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Here's why Verstappen must capitalise on Hamilton's struggles

Heading into Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix, Max Verstappen has a huge opportunity to strike back in the championship battle. With Hamilton starting down in P7, the time is now for the young Dutchman.

Max Verstappen has the perfect chance to strike while the iron is hot this weekend. Locked in a tight championship battle with Lewis Hamilton, the Dutchman will line up on the Monaco grid in second, while Hamilton is way down seventh. With the British driver taking three wins from a possible four so far this season, Verstappen is in real need of a statement performance to try and wrestle back the momentum. With a limited number of overtaking opportunities at Monaco (to say the very least), he now has the chance to eat into Hamilton's 14 point championship lead - even if the Red Bull driver can't quite win the Monaco Grand Prix. While we're all set for the longest ever F1 season with 23 races overall in 2021, Verstappen will be all too aware of what happens if Hamilton and Mercedes get a bit of momentum under their belts. Back in 2017 and 2018, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel was well in the hunt for a fifth world title. The German pushed Hamilton to the limit, managing to head into the second half of the 2018 season with a slender championship lead. However, a rookie mistake from Vettel at a damp Hockeheim handed the intuitive to Hamilton - from which position he never relented. Simply put, Verstappen knows that he can't afford to let his rival get too far ahead of him, meaning that this year's Monaco Grand Prix comes at just the right time.

Why could this weekend be so significant in the title race?

Verstappen lines up second on this grid for this afternoon's intriguing race, after qualifying less than a tenth slower than pole man Charles Leclerc. With Hamilton enduring one of his worst weekends in years, convincingly behind his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas and both Ferrari cars, the Red Bull team will sense an opportunity to really make the 36-year-old pay. It's rare to see Hamilton so far off the pace, so even if Verstappen can't get past Leclerc off the start-line, the Dutch driver can still go to the top of the driver's standings by simply driving a clean race. At a circuit where overtaking has become almost impossible (unless you're in a Formula E car), a recovery drive seems highly unlikely for Hamilton. With that in mind, Red Bull cant let this rarest of opportunities slip away. If Verstappen can make a statement against the relentless seven-time world champion, the momentum swing could be absolutely crucial in the long run.

Why is Hamilton struggling so much in Monaco?

Nobody seems entirely sure why Hamilton is so far off the pace this weekend. Seemingly his Mercedes car is slower around the twisty street circuit, but Valtteri Bottas has slightly undermined that accepted narrative by qualifying in third position - ahead of both Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez. So then, why can't Lewis Match his Finnish teammate? One factor could be the length of time it takes for the Mercedes drivers to fire their tyres into life. Drivers were routinely completing two warm-up laps during Saturday qualifying, simply in an attempt to get their tyre temperature to within the optimal operating window. Hamilton appears to have struggled more than his teammate in this department, while his car's apparent understeer has also caused problems too. Either way, it isn't every day that you see the Brit struggle to this extent; especially not at Monaco, where he grabbed pole position and the race win back in 2019.

Can Verstappen still win the Monaco Grand Prix?

The simple answer is yes - yes he can. Starting P2 on the grid in Monaco is not quite as advantageous as it might be at other circuits around the world - as there isn't much time before the first corner. Nevertheless, a good start from the 23-year-old could see him leapfrog Leclerc on the front row, which would then put Verstappen in the driving seat to seal the race win. If not, there are still plenty of strategy options at the team's disposal, as Red Bull believe that they have better race pace than Ferrari. A win for Verstappen won't only see him go to the top of the drivers standings, it would also inflict a heavy psychological blow on the entire Mercedes team.

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