MONACO — Red Bull denied Sergio Perez a chance to race for the win in Spain by issuing team orders that left the veteran Formula One driver unsettled.
Assured he would be allowed to chase checkered flags this year — even with his teammate none other than Max Verstappen, the reigning series champion — Perez moved on with the disappointing decision in his figurative rearview mirror.
He left it even further behind Sunday, rebounding to win the rain-marred Monaco Grand Prix.
The third win of the 32-year-old Mexican driver's career came after a questionable strategy call by Ferrari that cost Charles Leclerc a win on his home circuit after starting in pole position. Although Leclerc finished the Monaco GP for the first time in four tries, his fourth-place finish allowed Verstappen to extend his lead in the points standings.
Carlos Sainz Jr. finished second for Ferrari and Verstappen was third, 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 while exiting the pits after their stops. FIA race stewards dismissed both Ferrari protests.
"We made the protest because we believe it was right to seek clarification," Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said.
Verstappen has a nine-point lead over Leclerc, who has two wins this year. Verstappen has four wins through the season's first nine races.
The win on the slick city streets of Monaco went to Perez just one week after he was ordered to cede the lead to Verstappen during the Spanish Grand Prix. Leclerc had dropped out of that race with an engine failure, and Red Bull chose to capitalize by manipulating the finish to get Verstappen the win.
The team promised Perez he'd be allowed to race for wins, though, then kept its word Sunday. He is third in the standings and only six points behind Leclerc.
"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.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner patted Perez on the back as he walked alongside him. Perez is in a contract year, and both team and driver have said discussions on an extension would ramp up over the summer months.
"Checo was sensational," said Horner, who joined the winner on the podium as Perez struggled to hold back tears and wiped his eyes as his national anthem played. Perez is the first Mexican driver to win the Monaco GP.
"It's a massive day for myself and my country. I am very happy. I was wearing a Pedro Rodriguez helmet," Perez said of the late F1 driver from Mexico who died during a sports car race in 1971 at age 31. "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."
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 the 22nd lap 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 said on the team radio.
"It was a freaking disaster today," Leclerc said afterward. "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 retired from the race with crash damage.
Sunday's 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 the 30th lap 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 car and the Alpine of Fernando Alonso. Seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton was eighth for Mercedes — extending his winless run 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, adding that it was "probably one of the worst" starts this 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.