, with the team having struggled throughout the week – indeed, Valtteri Bottas will start in 10th on Sunday.

"We definitely weren't expecting that and this is such a monumental result for us because we've been struggling like you couldn't believe all weekend. You can see it," Hamilton said.

"We kept our composure. We've continued to have difficult discussions in the background and challenging one another, and just never taking no for an answer. We've moved around, made so many changes, over these two days. Just chasing our tail and it's been so difficult.

"It has been the biggest challenge in a long time. It has been a bit of a disaster."

Verstappen won in Monaco, with Red Bull aiming for consecutive race victories for the first time since 2014, but the young Dutchman could not hide his frustration with how the session panned out.

"It was just a stupid qualifying to be honest, but it is what it is," he said. "It's a street circuit so these things can happen, our car is strong so hopefully tomorrow we can score good points."

Pierre Gasly was in fine form during practice and took the momentum into qualifying, clinching fourth on the grid, while Carlos Sainz completed an impressive showing from Ferrari by coming in fifth.

The day ultimately belonged to Leclerc, who will be hoping for better luck than he had in Monaco, when a mechanical issue meant he could not build on his pole position and had to drop out of the race.

 

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1:41.218
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.232s
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.345s
4. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +0.347s
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.358s
6. Lando Norris (McLaren) +0.529s
7. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.699s
8. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +0.993s
9. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1.109s
10. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +1.441s

Max Verstappen went top of the Formula One drivers' standings for the first time in his career but admits he faces a huge fight to stay ahead of Lewis Hamilton.

The Red Bull star earned a maiden Monaco Grand Prix victory as Hamilton trailed in seventh, with the Mercedes team as a whole enduring a desperate day.

Valtteri Bottas was forced to retire from the race while running second when the pit crew were unable to remove a tyre, with Verstappen and fourth-placed Sergio Perez nudging Red Bull above Mercedes at the summit of the constructors' standings.

Neither Verstappen nor his team would be presumptuous enough to suggest this changing of the guard at the top of each championship is anything but potentially fleeting though, given the margins are so tight and this was just the fifth stop-off in a 23-race season.

"It's so special around here to win and to be for the first time on the podium here," Verstappen said. "It's an amazing race and you really have to keep your focus, but it's really cool.

"You never know what's going to happen, but it was all about looking after your tyres and finding a good stop gap of course. The others went earlier so that made it a bit easier for me, but it was pretty much in control.

"Of course you always want to win this grand prix. I remember when I was very little watching this grand prix and to be standing here of course I'm very proud.

"But I'm also thinking ahead. It's still a very long season, but this is a great way to continue."

Hamilton has won the last four championships and six of the last seven, while Mercedes are chasing an eighth consecutive team title.

They will have many better Sundays in the coming months, and a team statement on Twitter summed up their dismay at the Monaco outcome.

The statement said: "Tough one to swallow. This has been one of our hardest days as a team in a very long time. We have to accept it, own the failure, learn from it and move on from here."

Carlos Sainz finished second, with Verstappen keeping the Spaniard at a safe distance.

It was close to a nine-second gap at the finish, as Sainz delivered for a Ferrari side who had to stomach the pre-race blow of withdrawing pole-sitter Charles Leclerc.

Monaco native Leclerc majorly damaged his car with a heavy crash in qualifying, and despite subsequent assurances that he would be on the grid, Ferrari changed their minds just minutes before the race began, citing a problem with the left driveshaft.

As Leclerc licked his wounds, Sainz delivered a sterling drive for his first Ferrari podium finish. Even then, it felt bittersweet.

"It is a good result," said the 26-year-old Spaniard. "If you had told me before coming to Monaco that I would finish second, I would definitely have taken that.

"It's just the whole circumstances of the weekend, having Charles on pole, me missing out in qualifying yesterday on a good lap, it just maybe doesn't taste as good as it should.

"But if I reflect back in the week I will be very happy and proud of the weekend. And I think Ferrari as a team need to be proud about the team and the step they've done this year.

"When you see the other car not starting from pole, all of a sudden the responsibility relies on you, trying to salvage the weekend. I felt the team deserved at least a podium this weekend."

Third place went to Lando Norris, whose McLaren team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, a former winner in Monaco, could only finish in a lowly 12th place.

"I didn't think I'd be here," Norris said, at his post-race interview. "It's always a dream to be on a podium here.

"It's extra special, I didn't think it was going to happen. It's special here, so I'll cherish it."

Max Verstappen roared to victory at the Monaco Grand Prix and jumped above reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton at the top of the drivers' standings.

The Red Bull driver benefited from the shock withdrawal of pole-sitter Charles Leclerc ahead of the race, producing an immaculate drive to stay out of trouble and finish ahead of the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.

McLaren's Lando Norris completed the podium, securing his second third place of the season, with Sergio Perez, Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly all coming home ahead of Hamilton, who trailed in a distant seventh.

The outcome saw Verstappen, thanks to his first Monaco triumph, move four points in front of Hamilton after five rounds of the 23-race championship. He leads the championship for the first time in his career, a further sign that Hamilton could face a major battle to cling to his crown as he chases a record-breaking eighth title.

Just 20 minutes before the race began, Ferrari dropped the bombshell that Leclerc had been ruled out due to a driveshaft problem.

It was a crushing blow for the Monegasque driver, whose pole was secured in dramatic fashion on Saturday when he crashed his Ferrari in the final minute of qualifying, denying his rivals a clear track and the chance to set a faster time. Leclerc feared gearbox trouble but was initially given the all-clear to race, until he was pulled from the line-up.

What it meant was that Verstappen, second on the grid, had the chance to gain the early ascendancy on the tight circuit where he had never previously achieved a podium finish, and he demonstrated his prowess as a front-runner.

Valtteri Bottas was sitting second when the Finn pitted on the 31st lap, and he joined Leclerc in the bad-luck club when Mercedes were unable to remove his front-right wheel. After a desperate minute of waiting, Bottas climbed out of his car, his race over.

Sebastian Vettel managed to get ahead of Pierre Gasly and Hamilton when the three pitted, the Aston Martin going almost wheel to wheel with Gasly's Alpha Tauri as he completed a stunning overcut.

That moment imperilled Hamilton's leadership of the championship, putting him down in seventh place, as Mercedes suffered a miserable couple of minutes. 

It proved the last major twist of the race, with Hamilton securing a bonus point for a late fastest lap. Small consolation on a dismal day for Mercedes, as Verstappen and Perez's performance also saw Red Bull go ahead of the Silver Arrows in the constructors' standings.

Charles Leclerc's chances of starting his home grand prix in pole position appeared to have received a boost on Saturday, with Ferrari finding no gearbox damage in initial checks.

Leclerc took pole for the Monaco Grand Prix in dramatic circumstances earlier in the day when he crashed while top of the timesheets.

The crash forced qualifying to be halted early. Leclerc flicked off one barrier and went hurtling into another just as his rivals – including second-placed Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas in third – seemed ready to mount a challenge in the closing moments of the session.

Leclerc admitted he was worried the impact and the damage to his car may mean its gearbox required replacing, which would see him given a grid penalty.

However, tests conducted by Ferrari found no "serious damage" to the gearbox, though further checks will be carried out on Sunday to ensure it is useable.

This update came after the post-qualifying news conference, in which Leclerc said: "I have mixed feelings a little bit, because with the crash I don’t know where I’m starting tomorrow yet. It depends on the damage on the car."

It was the first time Leclerc had made it to Q3 on his home circuit.

"Well, it didn't feel great to go Q3, as at least we were expecting to go through to Q3," he said.

"It would have been a big disappointment if I was not going into Q3, 2019 was a hard one to take as we definitely had the potential to be up there but we couldn't finalise it after the mistake we have done in Q1. Hopefully we will end up this weekend on a high, which never happened at home."

Meanwhile, two weeks after securing a 100th pole position of his Formula One career, championship leader Lewis Hamilton had to settle for seventh on the grid.

"[The car] didn't feel too bad on Thursday, and then we made some changes and it felt pretty terrible today, so of course we go back to the drawing board," Hamilton said.

"I think from my point I just had such a lack of grip out there, which then leads you to overdrive and start trying to get more from it to no end – it doesn't improve.

"Today was a question of tyres, the tyres were just not working. I was sliding around. I've not spoken to the engineers just yet. Valtteri did a better job at the end of the day."

Hamilton's poor run means that title challenger Verstappen is well placed to take advantage.

"It's always important to score a lot of points, but of course you need to be ahead of your main rivals as much as you can," said the Red Bull driver.

"So today was good – but of course we need to finish that off tomorrow."

Charles Leclerc took pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix in dramatic circumstances as the Monegasque driver crashed while top of the timesheets, bringing an early end to qualifying.

Ferrari driver Leclerc flicked off one barrier and crunched his car into another just as his rivals were building up to challenge his supremacy in the final minute of the session.

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton had to settle for seventh on the grid, a fortnight after registering his 100th career pole.

Leclerc admitted he was worried the impact and the damage to his car may mean its gearbox needs replacing, which would see him given a five-place grid penalty and hand over pole to Max Verstappen.

"I am [worried], but let's see," Leclerc said.

Reflecting on the sudden end to Q3, Leclerc said: "It's a shame to finish in the wall. It doesn't feel the same, but at the same time I'm incredibly happy about my first-time lap.

"The first corner was quite tricky. I didn't do a great first corner, but then in the second and third sector I nailed it. I'm just very, very happy to be on pole.

"It was very, very difficult to manage myself mentally after Q2 – I could feel I was quite emotional in the car, but I told myself, 'now it's Q3 and it's time to put everything together', and I managed to do so."

Behind Leclerc and Red Bull's Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas took third place in qualifying for Mercedes, one spot ahead of Leclerc's Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz.

Leclerc might have left his fellow drivers frustrated with the timing of his crash, but the 23-year-old said: "I'm incredibly happy. It's tomorrow that we score points, but I have to say that is a big surprise for everyone to be on pole and in fourth place for tomorrow.

"I've always been very unlucky here, so let's wait and see."

Verstappen may have been primed to snatch pole from Leclerc on his final lap and said: "It was unfortunate, of course, with the red flag. I felt really comfortable. It was all going really well, but of course the red flag ruined the chance for pole, but we'll see.

"You always plan around the best possible strategy and it was working out well – it's just a shame about the red flag."

Leclerc has been on pole seven times previously in his career but has yet to experience any success in Formula One at his home track.

Bottas was another driver frustrated to miss out on a clear final lap.

"For me it's disappointing I didn't get my last run with the red flag, but that's how it is sometimes," Bottas said. "I left everything out there for the last run.

"The first run [in Q3] wasn't enough for pole, but in the second run with the first lap we did I was feeling good, I was quite a bit down on my lap time so I'm gutted.

"I think we made good progress throughout the weekend with the car. We should have had a shot at pole with the last run, so we'll try everything we can tomorrow with the race. It's Monaco; anything can happen."

Fernando Alonso, a two-time former winner of this race, was knocked out in Q1 after managing only the 17th quickest lap.

Alonso, once a Ferrari driver but now at Alpine, said on BBC 5 Live: "Confidence was good. I was able to push the car and extract the maximum. We didn't have the pace. The whole weekend we've been struggling a little with the pace.

"We would have expected more from Monaco on our package but we didn't deliver. The race is going to be difficult, starting at the back, but let's see what we can do."

Lando Norris qualified fifth in the McLaren, but team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was a lowly 12th, while Pierre Gasly also finished ahead of Hamilton, taking sixth place.

Mick Schumacher, whose father Michael won this race five times, suffered a major blow in final practice when his Haas clattered heavily into roadside barriers after emerging from Casino Square.

Schumacher was not injured, but his team reported "chassis damage" to the sorry-looking car and pulled the 22-year-old out of qualifying.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1:10.346
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.230s
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.255
4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.265
5. Lando Norris (McLaren) +0.274
6. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +0.554
7. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.749
8. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +1.073
9. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +1.227
10. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) +1.433

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have all the momentum heading into the iconic Monaco Grand Prix this week.

Despite Red Bull starting the 2021 Formula One season with the fastest car, Hamilton has produced a spectacular start and holds a 14-point lead over Max Verstappen in the drivers' standings.

The seven-time world champion has won three of the first four races and battled back to finish second at Imola in the only grand prix he did not win, making a fantastic recovery after crashing.

Verstappen has made him work hard for those successes, but more is needed from Valtteri Bottas as questions continue over his future with the team. He is yet to record a top-two finish and Hamilton already has double his points total.

Rivals to Hamilton will hope the unpredictability of Monaco will boost their hopes to challenge. Three different teams have won the last three races here, Ferrari in 2017, Red Bull in 2018 and Mercedes with Hamilton last time out in 2019.

Red Bull are expected to be strong here and the team are 18 points away from making this circuit the one where they have collected the most points in their F1 history.

Monaco is the shortest circuit (3.34km) on the calendar and therefore is the grand prix with the highest number of laps (78).

LAST TIME OUT

Hamilton continued his dominance of the Spanish Grand Prix with a record-equalling sixth victory at the Barcelona circuit as Mercedes' two-stop strategy worked a treat.

Verstappen passed Hamilton on Turn One in a dream start for Red Bull after the defending champion had been on pole for the 100th time.

But Hamilton was not to be denied a fifth consecutive win at the race, pitting first and later passing Verstappen on fresher tyres in lap 60 of 66 in another masterclass from the Briton.

Verstappen – who got the fastest lap - had been kept out at the front and was unable to hold out, having to settle for second place ahead of Bottas.

Charles Leclerc was fourth ahead of the Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull.
 

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN MONACO

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff believes Red Bull are the team to beat this week, even though Hamilton held off Verstappen in a thrilling 2019 duel in Monte Carlo.

He feels the high-downforce track plays to Red Bull's strengths and thinks data from the last sector of the race in Spain – which showed their rivals were strong – will prove an accurate indicator of Monaco pace.

Wolff also defended Bottas, insisting bad luck and slow starts were the only reason for his disappointing results.

Despite the season being four races old, he is regularly having to rebuff speculation about Mercedes moving on from the Finn.

Sergio Perez, meanwhile, is not under that level of scrutiny for Red Bull yet, but is still waiting for his first podium this season.

Charles Leclerc goes into his home race in impressive form. He has four consecutive top-six finishes and thinks Ferrari will be challenging for race wins again "very soon" after a strong start to 2021.

Lando Norris, who is fourth in the championship, goes into the race on a high after signing a new deal with McLaren.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Pole pivotal – The driver starting first has led after the opening lap for each of the last 17 Monaco GPs since 2002 when McLaren driver David Coulthard passed Williams star Juan Pablo Montoya. Since 2004, 12 of the last 16 who started on pole have won the race (75 per cent).

Mercedes momentum – The Mercs are looking to equal Ferrari as the team to have recorded the most one-twos in a F1 qualifying ever (80). They are the only team ever to have won more than half of their races (118 wins in 231 GPs).

Familiar faces - Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas have reached the podium together in 16 races, more than any other trio in F1 ever. That has also been the top three for four of the last five GPs.

Racy Red Bull – Christian Horner's outfit have taken five pole positions in Monaco, more than at any other GP for them in F1 alongside Japan. Only in Brazil and Malaysia (five at each), they have won more races than in the Principality. 

Fabulous Finns - Bottas could equal Kimi Raikkonen in a tie for second among Finnish drivers with the most pole positions in F1 (18), after Mika Hakkinen (26). 

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS 

Drivers

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 94
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 80
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 47
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 41
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) – 40

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 141
2. Red Bull – 112
3. McLaren – 65
4. Ferrari – 60
5. Alpine – 15

Lewis Hamilton was elated that a "good gamble" from Mercedes paid off and said his Spanish Grand Prix victory was an example of the "great trust" in the team.

Hamilton extended his championship lead to 14 points with a third win in four races this season despite being passed by Max Verstappen at Turn One on the opening lap.

Verstappen led for much of the race, but had to settle for second place ahead of Valtteri Bottas after Hamilton overtook him with six laps to go at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Mercedes' two-stop strategy worked a treat, with Hamilton called in for a second set of medium tyres on lap 43 of 66 and returning in third place with over 20 seconds to make up on leader Verstappen.

Verstappen had only pitted once and he was reeled in by the seven-time Formula One world champion, who also had to pass Bottas before regaining the lead.

Hamilton matched Michael Schumacher's record of six Spanish Grand Prix triumphs by winning the race for a fifth consecutive season and he paid tribute to his team.

"First I want to acknowledge the fans that are here," said Hamilton. "It is great to see. I saw a British flag out there, which I haven't seen for a long, long time.

"I feel great after this. I feel like I could go again."

Hamilton added: "I was so close [behind Verstappen] for so long but just managed to keep the tyres in somehow. It was a long way to come back [after the second stop] but it was a good gamble - a really great strategy from the team.

"I was about to get a shot to get past him as I pitted. I was really conflicted - 'do I come in or ignore the call'. I did what the team asked because there is a great trust between us. Remarkable job by everyone in this team. What a day."

Verstappen knew it was only a matter of time before he was caught by Hamilton, who managed his tyres to perfection in another masterful drive that took his tally of F1 wins to 98.

"In a way I could see it coming," said the Dutchman, who secured another point by clocking the fastest lap after finally pitting again from second place with Hamilton easing to victory. 

"Already at the end with the softs, he [Hamilton] was faster and when he put on the mediums, he had a lot more pace. There was not much we could've done.

"Then they went for another stop and I knew it was over because I was already struggling with the tyres and you could see every lap, he was getting closer and closer. Bit of a sitting duck.

"With the cars behind, you don't want to pit in traffic, but it makes a clear advantage when there is more pace in the car. If we would have jumped for another stop, I'm not sure we would've caught up again. I tried everything I could.

"We're not where we want to be and we still need to push hard and catch up because at the moment we are a little bit slower. But compared to last year, it has been a jump for us."

Lewis Hamilton continued his dominance of the Spanish Grand Prix with a record-equalling victory as Mercedes' two-stop strategy worked a treat.

Max Verstappen passed Hamilton on Turn One in a dream start for Red Bull after the seven-time Formula One champion had been on pole for the 100th time.

Championship leader Hamilton was not to be denied a fifth consecutive win in the race at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, though, passing Verstappen on lap 60 of 66 in another masterclass from the Briton.

Mercedes' decision to pit Hamilton for a second set of medium tyres on lap 43 paid off, with Verstappen having been kept out at the front and having to settle for second place ahead of Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton managed his tyres to perfection to extend his championship lead, as well as matching Michael Schumacher's record of six Spanish Grand Prix triumphs to make it three wins out of four this season.

A late fastest lap for Verstappen provided a small consolation but he now trails in the standings by 14 points.

Verstappen had made a brilliantly bold move to pass Hamilton on the inside, the pair coming within a whisker of making contact. Red Bull's start then got even better when Ferrari's Charles Leclerc nipped ahead of Bottas on the outside at Turn Three on the opening lap.

Verstappen retained his advantage after the safety car was deployed following Yuki Tsunoda's retirement due to a fuel pressure issue on lap eight, but a poor pit stop was a setback for the Dutchman on lap 24.

Hamilton stayed out four laps longer than his rival on the soft compounds and the Brit returned with a gap of around six seconds to make up.

The reigning champion was right on the back of Verstappen when he was called in for a second time, returning in third place behind also Bottas - who had passed Leclerc - and 23 seconds behind the leader.

Bottas allowed Hamilton to go by him on lap 52, but not before the Finn showed a reluctance to follow team orders.

Hamilton moved back in front six laps from the end, Verstappen unable to prevent him from going around the outside as the Mercedes eased away.

Lewis Hamilton is embracing the element of competition in the 2021 Formula One season after taking his 100th career pole in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Hamilton tops the standings three races in having won two of them, victories in Bahrain and Portugal coming either side of Max Verstappen's triumph at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

The seven-time world champion was involved in another tussle with his rival on Saturday, edging out the Red Bull driver to reach a notable personal milestone.

Hamilton was 0.036 seconds quicker than Verstappen at the end of Q3, with Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas making up the top three 0.132s back.

The Briton is the first F1 driver to manage a century of pole positions, with his first coming back in 2007 in Canada. Racing greats Michael Schumacher (68) and Ayrton Senna (65) are second and third on the all-time list respectively.

He has managed 10 poles in five of the past six seasons, while his haul of 12 in 2016 is his best tally for a single year.

The 36-year-old has recorded 58 wins when starting from first on the grid, only failing to finish among the points on two occasions, albeit not counting for nine retirements.

And it is not only the milestone which has boosted Hamilton ahead of Sunday's showdown, but also the challenge presented by Verstappen, who sits eight points behind him in the standings.

"It's always difficult to assess in the moment but wow, I've been racing a long time and the 100 mark is something I don't think anybody and particularly me thought I would ever get to that number," Hamilton told a news conference.

"It's been so enjoyable and it's crazy that it is 100 and it felt like one of the first. That for me is even more special. There have been so many qualifying sessions, so many near misses, so many mistakes and so many moments of growth and I love how close it is between us all.

"I think that's great for the fans and I think that's exciting for me also. And also the people that are only just behind us."

For his part, Verstappen is confident he can push Hamilton all the way.

"It's difficult to predict at the moment. I think we were quite decent in the long runs but [Mercedes] looked strong," he said.

"We know that it's hard to overtake around here and to be following closely, but I'm always optimistic and positive that we can do a good job and have a good race, and I hope, of course, that it's going to be as close as today."

There was not so much joy for Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, who went spinning in Q3 and could only claim eighth.

He said: "I just felt a bit weak going into qualifying, and it was just getting worse and worse throughout.

"I had a bit of an issue with my [left] shoulder through qualifying, and I was just feeling bad, all the way through it. 

"I've been with the doctors from the team, and it should be all good for tomorrow."

Lewis Hamilton could not believe how far he has come after recording the 100th pole position of his career at the Spanish Grand Prix.

The seven-time world champion emerged triumphant from a three-way qualifying battle with Max Verstappen and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton ended up 0.036 seconds clear of Verstappen, with Bottas just 0.132s behind in third as none of the drivers improved in their second runs of an entertaining Q3 session.

Charles Leclerc took an impressive fourth for Ferrari, with Sergio Perez having to settle for eighth in the second Red Bull after spinning in his first run of the top-10 shoot-out.

Hamilton was overjoyed to come out on top as he continues to pull out impressive results despite the improved pace of rivals Red Bull in 2021.

"I will always remember that one," said Hamilton, who leads the drivers' standings by eight points.

"Wow, I can't believe we are at 100 and it's really down to the men and women back at the factory who are continuously raising the bar and just never giving up.

"The support I have, it's been a dream for me to work with these guys. The journey we have been on, it has been immense.

"Who would have thought at the end of 2012 when we made the decision to partner, we'd be qualifying at 100? I feel very humble and grateful – and I am ecstatic it's like my first!"

Hamilton revealed some changes to the car ahead of qualifying had him worried throughout much of Saturday.

The Briton added: "We have been strong all weekend and I made some changes - I had a bit of anxiety about the changes.

"For qualifying, you're always trying to make the car better, but it is a bit of a gamble because you have to keep the race in mind also.

"We made the change and immediately I thought, 'This is the wrong one'. It was my call at the end, but it was really hard.

"The changes that we made, I had so much understeer, the car was being lazy and wouldn't turn corners the way I wanted. I was making small adjustments to get the car to turn.

"So that's why I was behind the whole qualifying. I was making small tweaks here and there to make pace but the first lap [in Q3] was the best lap of the session - which was great."

Verstappen – who topped a Q2 session that saw Sebastian Vettel, Lance Stroll and Pierre Gasly among the eliminated drivers - was right there with Hamilton as a thrilling title battle continued.

"It was good, to be that close, we can be happy with that," said Verstappen. "I struggled in Q1 but we sorted out the balance in Q2 which was good.

"Q3 both laps were pretty decent, the second run was a little worse. It is quite gusty.

"Second for us is very good. We know they are hard to beat around here.

"To be that close, we can be happy with that – it is a long run down to turn one on Sunday, we have to make sure we get a good start and then see if the pace is there."

Bottas, who had made Hamilton wait for his 100th pole by topping the timesheet in Portugal, was competitive once again.

"That was close," he said. "Definitely was in the battle for the pole and I think the first runs in Q3 were faster ones.

"I had snap at the apex at turn 10 and lost a tenth or so, and that's the margins of the pole. With a strong package, it's going to be a good fight between us and Red Bull on Sunday no doubt."

The closest driver to Hamilton in terms of F1 pole positions is Michael Schumacher on 68.

Hamilton now has only 29 fewer poles than the rest of the current F1 drivers combined (129), while he is seeking a sixth race win in Barcelona that would the tie record held by Schumacher.

If he does it, the Mercedes star will lead the win rankings in 16 of the 32 tracks he has raced on during his illustrious career.

Verstappen took the first of his 11 career victories in Barcelona as an 18-year-old back in 2016, becoming the youngest race winner in F1 history, though Hamilton has won each of the four editions to be held since.


PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:16.741
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.036s
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.132s
4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.769s
5. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +0.839s
6. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.879s
7. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +0.881s
8. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.960s
9. Lando Norris (McLaren) +1.269s
10. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1.406s

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