Race Weekend Central

Max Verstappen Masters Mixed Conditions, Wins Monaco Grand Prix

The starting grid for the 2023 Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco began with Max Verstappen, Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon. In true Monaco fashion, the 69th Grand Prix on the streets of the Mediterranean principality finished in that same order.

But oh, what a way to get there. 

Yes, Red Bull Racing’s Verstappen looked nigh-untouchable the entire afternoon, the Dutchman curb-stomping the field by more than 27 seconds en route to his second victory in the Monaco Grand Prix.

Alonso, by finishing second, earned his best result in a Grand Prix since Spain 2013, and Ocon became the first Frenchman to stand on the podium in Monaco since Olivier Panis in 1996.

Monaco is infamous for a Grand Prix less exciting than the qualifying session that precedes it. But after a Saturday pole run that finished with a thrilling down-to-the-wire lap battle and a spectacular final sector from Verstappen, the bar was set high.

At first, the Monaco stereotype held true, with Verstappen opening a gap of over 12 seconds on the second-place car. But on lap 50 of 78, the skies opened up as Mother Nature delivered a curveball. Rain fell and chaos rolled into a field that was struggling to pass.

Alonso suddenly had a chance.

Lance Stroll and Valtteri Bottas, mired in the back of the pack, were the first to switch to intermediates. Then Alonso hit the pits.

For softs.

It could have been a brilliant call, the type of 5-D chess move that’s needed to topple the giant that is Red Bull.

But almost immediately, Carlos Sainz spun into Mirabeau. The rain was intense, and slick tires were the wrong choice.

On lap 55, Verstappen pitted for intermediates. One lap after putting on softs, Alonso followed him in.

From then on, it was clear. Aston Martin had made his bed and Alonso had to lie in it. Max Verstappen cruised to the 39th F1 win of his career, his second in a row, and his fourth of 2023.

“The rain was coming, so we didn’t really know what was going on …” Verstappen told Sky Sports’ David Coulthard from the pit straight after the race.

“Then it started to rain, lap by lap, a bit more, so at one point, you know we had to make a call to go onto the inters … It was incredibly slippery. When you are that far in the lead, you don’t want to push too hard but you don’t want to lose too much time, so it’s quite difficult …in that scenario.

“Hit the walls a few times, but that’s Monaco.”

After an fifth podium in six races for Aston Martin, Alonso may be getting used to the feeling, saying: “It was difficult … to start on the hard tires, we gave up on the possibility to get [Verstappen] into turn 1… we hoped to play a long game with the strategy but Max drove super well on the medium tires in that first stint … the rain got things a little bit complicated out there. It was not easy to drive around.”

But Ocon, who scored just the third podium of his F1 career, was all smiles.

“What a superb weekend for everyone at the team …” he claimed. “We improved the car from beginning to end and didn’t make a foot wrong … I’m just enjoying the moment now.”

Behind him, it was Mercedes-AMG that made the strategy magic happen. After the introduction of a new sidepod design failed to bring race-winning pace, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell started down in fifth and eighth, respectively. Neither were particularly able to advance from those positions, with the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc even pressuring Hamilton early in the going.

But an undercut for Hamilton and strategic overcut for Russell with rain on the horizon, combined with a Ferrari double-stack blunder and Sainz’s spin, meant the Mercedes teammates were able to finish just off the podium: Hamilton fourth, Russell fifth, despite the younger Briton being served a five-second penalty for a lap 59 collision with Sergio Perez.

Sixth was the hometown hero Leclerc, followed home by Pierre Gasly‘s Alpine and a frustrated Sainz, whose day started strong before contact with Ocon damaged his front wing and turned his fortunes around.

Completing the top 10 were the youngsters from McLaren, Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri in ninth and tenth, respectively.

2023 Monaco Grand Prix Results

While in initial dry conditions, the front of the field looked like a typical Monaco procession behind Verstappen’s No. 1, the midfield took mercy on the TV audience and provided some much-needed entertainment. 

And it started early. On the first lap, Nico Hulkenberg pulled a kamikaze late-braking move on Stroll into Mirabeau, and Stroll responded with a desperate clonk to the wall into the Loew’s hairpin that set up a three-wide battle between himself, Alex Albon, and Kevin Magnussen through to Portier. 

All drivers suffered more tire wear than expected, but none more so than Williams’ Logan Sargeant. Though he never even sniffed the points, the American really began to struggle by lap 18, backing up to Magnussen’s Haas and allowing the Dane to pull off the unthinkable: a clean, non-DRS assisted pass for position in Monaco. 

A few corners later, Stroll pulled past in Rascasse and Perez snuck through as well. 

Truly, if you wanted entertainment of the kind that Sky Sports’ Martin Brundle called “stock car racing,” Stroll, Perez and the Haas duo were more than willing to oblige. 

When Stroll pulled offline to let race leader Verstappen through in the chicane, Perez tried to follow, but Stroll wasn’t expecting it. Perez cut the corner and refused to yield the spot to Stroll, radioing his team to say Stroll had forced him offline. 

Except on lap 35, Perez rear-ended Hulkenberg on the entry to the chicane, and in the ensuing chaos Stroll was able to retake the spot.

On lap 38, Stroll tried to pull a move on Hulkenberg, but the Canadian was too far back and the German’s defense was aggressive. The two made contact, although both continued on.

Once rain was added into the mix, total chaos ensued. Stroll was the first to fall, bouncing from wall to wall from Mirabeau through Portier and retiring with damage. Magnussen held out on track with his aged slicks, spinning into the runoff at Sainte-Devote on lap 58 and sliding into the barriers at Rascasse two laps later before switching to full wets and eventually retiring on lap 76.

Perez and Hulkenberg similarly outfitted the blue-sidewall Pirellis, which turned out to be a mistake. Lapping five full seconds slower than the leader, the two spent the rest of the Grand Prix dueling for a disappointing 16th place. 

Next week, F1 concludes what was supposed to be the first tripleheader of 2023 with the Spanish Grand Prix at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Coverage begins at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN this coming Sunday, June 4.

About the author

Jack Swansey primarily covers open-wheel racing for Frontstretch and co-hosts The Pit Straight Podcast, but you can also catch him writing about NASCAR, sports cars, and anything else with four wheels and a motor. Originally from North Carolina and now residing in Los Angeles, he joined the site as Sunday news writer midway through 2022 and is an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of die-cast cars.

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