There was no great surprise at Sunday’s 80th Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco, won by two-time reigning World Champion Max Verstappen from pole position, despite a few drops of rain at the end of the race.
The rain did not disturb the Red Bull team, which has yet to concede anything to its rivals this year, taking six wins from six races, including four one-twos. Verstappen started on medium tires, kept them on for as long as possible and then switched directly to a set of intermediate tires when the rain started over certain portions of the street circuit, around lap 50 (of 78).
“I knew it was going to be a race where management would be important, when I saw that Fernando was starting on hard tires. And I also knew that my first stint on medium tires was likely to last a long time. When it started raining, I spent five laps being very careful with my intermediate tires, I didn’t want to drive too slowly to keep the temperature in my tires, it was very slippery, then I changed some settings on my steering wheel and it was better”.
Alonso, who started on hard tires, made two stops in a row, instead of one. First he changed to medium tires, thinking that the rain wouldn’t last, then he immediately changed strategy, putting on intermediate tires on the following lap, to finish the race without risking a big mistake. Enough for the Spaniard to claim a 5th podium in 6 races, and one further proof that Aston Martin is becoming a top team.
Verstappen never gave him the slightest chance of turning the race around, either on the track or in the pits. It was his 4th victory this season, in six Grands Prix, and the 39th of his F1 career. He had already won in 2021 in the Principality, the year of his first world title.
“I’m very happy,” said Alonso at the press conference, delighted with this 2nd place, which testifies to the British team’s progress. “We had already finished 3rd, and now we’re 2nd, so we’re just one place behind,” added the two-time world champion. “We had to find a different strategy, to try and beat Red Bull, with the risk of finishing 5th or 6th. But we weren’t fast enough in the race, so we couldn’t beat them today”.
The only big surprise of the afternoon was in fact the spotless performance of Esteban Ocon, who finished on the 3rd step of the podium thanks to a very efficient and reliable Alpine, in tricky conditions. A result that nobody could have predicted last Thursday, on the eve of the first free practice session.
“If we’d been told on Thursday that we’d finish in the Top 10 on Sunday, we’d have been very happy. Now we’re on the podium. We’ll find out next Sunday in Barcelona, on a very different circuit, whether this is a turning point in our season. But I felt good all weekend in the car, and it all came down to qualifying on Saturday. Today was harder. I had to hold off Carlos Sainz, then Lewis Hamilton. We often find ourselves fighting together in these conditions”.
Winner of the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2021, Ocon first had to fend off the onslaught of a very aggressive Carlos Sainz, who was then warned by the race direction for colliding with him at the exit of the tunnel, when braking too late at the harbor chicane. He then held off the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell who complete the Top 5, ahead of Charles Leclerc (6th).
The Monegasque couldn’t do much better than his 6th place on the grid, three spots further than planned. Because of a late penalty on Saturday evening for impeding Lando Norris at the end of qualifying, in the tunnel.
His team-mate Carlos Sainz has all reason to be far more upset than Leclerc, as he finished 8th despite starting from 4th on the grid. His team made him stop too early, when his hard tires were still in very good condition. He was up against Ocon for a long time, was slowed down by Leclerc at one point, and at the end he had to stop again to change for intermediate tires because of the downpour. That was one stop too many.
It was an intense Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco, from the first free practice on Friday, and the sporting logic has once again prevailed. As in previous cycles of domination by Ferrari with Michael Schumacher, Red Bull with Sebastian Vettel, and Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. The long and exciting Monaco Grand Prix series continues. This was only the 80th episode…