Max Verstappen took another excellent pole position in Saturday’s qualifying session in Monaco, but the Red Bull driver was pushed to the limit by a determined Fernando Alonso who was 0.084 seconds away from Aston Martin’s brilliant coup d’état.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc will line up in third, subject to an investigation into another car being locked out in the session. Esteban Ocon finished 4th after a fantastic effort by the Alpine driver in the final lap which gave him an advantage over Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton.
Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez will start from the back of the grid after suffering a serious crash early in the lap at the start of round one of qualifying. McLaren also has a lot of work to do at night repairing Lando Norris’s car after an accident at the end of Q2.
Monaco may be a great old lady of Formula 1, but it has already shown that it still has all its own teeth this weekend – and that they were razor-sharp, having bitten Carlos Sainz and Alex Albon on Friday and Lewis Hamilton in the last practice before on Saturday. This was only a few hours before the cars lined up for one of the most important qualifying sessions of the season, held under blue skies and warm Mediterranean sunshine at the end of May.
Q1: Verstappen fastest than Tsunoda and Albon when Perez crashed
First to go was Alex Albon, who needed more time in the recently repaired Williams than he could, followed by his teammate Logan Sargeant and AlphaTauri rookie Nyck de Vries. The rest of the field was soon in hot pursuit, although Aston Martin took a somewhat laid-back approach to handling, with Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll pausing briefly to slow traffic. But no one could risk being caught by red flags for too long, so within minutes even they were setting out to lay a banker’s lap.
With some inevitability, it was the Red Bulls who took over immediately, with Max Verstappen taking the lead with a time of 1:13.784s, 0.066s faster than his teammate Sergio Perez. The Astons looked fast in third and fourth for Alonso and Stroll respectively, with local hero Charles Leclerc fifth for Ferrari ahead of Esteban Ocon, Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda. But these were just initial feints, as demonstrated by Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu, who quickly moved up to the lead by 0.008 seconds.
Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri’s McLarens just found more pace to go one-two when the red flags were put out – and that’s for Perez. He was just starting a new lap when he was stopped by traffic and duly crashed on the exit of turn one, similar to Albon’s accident on Friday. The car stopped in the middle of the track, enforcing a red flag. The car was clearly badly damaged and the driver also looked a bit rumpled as he was examined by medics while the RB19 was extracted by Monaco’s ever efficient sheriffs. Perhaps it was the blow to his championship prospects that really took the wind away from him.
Just over 11 minutes remained on the clock before the session resumed after the stewards finished repairing the TechPro barrier that took the brunt of Perez’s impact. Ferrari scored a point as the cars retired and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and George Russell also wanted to start as their initial times before the red flag left them on the brink of elimination.
Albon jumped to the top with his run while Hamilton was relatively calm. Russell fared better, but Verstappen soon took the lead again. The Alpine and AlphaTauri cars performed well while Alonso managed to put the Aston flag on top with a new time of 1:12.886. In comparison, two Haas cars waited in the pit lane before launching new sets of soft tires at the optimum time; at this point, the only other car not in combat was Perez’s. He was now on P17 with no chance of making the first cut.
Verstappen was back on top by 0.242s from Alonso and Leclerc moved up to third, passing Stroll, Ocon, Russell, Gasly, Tsunoda, Norris and de Vries, pushing Albon to 11th just ahead of Hamilton, leaving both in soaring danger of elimination. With two minutes left, Sainz, Sargeant, Zhou and Valtteri Bottas were in the drop zone. But that was far from settled, as demonstrated by the eye-catching aviator from Tsunoda who edged the Japanese driver by two thousandths of a second from Verstappen. Red Bull was quick to respond to call attention again: “I’ve been wall-riding a bit but I think it’s fine,” he reported to the pit wall, while Leclerc complained he was hit by his own teammate for that run.
Hamilton’s final attempt for safety was thwarted by a blockade and raid on the Nouvelle Chicane. He had one last chance to regroup and move again, and then he brushed lightly against the wall before jumping into the top ten, where he could breathe again. Leaving it to the last second, Sainz, whose checkered flag finish ultimately secured him fourth place – albeit slightly overshadowed by the last aviator from Albon who put Williams in third place. It looked like Sargeant would join him in Q2, but Piastri’s final run allowed McLaren to pass and the American was knocked out along with Kevin Magnussen, Nico Hulkenberg, Zhou and the already sidelined Perez.
Q2: Verstappen enters the final round ahead of Leclerc, Alonso and Russell
There was no time to catch your breath before the second qualifying round. Verstappen was once again on track with a time of 1:12:038 seconds ahead of Gasly, Alonso, Ocon and then two Ferraris and their McLaren counterparts. The Mercedes cars battled to break into the top 10 while Albon was close to repeating his earlier pace in Q1 and Tsunoda hadn’t even left the AlphaTauri garage yet.
Meanwhile, Verstappen gleefully pushed with a new fastest lap time of 1:11.908s, putting him two tenths ahead of Alonso, Gasly, Ocon, Sainz, Leclerc, Norris, Piastri and Bottas for ninth, leaving Hamilton and Russell battling for the final transfer spot . Russell put on new tires and put them to good use, charging into P3, but Hamilton was less successful and remained bubbled in tenth, complaining about his right rear suspension over the team radio, the possible legacy of his FP3 crash and quick fixes at lunchtime, and maybe a slight shift towards the end of the first quarter.
Leclerc managed to overtake Alonso by four thousandths of a second and finish second behind Verstappen. Sainz was no match for this and stayed seventh before quickly moving up to eighth as Tsunoda finally set a great lap time, pushing Hamilton back into the drop zone. Norris stayed there in ninth place, but then crashed into the barrier at Tabac causing heavy damage to the MCL60 on both sides; most importantly, he was almost able to get the damaged car back into the pit lane without triggering the red flag.
Despite this, de Vries and Stroll ran out of time to start the final heat and were duly knocked out. Hamilton started driving again, and despite complaining about not having had time to warm up the tires before the start of the run, he still managed to build up enough speed to move up to fifth just behind Russell. His improvement cost Piastri a chance for a place in the final round, and Bottas and Albon also failed to find the extra speed required to cross the threshold, meaning Norris had just moved into Q3 – although damage to his car made it highly unlikely he could play anything other than a cameo role in the remaining round, even though the mechanics went on a frenzy of activity during the break.
Question 3: Verstappen narrowly thwarts Alonso’s hopes of reaching the Monaco pole
Verstappen was the first to leave when the lights at the end of the pit lane turned green, opting to run on fresh tires while the Alpine pair were on a used kit to start the final round. He duly finished first, but it wasn’t as good as he had hoped, and he was soon beaten by Alonso, who clocked 1:11.706 s with Leclerc and then finished second between the pair. Sainz then shared the gap between Alonso and Leclerc to take provisional second with just 0.053s for the top three, while Verstappen lost over three tenths to fourth, which quickly moved to fifth as Russell completed a slightly faster lap.
There was no surprise when Verstappen’s next push lap gave Red Bull the lead with a time of 1:11.654 seconds. But just when the championship leader looked set to pole position, an unexpected challenger appeared in the form of Ocon, who rode one more tenth faster with three minutes left. The crowd cheered as well as a somewhat battered McLaren rose from the dead and came out of the pit lane to complete a timed lap and put Lando Norris on P9.
Now it was Ferrari’s turn to play their hand, Leclerc claiming first place – only for Alonso to be even faster by 0.022s. Will Alonso’s time survive one final attack from Verstappen? The session ended with a thrilling finish, with the man managing to set a time of 1:11.365s and beating Alonso by 0.084s. Despite his disappointment, Alonso will be delighted to start tomorrow’s race from the front row alongside the Dutch driver.
By this time, Leclerc had dropped to third alongside Ocon, with Sainz and Hamilton teaming up in the row behind. Gasly finished seventh, followed by Russell, with Tsunoda set to start the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix from ninth, running a time slightly better than Norris before the finish.
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