Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Monaco, 2023

The most important pole fight of 2023 also looks like the hardest to call

2023 Monaco Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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Given they have spent the first five race weekends of the 2023 season struggling to offer any serious threat to Red Bull’s supremacy, it was perhaps a little surprising how both Ferrari and Aston Martin arrived in Monaco full of confidence about their potential to put up a fight.

Ferrari’s Frederic Vasseur and Aston Martin’s Mike Krack had no interest in playing the cautious team principal role heading into Monte Carlo. Instead, both highlighted this weekend as one where the tight and twisty street circuit could offer the best chance yet for them to take on Red Bull.

And based on what both teams showed during the opening practice day of the weekend, they had good reason to feel confident.

At the end of two hours of running, the margin between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc at the top of the time sheets was just 0.065 seconds – a physical difference of almost exactly three metres at the timing line. Heading into the most important qualifying of the season, where pole position offers the greatest chance of victory of any race on the calendar, that is a margin Red Bull know they cannot feel comfortable with.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Monaco, 2023
Verstappen was fastest but appears to have a fight on his hands
Over the opening part of the lap, Ferrari looked like they were in better shape. Leclerc carried more speed into Sainte Devote but also found better traction out of it then the Red Bull, meaning by the time the pair reached the top of the hill at Casino Square, Leclerc was actually a tenth of a second up on the world champion.

But where Verstappen made the difference around the lap was through the especially slow sequence in the middle sector, from the Mirabeau Hotel down to the exit of Portier and into the tunnel. Over the final sector of the lap, both Leclerc and team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr gained over half a tenth on Verstappen, but it was not enough for either of them to reach the finish line ahead of the Red Bull. But despite a strong showing out on the track, Leclerc was not fully satisfied with his SF-23.

“It was a bit of a difficult day as the car is not doing exactly what it is supposed to do,” Leclerc explained after the session. “So we need to take a good look at the set up on my car and then work on it to ensure I have the right feeling with it tomorrow.”

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Ferrari had one priority on Friday: qualifying. In a bid to try and wring as much lap time out of his car as possible, Sainz committed what he described as a “small miscalculation” and clattered into the barriers on the exit of the Swimming Pool, giving his Ferrari mechanics as busy an evening fixing his car as the data analysts will have poring over the telemetry.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, Monaco, 2023
Alonso believes Aston Martin can also be contenders
But while the Ferrari pair were on a similar level to each other, Sergio Perez was over half a second – and six positions – behind his Red Bull team mate. As the only viable challenger to Verstappen in the championship, Perez knows he could be in for a difficult rest of the weekend if he cannot find a way to match his team mate’s pace quickly.

“It’s going to be a real challenge heading into qualifying,” Perez admitted. “It’ll be an interesting session.

“We need to make sure we get on top of the tyres and put them in the window at the right time to get the perfect lap around here.”

But Red Bull and Ferrari are not the only ones with an eye on battling for pole tomorrow. At just one tenth of a second slower than the Ferraris, Fernando Alonso is determined to be a main character in Saturday’s qualifying showdown too.

Aston Martin have typically been strongest on Sundays in 2023, but that will not help Alonso around the circuit where overtaking is hardest. Therefore Aston Martin need to have their best Saturday of the season so far to throw themselves into contention – and Alonso is confident they can do just that.

“In both sessions the car felt good and it’s easy to drive, which helps at this circuit,” he said. “Some race weekends we will be quicker than our rivals and others it might be different, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s qualifying session.”

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Asked if he felt he had a chance to fight for pole position, Alonso said he felt “everything is to play for”.

George Russell, Mercedes, Monaco, 2023
New-look Mercedes was fourth-quickest on Friday
“We should be one of the candidates, yes,” he predicted.

But despite all the attention on their upgrades for this weekend, Mercedes don’t appear to have their rivals in reach around the Monaco streets. Lewis Hamilton was sixth fastest but nearly half a second slower than Verstappen’s best, while team mate George Russell was outside of the top 10 in both sessions.

Asked who he felt Mercedes will be looking to fight with over the rest of the weekend, Russell had to admit that he was “not too sure”.

“We hope with Aston and Ferrari – that’s where we’re aiming towards,” said Russell “The midfield is tight and we’ve seen a number of times this year that a McLaren or an Alpine or even a Haas jumps ahead of us on a Saturday, but they’re nowhere on Sunday. Whereas if they do manage to do that this Saturday, they probably will be with us on this Sunday.”

Lando Norris, McLaren, Monaco, 2023
Gallery: Monaco Grand Prix practice in pictures
With the midfield so tight with just 0.767s tenths between Lando Norris in fifth and team mate Oscar Piastri down in 18th, the battle to survive the first two cuts in Q1 and Q2 is likely to be just as fierce and brutal as the likely fight over the front of the grid. But unlike in the two junior categories joining Formula 1 this weekend, qualifying is not split into two groups, and all 20 drivers are at each other’s mercy.

As seen in practice, traffic will be a major problem for drivers in the opening phases of qualifying. Especially as the fastest laps in qualifying showed that drivers can push their tyres for multiple laps and still improve if they manage their temperatures well enough. That could lead some tight moments where drivers suddenly find themselves with a fast car appearing in their mirrors and nowhere for them to make way. If Saturday ends without a single driver being handed a grid drop for impeding a rival, then all 20 drivers and their engineers will have done very well indeed.

And just as last year’s Monaco qualifying demonstrated, every single flying lap counts when the threat of a sudden red flag remains constant. With hundredths or even thousandths of a second could determine whether a driver starts on pole, playing it safe is not an option. And with five likely contestants vying for the top spot, there is high risk of high drama in the final minutes of qualifying.

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Combined practice times

Position Number Driver Team FP1 time FP2 time Gap Laps
1 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda RBPT 1’14.244 1’12.462 56
2 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1’14.093 1’12.527 0.065 57
3 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari 1’13.372 1’12.569 0.107 48
4 14 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin-Mercedes 1’13.710 1’12.682 0.220 60
5 4 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1’14.467 1’12.906 0.444 43
6 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’14.035 1’12.960 0.498 56
7 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda RBPT 1’14.038 1’12.991 0.529 57
8 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’14.718 1’13.050 0.588 62
9 10 Pierre Gasly Alpine-Renault 1’14.866 1’13.089 0.627 58
10 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1’14.585 1’13.162 0.700 59
11 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1’14.653 1’13.185 0.723 59
12 63 George Russell Mercedes 1’15.066 1’13.191 0.729 56
13 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’15.684 1’13.354 0.892 57
14 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1’14.725 1’13.457 0.995 57
15 27 Nico Hulkenberg Haas-Ferrari 1’15.785 1’13.520 1.058 50
16 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda RBPT 1’14.820 1’13.641 1.179 51
17 21 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri-Honda RBPT 1’15.083 1’13.663 1.201 67
18 81 Oscar Piastri McLaren-Mercedes 1’15.192 1’13.673 1.211 62
19 23 Alexander Albon Williams-Mercedes 1’14.666 1’14.217 1.755 42
20 2 Logan Sargeant Williams-Mercedes 1’15.557 1’14.238 1.776 63

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2023 Monaco Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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13 comments on “The most important pole fight of 2023 also looks like the hardest to call”

  1. Is the predictions championship broken? Dead?

    I would like to try and call it….

      1. It is just showing up for me as being all out of whack?

        I can see no past results. It also says the next race is Bahrain in 850 days.

        1. Wow, Next prediction deadline in 8308d, 03h, 36m, 08s, that’s even more than expected, that’s around 23 years, yet states 2023!

          1. Not just me then.

    1. @mach1 @eurobrun @esploratore1
      I also get the weird deadline, but at least I could set predictions by choosing Monaco from the race options, although another matter is if they’ll be in effect.

  2. I doubt Max will be on pole – he’s got much more to lose than someone like Leclerc who is going to absolutely send it and hope he doesn’t crash on his 2nd run in Q3.

  3. Alonso didn’t get a single clean lap, which says something about his pace and especially his skill when you look at where Stroll is.

  4. Coventry Climax
    26th May 2023, 23:32

    PASTE PACE CHART HERE AND ADD LAP TIMES BELOW

    That’s what is says on the first line. Forgot something, Will?

  5. Coventry Climax
    26th May 2023, 23:36

    PASTE PACE CHART HERE AND ADD LAP TIMES BELOW

    That’s what it says on the first line. Forgot something, Will?

    1. Live redirects in one users name also.

      1. Not here in the Russell expecta little….thread

  6. Indeed the hardest & somewhat surprisingly so for this season’s standards.
    LEC, ALO, or RBs, someone from this quartet, I feel, has the best chance.

Comments are closed.