Lewis Hamilton lost his world championship lead in Monaco yesterday, beaten out of sight by the unstoppable verve of Max Verstappen at the front of a procession.
There is niggle developing between the chief protagonists and it showed itself again here as the light dimmed on the harbour.
Hamilton, back in the garage after finishing seventh, was involved in what he called a ‘childish war of words’ with the 23-year-old Red Bull driver who is threatening to wreck the Briton’s quest to win an eighth world title after going top of the standings — by four points — for the first time in his life.
Max Verstappen celebrates winning the Monaco Grand Prix for Red Bull at Monte Carlo
Verstappen triumphed ahead of Carlos Sainz (left) and Britain’s Lando Norris
The Dutchman takes the chequered flag waved by tennis star Serena Williams
The acrimony bubbled up last Wednesday when Hamilton said Verstappen, who is still chasing his maiden title, had a ‘lot to prove’. Verstappen’s boss Christian Horner responded by claiming his man was getting under Hamilton’s skin.
So to last night and the inquests after a dull race enlivened by a series of cock-ups.
Verstappen declared: ‘That’s a good lesson after this weekend. You only have to talk on the track. That’s what I like.
‘We as a team so far made the smallest mistakes. That’s why we are ahead. I hope we can keep that going for the rest of the season.’
Pole position man Charles Leclerc failed to start the race after his Ferrari suffered mechanical issues relating to his crash from qualifying on Saturday
Verstappen never looked like losing in Monte Carlo after leading from the first corner
Those comments were put to Hamilton, who shrugged: ‘I am not playing mind games. It is interesting what Christian comes out with, but I couldn’t care less.
‘It is childish when you start getting into a war of words. They did a great job this weekend and that’s that. We’ve had some good races as well. There are 18 races to go. I’m not going to say more.’
Five rounds into the season, the pair’s win record stands at 3-2 to Hamilton. Yesterday, Verstappen triumphed by 8.9sec from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz with McLaren’s Lando Norris, 21, a mightily impressive third.
It was the second youngest podium in the sport’s history, a sign of a new generation pushing their way through.
Stuck in traffic, Hamilton endured a frustrating day to only finish seventh for Mercedes
Hamilton was never in the mix here. Indeed, he went into the grand prix with little belief he would prevail. A wrong turn in the set-up of his car, he believed, accounted for him only qualifying seventh, and then he was hampered by a strategy error.
The timing of his first pit stop on lap 29 of 78 caused him to lose two places when the Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull of Sergio Perez emerged ahead of him after they had both stopped a few laps later.
Some tetchy exchanges followed on the radio. ‘I don’t understand, guys,’ said Hamilton. ‘I saved the tyres to go longer and we stopped before everyone.’
With next to no overtaking on show, the drama unfolded in the pit lane.
First up, Ferrari’s meltdown: Charles Leclerc retiring from the race before it began. He should have been on pole for Ferrari but he crashed at the swimming pool chicane after setting the quickest time in qualifying on Saturday, his car a crumpled mess.
Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas retired after his right front wheel could not be removed during a pit stop
The team worked on patching it back together without the need to fit a new gearbox, a change that would have incurred a grid penalty and denied them any likelihood of victory.
The car was finally declared fit a few hours before lights out and Leclerc, the Monegasque, left the garage favourite to win on home asphalt. But he came over the radio on his out-lap: ‘No, no, no, no, the gearbox, guys,’ he wailed.
He returned to the pits for last-minute repairs, but to no avail, and he was forced to step out of the cockpit, cast in the role of a mere spectator. Left driveshaft failure was blamed. Who checked the car over? Mr Magoo?
Leclerc, the architect of his own misfortune, was hugged by Prince Albert, a gesture of sympathy for his disconsolate resident.
Mercedes suffered a curious problem midway through the race when they could not change Valtteri Bottas’s front right wheel. The nut had sheared off. The Finn had been second but this was the end for him.
Norris is mobbed by his McLaren team after taking just his third Formula One podium
Last night, team principal Toto Wolff joked that he was still looking for a saw to cut the wheel off.
Hamilton, who came in for a second set of new tyres before rattling off the fastest lap, was philosophical afterwards, saying: ‘It was not a great weekend but I don’t feel like I am dwelling on it. There is a lot we could have done better in terms of preparation.
‘We had some decent conversations through the weekend but it is not good enough from any of us. We have to look at the data and find out why we are in this position. I’ll be joining a meeting to look into it on Tuesday. We all want answers.’
RE-LIVE ALL THE ACTION AS IT HAPPENED…
Max Verstappen will be looking to eat into Lewis Hamilton’s 14-point advantage heading into Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.
The Dutchman is the Hamilton’s chief title rival in the championship and starts second on the grid behind surprise pole sitter Charles Leclerc who is hoping to lead the team to their first win in two years.
Meanwhile, Hamilton could only qualify a disappointing seventh around Monte Carlo and will be hoping for damage limitation to his world championship lead on race day.
Follow Sportsmail’s DAN RIPLEY for live Formula One coverage of the Monaco Grand Prix, including build-up, race updates and result.