Race Weekend Central

F1 Review: Max Verstappen Overcomes Mother Nature For Monaco Success

Max Verstappen started from the pole and led the entire way, easily distancing himself from 41-year-old Fernando Alonso after rainy conditions brought chaos to the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix. It was Verstappen’s fourth victory of the year, 39th of his career, and widened his lead in the Formula 1 point standings as Red Bull continues their dominance over the grid.

Verstappen started on mediums, while Alonso began on hard tires, signaling two vastly different race strategies. The rain, and decisions made because of it, ultimately decided the event, as Alonso’s team tragically chose to pit for medium tires. The wet track, and nearly every other driver, indicated intermediates were the right call.

Alonso wound up finishing second, over 27 seconds back, claiming his fifth podium in six races. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon completed a sublime weekend, reaching the podium after brilliantly qualifying third. 

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell scored solid points for Mercedes, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc started and finished sixth, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly took seventh, and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz came home eighth despite suffering early front wing damage in a collision as he made an ill-advised pass attempt on Ocon early in the race.

The McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri rounded out the points in ninth and tenth, respectively.  

Verstappen now leads teammate Sergio Perez, who finished 16th after crashing out in Q1 and starting last, 144 to 105 in the driver standings. Alonso sits comfortably in third with 93 points, 24 ahead of Hamilton in fourth.

In the constructor standings, it’s all Red Bull with 249 points, well ahead of the battle for second place, where Aston Martin leads Mercedes 120 to 119.

The Race

Verstappen and Alonso both started well, but Verstappen comfortably maintained the lead into Sainte Devote. Considering the historical difficulty of overtaking on Monaco’s street circuit, coupled with Red Bull’s typically flawless strategy decisions and mistake-free pit stops, the outcome bode well for Verstappen.

Perez pitted after lap 1 for hard tires with the intention of running to the end, clearly a “what have I got to lose” strategy after starting last on the grid.  

Verstappen opened up a 1.5-second gap after two laps, meaning Alonso’s goal became stay close enough to make Aston Martin’s hard-to-medium tire strategy pay dividends. 

On lap 3, George Russell was noted for an incorrect starting position, but stewards deemed it not penalty worthy a few laps later. Russell was allowed to continue his chase from the eighth position as the leaders started pulling away. 

Indeed, Verstappen’s edge was nearly two seconds after five laps, although he was actually running slower laps than Perez on hard tires – an indication Verstappen was conserving his mediums. And Alonso, who started on hard tires, was also likely not showing his true pace, as the Red Bull vs. Aston Martin game of “cat and mouse” looked to be the biggest story of the race.

Esteban Ocon was ten seconds behind Verstappen after nine laps, with Sainz, Hamilton, Leclerc, Gasly, Russell, Yuki Tsunoda, and Norris rounding out the top 10 after 10 laps.

On lap 11, Sainz badly misjudged an overtake attempt on Ocon and made contact with the Alpine, damaging his front wing. The team decided to leave Sainz out, as he was still running decent lap times even with a compromised wing. On lap 17, stewards issued him a black and white flag for causing the collision, which was merely a formality – no penalty was given.

Verstappen’s lead over Alonso was six seconds by lap 16, then up to eight by lap 20. At this point, it seemed Alonso’s only hope was drastic degradation on Verstappen’s medium tires, and extended performance on his hard tires. Or, perhaps a safety car. 

Hamilton and Leclerc were in a tight battle for fifth, while Ferrari considered pitting Sainz in an attempt to undercut Ocon, who was over a second ahead of the Spaniard. 

Perez was up to 16th and patiently waiting for the cars ahead of him to pit, although many of those had started the race on hard tires. The key to Perez’s success lay in extracting 15-20 more laps on his hard tires than the 50-55 expected from typical hard tire life.

On lap 25, the top-10 running order remained the same as lap 9.  

Several teams updated their drivers that rain was a possibility incoming, with varying opinions as to when, which made several drivers reconsider when to pit.

On lap 29, Verstappen noted significant wear on his left front tire, which coincided with Alonso eating into the Dutchman’s race lead.

Hamilton pitted on lap 32, switching from medium to hard tires, and came out in eighth.

Ocon pitted on lap 33, and a slow stop of 4.2 seconds brought him out in seventh, well ahead of Hamilton.

Perez and Lance Stroll made contact at Nouvelle Chicane on lap 33, an incident where Perez suffered front wing damage. He pitted on lap 36 for a wing and medium tires, leaving Perez’s race for points effectively over.

Stroll complained of damage on lap 38, probably from making contact with at least two other drivers, and was issued a very expected black and white flag, as well as possibly a nickname as the “Ross Chastain Of F1.”

Midway through the race, the order was Verstappen, Alonso, Leclerc, Gasly, Russell, Ocon, Sainz, Hamilton, Tsunoda, and Norris.

Verstappen re-upped his lead on Alonso to nine seconds, leaving the tension building with Red Bull’s and Aston Martin’s pit strategy still in question. Add in the threat of rain and intrigue was growing monumentally.

Gasly and Russell were battling for fourth on lap 44, with Russell complaining that Gasly was holding him up, one of Russell’s many complaints on the day.

Leclerc pitted for mediums on lap 45, returning to racing in eighth, and was soon the fastest car on the track as he began pursuit of Hamilton in front of him. 

Gasly pitted on lap 48, coming out in eighth behind Leclerc. 

On lap 49, Verstappen, Alonso, and Russell ran 1-2-3, while none of those drivers had made a pit stop. Russell was well back of the frontrunners, needing a miracle for a win – anything less than a podium would be a disappointment. 

A few drivers noted some drops of rain here and there around lap 51, and the precipitation suddenly intensified on lap 53, causing a flurry of chaotic tire decisions: some good, some bad. 

Stroll and Bottas pitted for intermediate tires as the slick track bunched up much of the field. But Alonso pitted on lap 55 for medium tires, eschewing any thought of intermediates. He instantly regretted that decision, as the rain intensified. Ocon then pitted for intermediates as Sainz lost control in the rain and slid off track, but luckily sustained no damage. 

In all the wet weather chaos, Hamilton and Russell passed the Ferraris, who were late to pit for intermediates. Russell, however, was given a five-second penalty for an unsafe rejoin.

Meanwhile, Verstappen wisely showed patience before making a tire decision, finally pitting for intermediates on lap 55 after nudging the barrier a lap earlier. Alonso returned for intermediates and held on to second.   

With the weather settling, Verstappen held an 18-second advantage on lap 60 over Alonso, who had to be enraged at his team’s idiotic decision for medium tires. Verstappen seemed to have the race well in hand, barring a weather-induced disaster. 

Ocon held third at lap 64, with Hamilton chasing for the final podium spot. The gap was under a second by lap 65, but Hamilton struggled to reel in Ocon, made even more difficult by increasingly treacherous conditions.

McLaren’s Piastri got by Tsunoda and his expletive brakes on lap 69, while McLaren currently had both cars in the top 10, with Norris ninth. 

Verstappen brushed the wall on lap 71, with no resultant damage. Hamilton was still no closer to Ocon, and Sainz was trying desperately to get by Gasly, but to no avail. 

With the track drying, Red Bull’s Christian Horner radioed Verstappen and asked his driver if he thought a switch from intermediates would be wise. Verstappen answered with a quick and resounding “no,” further evidence that Red Bull’s strategy decisions are rarely wrong. Verstappen cruised through the remaining laps and crossed the finish line over 27 seconds ahead of Alonso. 

The Good

Esteban Ocon showed his third-place start was no fluke, holding off challenges from Mercedes and Ferrari to claim a podium spot. Throw in Gasly’s seventh, and it was a banner day for Alpine, as their 21-point haul placed them all alone in fifth in the constructor standings.

It’s hard to say if Mercedes’ upgrades had anything to do with it, but taking fourth and fifth has to feel very satisfying, especially heading to Spain, where Mercedes will likely get a true measure of the impact of their upgrades. In addition, Mercedes closed to within a point of Aston Martin for second in the constructors standings. 

The Bad

Weather forecasters. Is each team receiving their forecast from a different source? Everyone had an opinion about the rain, but none were the same, and none were completely accurate.

Granted, Monaco’s location on the Mediterranean makes forecasting rain very difficult. Perhaps, instead of relying on radar, maybe just look up to the sky, or hold your hand out.

I’m talking to you, Aston Martin.   

Honorable Mention: Lance Stroll hit just about everything on the track, except for his marks, on his way to a retirement 25 laps from the finish. 

The Disappointing

Aston Martin’s decision not to put Alonso on intermediate tires not only deprived Alonso of the likely race win, it deprived race fans of what would have been an amazing finish. Had Alonso initially put on intermediates, he would have taken the race lead, and Verstappen would have found himself as the chaser. No matter the gap, I’m sure Verstappen would have caught Alonso, and who knows what would have happened after that? It would have been an historic battle, Verstappen chasing Alonso, or “Youth” chasing the “Fountain Of Youth.”   

And, boy, what I would give to hear what Yuki Tsunoda would have had to say over his radio if he was in Alonso’s position after Aston gave him the wrong tires. 

Perez, who clumsily crashed out of Q1 on Saturday (May 26), started with a bold strategy (pitting for hard tires after just one lap) that may have actually panned out for points. It was a strategy that required extreme patience, a trait Perez did not show when he got a little too eager trying to pass Lance Stroll. The two made contact, damaging Perez’s front wing, which ruined Perez’s strategy and race.

The Driver

This award was, for most of the event, a commendation reserved for Alonso. That is, until he decided to abide by his engineer’s decision to choose medium tires when nearly everyone else was opting for intermediates. It appears race engineer Mike “Krack’ed” under pressure.   

It’s hard not to choose Ocon, but Verstappen continues to make all the right moves, whether he starts 9th, 15th, or from the pole.

Sure, as the pole winner, Verstappen should have won. But given the circumstances he faced throughout the race, the Dutchman remained calm and steady, sticking to Red Bull’s plan. While knowing that Alonso started on hard tires could have worried him (which, had it not rained, could have resulted in Alonso pressuring Verstappen for the win), it didn’t. Instead, Verstappen continued a pace that would have still allowed him the chance to hunt down Alonso, had the strategy worked perfectly for Aston Martin.

And, Verstappen didn’t panic when the heavier rains arrived, waiting until the last minute to switch to intermediates, knowing they were the absolute right call.

The Results

Monaco Grand Prix, Circuit de Monaco (May 28th, 2023)

11Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT781:48:51.98025
214Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES78+27.921s18
331Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT78+36.990s15
444Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES78+39.062s13
563George RussellMERCEDES78+56.284s10
616Charles LeclercFERRARI78+61.890s8
710Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT78+62.362s6
855Carlos SainzFERRARI78+63.391s4
94Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES77+1 lap2
1081Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES77+1 lap1
1177Valtteri BottasALFA ROMEO FERRARI77+1 lap0
1221Nyck De VriesALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT77+1 lap0
1324Zhou GuanyuALFA ROMEO FERRARI77+1 lap0
1423Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES77+1 lap0
1522Yuki TsunodaALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT76+2 laps0
1611Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT76+2 laps0
1727Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI76+2 laps0
182Logan SargeantWILLIAMS MERCEDES76+2 laps0
1920Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI70DNF0
Next up for the F1 crowd is the AWS Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday, June 4.
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