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80th Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco
25 - 29 May 2023
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Formula 1: Verstappen, his first pole position in Monaco…

Max Verstappen (Red Bull) will start from pole position in Monaco at 3.00 pm on Sunday, for the first time in his already long career as a double World Champion. Next to him on the front row will be Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin), whom he admired when he was younger. A dream duo for this 80thedition.

The gaps were minimal, the commitment total, by all 20 drivers, and there was plenty of suspense throughout qualifying, which began with a major crash: that of “Checo” Pérez at the start of Q1, in Sainte-Dévote. The Mexican ripped off the entire left-hand side of his Red Bull and will start Sunday from the back of the grid, although he is the defending champion. After the compulsory red flag, proceedings continued with more surprises: with one minute remaining in Q1, Yuki Tsunoda was P1 in his Alpha Tauri and Carlos Sainz P17 in the other Ferrari, potentially eliminated, before narrowly escaping.

Q2 was relatively calmer, except for Hamilton, who had to pull off a champion’s lap at the end to advance to Q3, with worn tires and a Mercedes he was struggling to control. The stage was set for a legendary Q3. On the grid: Verstappen’s Red Bull, Alonso’s Aston Martin, both Ferraris, both Mercedes and… both Alpines, Tsunoda’s Alpha Tauri and Norris’s McLaren.

Ocon, then Leclerc, then Alonso on provisional pole

The two-time Spanish World Champion, who has not claimed a pole position since the 2012 German GP with Ferrari, first posted a lap of 1:11.706, ahead of Sainz and Leclerc, Verstappen and the two Alpines, before the Dutchman took the lead by the skin of his teeth. The suspense was intact, as there were still a few minutes available.

The final fireworks began with an incredible 1:11.553 from Esteban Ocon (Alpine) to take provisional pole. This time was then beaten in turn by Charles Leclerc, Fernando Alonso, and finally Max Verstappen, in 1:11.365, beating Alonso by 84 thousandths only, just over 8 hundredths of a second. The Red Bull driver was two tenths down on the Spaniard’s time as he exited the tunnel at the harbour chicane, then he took all the risks, touching the rail twice between the chicane and the finish line. Amazing effort for a sensational result, at the end of a legendary qualifying session.

Verstappen: “I hit a few walls”

“I knew I’d have a better chance if I came out of the pits last. I wasn’t totally confident in my tires at the start of my last attempt, but then I attacked as hard as I could, just like everyone else. I leaned on the walls a bit and it went through,” said Max, delighted with his first pole position in Monaco, at his 8th appearance, and already the 23rd of his F1 career. Then he had a kind word for “Nando”, sitting next to him in the press conference: “I admired Fernando when I was younger. He’s still a role model. But I will not let him win tomorrow”.

As is often the case, Alonso summed up the situation in a few sentences as precise as his driving on Saturday afternoon, at the age of 41: “Monaco really is a unique place and this afternoon we pushed the limits very far, significantly increasing the level of risk,” he smiled. “We might need a little help from Max. There’s very little chance that our three cars will finish the race,” he added, as a last warning. He knows that, in the history of Monaco Grand Prix, the second on the grid has won more often than the poleman, in the 79 previous editions.

Finally, Leclerc said he was “disappointed” by his third-place finish, but offered a technical explanation: “I couldn’t do any better this afternoon. I have a big problem on the bumps, the car jumps a lot and my head goes all over the place. I’m hoping for a dry race on Sunday, as rain hasn’t done me much good here in recent years”, concluded the Scuderia Ferrari driver.

Three hours later, Leclerc learnt that he would have to start three places further back on the grid for having impeded Norris during the hectic session. An incident that went completely unnoticed, except by the race direction. As a direct consequence, at 3.00 pm on Sunday, Leclerc will be on the 3rd row of the grid, in 6th place, and Esteban Ocon’s surprising Alpine will be in 3rd place. Just behind Verstappen.

View the starting grid

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