Sergio Perez wins chaotic Monaco GP; Ferrari strategy costs Charles Leclerc again

Sergio Perez Monaco
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MONACO — Sergio Perez rebounded from Red Bull team orders that denied him a chance to race for the win one week ago to pick up his first Formula One win of the season in the rain-marred Monaco Grand Prix.

Perez earned his third career F1 victory on the slick city streets of Monaco after a questionable strategy call by Ferrari cost pole-sitter Charles Leclerc a win on his home circuit.

Leclerc finished the race for the first time in four tries but was fourth and lost ground to reigning series champion and points leader Max Verstappen in the standings.

Carlos Sainz Jr. finished second for Ferrari, and Verstappen was third for Red Bull.

Verstappen now leads Leclerc by nine points in the standings; Leclerc has two wins this season, Verstappen and Perez have combined for five victories as Red Bull and Ferrari have won all seven races.

But the win went to Verstappen’s teammate just one week after Perez was ordered to cede the lead to Verstappen during the Spanish Grand Prix. Leclerc had dropped out of the race with an engine failure, and Red Bull chose to capitalize by ensuring Verstappen would get the win in Spain.

The team promised Perez he’d be allowed to race for wins and held its word Sunday.

“You dream of winning this, and after your home race, there is no place more special to win,” Perez said after waving the Mexican flag.

Leclerc led from the pole and screamed in rage when told to pit for a second tire change on Lap 22 at the same time as Sainz. His engineer realized the mistake and yelled “stay out!” but it was too late and Leclerc came back out on track in fourth place.

“What are you doing?” Leclerc shouted.

After the race, he lectured Ferrari again.

“No words, no words. We cannot do that,” he radioed.

Leclerc also won the pole a year ago but never got to start because he crashed at the end of qualifying, and the car’s gearbox failed moments before the start. In 2018 and 2019, Leclerc had retired from the race with crash damage.

The race was delayed by 70 minutes for heavy rain and began from a rolling start behind a safety car. It was then red-flagged on Lap 30 after Mick Schumacher’s heavy crash three laps earlier sliced his Haas car in two. He escaped unharmed.

“I’m fine, very, very upset not to finish the race,” Schumacher said. “I don’t know why the car split in two.”

George Russell finished fifth for Mercedes ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and the Alpine of Fernando Alonso.

Seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton was eighth for Mercedes – extending his winless run with the Silver Arrows to eight races – while Valtteri Bottas was ninth for Alfa Romeo and Sebastian Vettel 10th for Aston Martin.

The restart after Schumacher’s crash was again a rolling start behind the safety car. But the long delay and red flag shortened the race from 77 laps into a timed race so that it would end by local curfew.

Jenson Button joins NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans with Jimmie Johnson, Rockenfeller

Jenson Button NASCAR Le Mans
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be driven by champions of three major-league series — Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The lineup of the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Next Gen Camaro was announced Saturday before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 project was announced in March 2022 as a joint effort by NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear. It marks the return of a NASCAR team to Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

It’s long been expected the car would include Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who is returning to NASCAR’s premier series as a driver-owner in 2023. Rockenfeller, the 2013 DTM champion and 2010 Le Mans overall winner, has attended every NASCAR Garage 56 test since last year while racking up simulator testing hours.

The surprise was Button, the 2009 Formula One champion who has become a popular commentator. Rick Hendrick initially said wanted four-time Cup champion and current Hendrick Motorsports COO Jeff Gordon to drive the car, and Gordon had raced a sports car at Indianapolis last year to test his race shape.

GARAGE 56 ANSWERS, ANALYSISMore on the NASCAR-Hendrick entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

Button had one of the most prolific careers in F1 history finishing with 15 wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship and is widely considered one of the top British drivers of all time.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said in a release. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

Johnson will make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut a year after starting his first Indy 500. He has 83 victories in the Cup Series, where he will return for the Daytona 500 next month with his Legacy Motor Club team.

He also has been involved with testing the Garage 56 Camaro.

“I’m super thrilled – it’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity come – and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup – is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller teamed with Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2021-22. The German driver has been the lead test driver for Garage 56 and has driven during every on-track test.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from day one until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

The car will continue testing with all three drivers next week at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Rolex 24 and four-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drives for Corvette Racing, will be the team’s backup driver and coach. Taylor also won the GTE Pro class in 2015 at Le Mans, where he has four podium finishes.

The project also is being supported by IMSA GTP team Action Express, whose general manager is former NASCAR executive and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Gary Nelson. Action Express built the first test car for the Garage 56 but since has handed off the project to Hendrick, where it’s being over seen by vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven championships).

“Action Express got it going and built the mule car, and then Hendrick joined the program, took it from where we had it, and they’re doing a major percentage of the work,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “We just did a test a couple months ago on a wet track. We’ve done a couple of other tests as they were ramping their program up. Now their car is good, tested and running. We’re still involved and here to help. The Hendrick guys have taken the reins, and Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus are a thrill to work with and doing a much better job. It’s more NASCAR than prototype racing.”