MONACO (AP) — Red Bull denied Sergio Perez a chance to race for the win in Spain with team orders that left the Mexican star unsettled.
Assured that he'd be allowed to race for wins this season, Perez moved on to the Monaco Grand Prix with Red Bull's disappointing decision in his rearview mirror. Then he scored his first Formula One victory of the season.
Perez rebounded from the Red Bull team orders one week ago to pick up the win Sunday in the rain-marred Monaco Grand Prix.
The third win of Perez's career came after a questionable strategy call by Ferrari that cost pole-sitter Charles Leclerc a win on his home circuit. Although Leclerc finished the race for the first time in four tries, he finished fourth and allowed reigning world champion Max Verstappen to extend his lead in the standings.
Carlos Sainz Jr. finished second for Ferrari and Verstappen was third for Red Bull. But Ferrari protested both Perez’s win and Verstappen’s finish, alleging the Red Bull drivers failed to stay to the right of the yellow line at pit exit following their stops.
“We made the protest because we believe it was right to seek clarification," Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said.
The FIA race stewards later dismissed both Ferrari protests.
Verstappen has a nine-point lead over Leclerc in the standings; Leclerc has two wins this season, Verstappen and Perez have combined for five victories as Red Bull and Ferrari have claimed all seven races.
The win on the slick city streets of Monaco 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 manipulating the finish to get Verstappen 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. He is third in the standings and only six points behind Leclerc.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner patted Perez on the back as he walked alongside him. Perez is in a contract year and both Red Bull and Perez have said discussions on an extension would ramp up over the summer months.
“Checo was sensational,” said Horner, who joined Perez on the podium and as the driver struggled to hold back tears and wiped his eyes as the Mexican anthem played. Perez is the first Mexican driver to win Monaco.
“It’s a massive day for myself and my country. I am very happy. I was wearing a Pedro Rodriguez helmet," Perez said. "I am sure he was looking down on me and hopefully he would be very proud. I’m the only Mexican or Latin-American driver on the grid. It just shows how difficult it is for us to make it into the sport.”
Rodriguez, a Mexican driver who won two F1 races, died in 1971.
Verstappen celebrated with Perez, whom he considers the best teammate of his career. Verstappen told Perez after the race that the win "might help, just a little bit," in Perez's contract talks.
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 returned to the track in fourth.
"What are you doing?” Leclerc shouted.
After the race, he lectured Ferrari again.
“No words, no words. We cannot do that,” he radioed.
“It was a freaking disaster today,” Leclerc said after. “The win was clearly in our hands. We had the performance, we had everything. I just don’t really understand the call.”
Binotto accepted the team made the wrong call for Leclerc.
“I know he’s not happy. It’s normal that he’s not happy because we only made mistakes. If you’re first and end up fourth it’s obvious something didn’t work,” Binotto said. “We should have stayed out. We’ll look at why we made that decision.”
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 was uninjured.
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.
“Crazy afternoon. I thought the rain would make it more exciting but we struggled still on our cars,” Hamilton said. “Probably one of the worst (starts to the season).”
Relentless rain drenched the track 20 minutes before the scheduled start at 3 p.m. local time.
The field initially lined up and completed a delayed formation lap behind the safety car. But drivers climbed from their cars when the rain intensified and it became clear Sunday’s start would be delayed.
“With the length of the race, and the delays and interruptions, it felt more like an NFL game than a Grand Prix,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said. “The rain at the beginning was torrential, then there was an issue with the connectivity for the TV broadcast which meant we couldn’t get going.”
When the rain subsided enough to start the race, Leclerc led the field on a rolling start and started clocking fastest laps.
Then came a team order that played straight into Red Bull's hands and left Leclerc despondent in Monaco.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports