Fernando Alonso, Max Verstappen, Monaco, 2023

Verstappen faces a tricky tyre choice, rumours of rain – and a fierce rival

2023 Monaco Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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A grand prix distance, by regulation, is 305 kilometres. But an exception is made for Monaco, where a shorter distance of 260km is used.

Cynics might say the real race distance is actually just 200 metres – roughly the run from the timing line on the grid to Sainte Devote, the first corner.

Although the idea that the Monaco Grand Prix is little more than a procession where pole position all but guarantees victory, it’s not quite the can’t-miss opportunity many claim it is. In fact, over the last 30 races held around the principality, the driver who led the field through Sainte Devote and up the hill at the start has gone on to win the race just under two-thirds of the time.

Pretty strong odds, sure. But it also means that a driver who doesn’t win the race to turn one will end up reaching the chequered flag first every three Monaco Grands Prix, on average.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Monaco, 2023
Gallery: Monaco Grand Prix qualifying day in pictures
And after a spectacular qualifying session that may well go down as the most competitive ever seen around F1’s most historic course, there are plenty of reasons why Sunday’s race may be Monte Carlo’s most intriguing for some time.

Although Max Verstappen managed to deny Fernando Alonso his first pole position for 216 world championship grands prix, it could hardly have been closer. Verstappen crossed the line just 0.084s before Alonso had on his final flyer, but it could easily have been different. The Aston Martin was two tenths up entering the Swimming Pool, but the Red Bull’s superior speed through the final sector – especially under braking for Rascasse – ultimately secured Verstappen the most important pole of the season.

“I knew that going into this weekend it was going to be tight around here,” Verstappen admitted after the session. “It has proven that in qualifying.”

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Traditionally, Verstappen would be considered to already have one hand on the winner’s trophy. But he will have to face down immediate danger from the Aston Martin alongside him as the lights go out on Sunday – and he knows it.

Start, Monaco, 2021
The start is the best, perhaps only chance to gain a place
“It’s just about having a clean start,” Verstappen said, “There’s always chaos involved in Monaco. But I think our race pace, in general the behaviour of the car on the tyres is fine.”

Starting on the front row of the grid behind a Red Bull for the third time this season – and the second in two rounds – Alonso has a 50% success rate of winning the run to turn one from there in 2023, having beaten Sergio Perez off the line in Jeddah in round two.

“The start has been very good for us this year, it’s true,” Alonso mused. “And Max maybe has been a little bit inconsistent sometimes. When he’s good, it’s as good as we are and sometimes a little bit worse.”

This is the first time this year Alonso and Verstappen have shared the front row of a grid. It brings Verstappen into close contact with perhaps the best-equipped driver outside his team.

We’ve seen how firmly Verstappen is prepared to deal with some rivals. But there hasn’t been much wheel-to-wheel racing between these two pair until now. How will Verstappen react if Alonso draws alongside him on the outside approaching Sainte Devote?

But Alonso says this race will not just come down to those five seconds between the lights going out and the pair hitting the brakes for the first time.

“The thing is that the distance to turn one I think is too short, for whatever start performance you have, and it’s too narrow, I think, to try,” he explained. “Let’s see tomorrow how it goes but it is maybe not in my head at the moment that it’s that opportunity or nothing. I think it’s a long race that we will focus on it.”

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Starting behind the front row pairing is Esteban Ocon, who equals his best ever starting position of third thanks to a blistering final lap, plus Charles Leclerc’s grid penalty for impeding Lando Norris. Cheekily, Ocon says he is rooting for the two ahead of him to get into mischief together so he can reap the benefits. But he is also likely to face a lot of pressure from the likes of Carlos Sainz Jnr behind him for 78 laps if he beats the Ferrari to Sainte Devote.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine, Monaco, 2023
Ocon hopes to capitalise on leaders’ fight
Lewis Hamilton overcame a late crash in final practice to secure sixth on the grid but will start fifth instead, with Mercedes team mate George Russell down in eighth. After Mercedes have been a major talking point this weekend due to their major upgrades package, trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin admitted that the team’s starting positions were “not ideal”.

“It’s never easy to move forward in the grand prix here but we’ll be working through the scenarios tonight,” said Shovlin. “It’s often an unpredictable race and it looks like it might be tough on the tyres. We’ll make sure we do everything we can to be ready to capitalise on any opportunities that come our way tomorrow.”

Having fallen to sixth, Leclerc is not expecting to make his first appearance on the podium for his home grand prix unless something unexpected happens. “It’s not a track where you can overtake and even if we could overtake, I think that in terms of race pace, we are a little bit behind,” summarised the Ferrari driver.

But while sixth is not an ideal place to start the Monaco Grand Prix, it’s far better than last. Perez faces that as a result of crashing out of Q1. But while he managed to rise from the pit lane in Australia to finish in the top five, Perez expects a torturous race this time around.

“If it’s a normal race it will be hard to do anything tomorrow,” he admitted. “I have a fast car but it’s nearly impossible to pass here with these wide cars, it is going to be tricky to make progress, but we will try everything.”

With extremely low cornering speeds in Monaco, there are not many options for teams to invent brilliantly creative strategies to get their cars ahead of rivals when tyre wear is so low. As ever, Monaco is one-stop territory. However despite Monaco’s low grip levels Pirelli believe drivers should avoid starting on their softest tyre.

“We had some graining on the C4 [medium] and C5 [soft] especially,” chief engineer Simone Berra explained. “This is expected here because the grip level is quite low and you start to slide quite often on both front and rear axle.”

Teams invariably prefer to start the race on the softest tyre to avoid being beaten by a rival off the line. But Berra believes its performance over a stint is too poor to consider that, even at a track like Monaco where teams can tolerate a huge drop-off in performance because overtaking is so difficult.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Monaco, 2023
Pirelli expect teams will start on the medium rubber
“In terms of performance C4 and C5 are struggling the most on continuous running because of the overheating from the rear axle,” said Berra. “So I think especially the C5 is really difficult to manage on long run.

“My opinion is that all the teams for the first stint will go for the C4 and try to extend as much as possible the first stint trying to exploit Safety Car or whatever.”

Teams tend to be more aggressive with their strategies than Pirelli expect, so if many drivers at the front do indeed start the race on mediums, it will indicate deep concerns about their ability to keep that compound alive. But past Monaco Grands Prix in the Pirelli era have been won by drivers starting on the softest available rubber, driving at a very slow pace, and keeping the field in check behind. The key difference between this weekend’s event and previous races is teams are not locked into their tyre choices after qualifying (this was also true last year but pre-race rain rendered it moot).

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The decision of when to pit is dictated by track position as much as anything at Monaco. Avoiding traffic when you emerge from a stop is critical, while any attempts to undercut can be covered off usually without much hassle.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Monaco, 2023
Strategy offers the best chance for drivers to gain places
That would typically suggest that Verstappen can simply control the pace out front and tick off the laps to take another comfortable victory. However, there are some wildcards out of Red Bull’s control that could threaten to make life difficult on Sunday.

The first is the weather. Although the FIA’s official forecast for Sunday afternoon predicts only a 20% risk of rain at some point during the grand prix at maximum, there have been murmurs in the paddock that some teams believe chances are greater than that. But if the unexpected was to occur, Alonso does not believe that will improve his chances of victory.

“The rain? I think it will not help, to be honest,” he said. “I prefer a dry race.

“We have a better chance to secure big points from a dry race and on a chaotic, rainy day it will only help the people out of position and I think we are in position at the moment.”

Leclerc is one driver who seems to believe there is more probability of rain than most expect and sees it as a potential opportunity to reclaim some of his lost positions. However, his team mate Sainz admitting the forecast he’s seen “doesn’t look very wet.”

The other factor is the ever-present possibility of a sudden Safety Car or even a red flag striking at any point during the 78-lap race. With the field as close as ever, the high likelihood of DRS trains keeping them bunched up in packs and Perez having to fight his way up the order, there’s a real chance that just a single mistake or misjudgement could have major consequences and throw everything up in the air. But whatever does happen on Sunday, Verstappen is more than confident h and Red Bull can handle it.

“In Monaco a lot of things can happen, right? Safety Car, rain – you name it.

“There’s always a bit of chaos involved but I think race pace-wise here the car is quick, so that is not the problem. We just need to keep it clean and calm.”

Qualifying times in full

PositionNumberDriverTeamQ1 timeQ2 time (vs Q1)Q3 time (vs Q2)
11Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’12.3861’11.908 (-0.478s)1’11.365 (-0.543s)
214Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’12.8861’12.107 (-0.779s)1’11.449 (-0.658s)
316Charles LeclercFerrari1’12.9121’12.103 (-0.809s)1’11.471 (-0.632s)
431Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’12.9671’12.248 (-0.719s)1’11.553 (-0.695s)
555Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’12.7171’12.210 (-0.507s)1’11.630 (-0.580s)
644Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’12.8721’12.156 (-0.716s)1’11.725 (-0.431s)
710Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1’13.0331’12.169 (-0.864s)1’11.933 (-0.236s)
863George RussellMercedes1’12.7691’12.151 (-0.618s)1’11.964 (-0.187s)
922Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’12.6421’12.249 (-0.393s)1’12.082 (-0.167s)
104Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’12.8771’12.377 (-0.500s)1’12.254 (-0.123s)
1181Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1’13.0061’12.395 (-0.611s)Missed by 0.018s
1221Nyck de VriesAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’13.0541’12.428 (-0.626s)Missed by 0.051s
1323Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’12.7061’12.527 (-0.179s)Missed by 0.150s
1418Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’12.7221’12.623 (-0.099s)Missed by 0.246s
1577Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’13.0381’12.625 (-0.413s)Missed by 0.248s
162Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’13.113Missed by 0.059s
1720Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’13.270Missed by 0.216s
1827Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’13.279Missed by 0.225s
1924Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’13.523Missed by 0.469s
2011Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’13.850Missed by 0.796s

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Sector times

PositionNumberDriverSector oneSector twoSector threeUltimate lapDeficit to ultimate lap
11Max Verstappen18.642 (2)33.902 (4)18.821 (1)1’11.365
214Fernando Alonso18.496 (1)33.844 (1)19.109 (10)1’11.449
316Charles Leclerc18.651 (3)33.87 (3)18.95 (4)1’11.471
431Esteban Ocon18.728 (5)33.903 (5)18.922 (2)1’11.553
555Carlos Sainz Jnr18.774 (8)33.856 (2)18.935 (3)1’11.5650.065
644Lewis Hamilton18.757 (7)33.929 (6)19.039 (5)1’11.725
763George Russell18.665 (4)34.101 (8)19.109 (10)1’11.8750.089
810Pierre Gasly18.841 (11)34.003 (7)19.089 (7)1’11.933
922Yuki Tsunoda18.746 (6)34.183 (10)19.105 (9)1’12.0340.048
104Lando Norris18.807 (9)34.258 (11)19.071 (6)1’12.1360.118
1181Oscar Piastri18.839 (10)34.302 (12)19.09 (8)1’12.2310.164
1221Nyck de Vries18.9 (13)34.307 (13)19.221 (14)1’12.428
1318Lance Stroll18.853 (12)34.172 (9)19.469 (17)1’12.4940.129
1423Alexander Albon18.989 (15)34.347 (14)19.161 (12)1’12.4970.030
1577Valtteri Bottas18.914 (14)34.446 (15)19.178 (13)1’12.5380.087
162Logan Sargeant19.073 (17)34.617 (17)19.423 (15)1’13.113
1720Kevin Magnussen19.14 (19)34.574 (16)19.556 (19)1’13.270
1827Nico Hulkenberg19.108 (18)34.707 (18)19.464 (16)1’13.279
1924Zhou Guanyu19.07 (16)34.772 (19)19.497 (18)1’13.3390.184
2011Sergio Perez19.475 (20)34.813 (20)19.562 (20)1’13.850

Speed trap

PositionNumberDriverCarEngineModelMax kph (mph)
155Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrariSF-23286.0 (177.7)
24Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedesMCL60285.1 (177.2)
310Pierre GaslyAlpineRenaultA523284.8 (177.0)
42Logan SargeantWilliamsMercedesFW45284.5 (176.8)
581Oscar PiastriMcLarenMercedesMCL60284.3 (176.7)
61Max VerstappenRed BullHonda RBPTRB19283.9 (176.4)
744Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedesW14283.9 (176.4)
827Nico HulkenbergHaasFerrariVF-23283.9 (176.4)
923Alexander AlbonWilliamsMercedesFW45283.2 (176.0)
1031Esteban OconAlpineRenaultA523282.4 (175.5)
1122Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda RBPTAT04282.4 (175.5)
1216Charles LeclercFerrariFerrariSF-23282.2 (175.4)
1324Zhou GuanyuAlfa RomeoFerrariC43281.9 (175.2)
1420Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrariVF-23281.6 (175.0)
1514Fernando AlonsoAston MartinMercedesAMR23281.6 (175.0)
1611Sergio PerezRed BullHonda RBPTRB19281.3 (174.8)
1721Nyck de VriesAlphaTauriHonda RBPTAT04281.3 (174.8)
1818Lance StrollAston MartinMercedesAMR23280.9 (174.5)
1977Valtteri BottasAlfa RomeoFerrariC43280.8 (174.5)
2063George RussellMercedesMercedesW14280.8 (174.5)

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Over to you

Will it be a straightforward 78 laps for Verstappen on Sunday? Or is Monaco going to serve up another of its surprises?

Share your views on the Monaco Grand Prix in the comments.

2023 Monaco Grand Prix

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    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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    20 comments on “Verstappen faces a tricky tyre choice, rumours of rain – and a fierce rival”

    1. Woweee what a conundrum!
      Fortunately no other drivers are faced with this.

    2. Will it be a straightforward 78 laps for Verstappen on Sunday? – Most likely.
      Or is Monaco going to serve up another of its surprises? – Also possible.
      Precipitation probability percentage in the 20s is low, so rain affecting the race is highly unlikely.
      The Miami GP weekend had higher percentages (albeit still relatively low) in the 30s & 40s, maybe also 50s, iirc, & rain never materialized.

      1. “…rain affecting the race is highly unlikely”

        Well done, Michael Fish


        1. Would be useful to have your crystal ball then, cause I also expected rain wouldn’t have come seeing the many wrong predictions they made before.

    3. It’s interesting that people are framing that qualifying as verstappen winning pole in the final sector. From the breakdown it really looks like Alonso lost pole in the final sector (equal slowest of anyone in the top 10 after being quickest in the first two sectors). I wonder if Aston got their tactics wrong (ever so slightly) in so much as Alonso finished his lap with quite a lot of the session to spare – given the track and atmospheric conditions were improving all the time, maybe he should have left it a bit later. Obviously there’s a risk associated with that but it paid off for verstappen.

    4. It’s Monaco, you start on the softs unless it rains.

    5. Jimmy Cliff
      28th May 2023, 8:09

      Lewis gets pole in a tighter qualifying session during Mercedes dominance:
      “A magical Lewis delivered snatches pole at the last moment with an absolute stunning lap”

      Max gets pole in the most thrilling qualifying session in a decade:
      “but the Red Bull’s superior speed through the final sector”

      You must be pretty anti Max to put all the credit on the car and none on the driver particularly given it is Monaco, given it is sector 3 and the way Max set purple when it mattered most.

      1. or track evolution gifts Verstappen pole.

      2. Jimmy Cliff, it is also factually correct, given both Red Bull’s were quite consistently setting the best sector times in Sector 3 throughout the practice sessions – unless you want to conclude from the practice sessions that Perez’s performance in Sector 3 was also miraculous? Telemetry data also showes that Verstappen was constantly the fastest in Sector 3 in qualifying and routinely gaining 0.2-0.3s over Alonso in that final sector.

        If you really want to cite a driver putting in a surprisingly good Sector 3 when it mattered, Ocon’s relative performance gain in that sector on his best lap was actually more impressive than what Verstappen managed.

        1. thank you , finally someone telling it as it is

        2. Indeed, the Red Bull has been very strong in Sector 3 all weekend. Both cars.

          Given that Verstappen was quite a bit slower than Alonso through Sector 1 and 2 combined – it’s not unreasonable to bring that characteristic of his car up when explaining how he turned that pretty sizeable deficit into a pole.

      3. During Mercedes era of dominance, Hamilton was still competing with Rosberg and Bottas for pole. Perez went out in Q1 and qualified last on the grid. So the advantage in Hamilton’s case was always down to the driver. With Verstappen, competing only against drivers from other teams, it will always be a question. Personally I think they have been better Verstappen pole laps, but yesterday was one of his bravest and he did that under intense pressure from Alonso and Leclerc particularly.

    6. Jimmy Cliff
      28th May 2023, 8:15

      Perez should start on the soft tire – try to gain as much positions as possible and lose minimal time to those ahead.

      Then make an early pitstop and take hards and start closing the gap to the rest of the field fast – while those ahead make their pitstop he should be within the pit stop time to overtake them.

      Major risk obviously is him not gaining enough positions/time on the softs and/or any VSC or SC after he made his stop.

      1. I don’t think so. He won’t be able to make up places at the beginning of the race, so this would ensure he stays where he is. He probably should start on the hard tire and go as long as possible, like what Stroll did in 2021.

    7. Coventry Climax
      28th May 2023, 11:30

      Eh, consult a couple more, if not all, weather stations and their predictions? Instead of only relying solely on the ‘official’ one?
      The official one is probably the one that paid the most to be chosen by F1, which is not necessarily the most reliable.

      I’m sure some teams will try a gamble, with the bigger chance that Ferrari gets it all wrong.
      I think Red Bull will be alright though.

      1. Coventry Climax, Météo France is the official forecaster, and you’re actually completely wrong about the reason for them being appointed.

        Contrary to what you suggest, Météo France isn’t “the one that paid the most to be chosen by F1” – they don’t care about their social media presence and they actually don’t provide any sponsorship to the sport, with the sport instead having to pay them for their services.

        Furthermore, Météo France has been present in Formula 1 since 1995, and it had become the most popular service used by the teams (due to its accuracy) before the FIA decided to appoint them in 2006. It was jointly agreed between the FIA and the teams back then that, since Météo France was the overwhelming favourite forecasting service, it was much simpler and cheaper if they simply got a joint licence from Météo France, rather than having each team pay a separate licencing fee for the same service, and it also meant the FIA could then share that information with Formula 2, Formula 3 and any other support series that were also present.

        1. Coventry Climax
          28th May 2023, 17:05

          You missed the word ‘probably’?
          You missed the given that it’s LM’s/F1’s lust for money that triggers this type of assumptions?
          You missed my point that it might be useful to spread your bet over multiple horses? (As I’m sure multiple teams did.)
          Long toes?
          You work there?
          And one last one: Were Meteo France correct about their rain prediction for Monaco?

    8. Who’s today’s Race Director?
      I spy an angry splodge of rain heading south-east towards Monte Carlo, ready to unload about 45min after the start… anything like last year and it’ll be red flags all round.

      1. There is only one race director in F1 2023; Niels Wittich.

        The stewards for this weekend are: Tim Mayer, Felix Holter, Danny Sullivan and Jean-François Calmes.

        1. Ah, that’s why we’ve stopped hearing anything about it. Thanks!
          Jean-François Calmes sounds like a cool head.

    Comments are closed.