Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Monaco, 2023

Rain can’t stop Verstappen etching his name among Monaco’s great multiple-winners

2023 Monaco Grand Prix review

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As the suitably fancy pre-race TV packages always love to declare, winning the Monaco Grand Prix is the single most prestigious achievement a Formula 1 driver can accomplish outside of a world championship title.

But while victory in F1’s most famous race remains the highlight of many a driver’s career, winning it a second time places a driver into an exclusive company of some of Formula 1’s greats: Senna, Schumacher, Prost, Moss, Stewart, Hamilton – and even Alonso.

Heading to the Monaco for the sixth round of the 2023 season, most patrons of Monte Carlo’s famous casino would likely have bet the house on Max Verstappen taking pole and converting that into his second victory around the famous streets. But after a stunning qualifying session on Saturday and 78 laps on Sunday, you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone in the principality who didn’t feel Verstappen had fully earned the honour of being the 17th multiple Monaco Grand Prix winner in the race’s long history.

On harder tyres, Alonso couldn’t fight Verstappen at the start
History suggested that all Verstappen needed to do to secure his second Monaco victory and fourth win of the season is beat fellow front row starter Fernando Alonso to turn one. Before the race, Pirelli had predicted that starting on the medium tyres would be the best approach to the inevitable one-stop strategy teams would employ, but many tipped Aston Martin to be aggressive in its choice of strategy for Alonso’s car, perhaps even risking the fragile softs in an all-or-nothing bid to beat the world champion to Sainte Devote.

Which was why it was all the more surprising when the tyre blankets were removed from Alonso’s car to reveal he had gone for hard tyres for his opening stint – a different approach to Verstappen, starting on mediums. But rather than being a sign Aston Martin had resigned themselves to not being able to beat the Red Bull, it reflected their aggression to play the “long game” as he called it and back-load the pressure they planned to exert on Verstappen towards the end of the race.

As the 80th Grand Prix de Monaco got underway, Verstappen successfully held Alonso at bay as the field headed down to Sainte Devote. The top ten demonstrated perfect decorum before the Monaco royalty, keeping in single file as they rounded the right-hander, charging up the hill for the first time in the exact same order that they had left the grid.

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Back in the pack, things were far more unruly. After rounding Casino Square, Nico Hulkenberg was inspired to put everything on black and dive into Mirabeau, barging Logan Sargeant out of the way. Although he gained the place, he was also handed a five-second time penalty by the stewards. Completing the first lap, Verstappen had an initial gap of just over a second with Ocon in third, Carlos Sainz Jnr in fourth with Lewis Hamilton sitting between the Ferraris ahead of Charles Leclerc in sixth.

Nico Hulkenberg, Logan Sargeant, Monaco, 2023
Contact with Sargeant earned Hulkenberg a penalty
With tyres that should not last as long as Alonso’s hards, Red Bull knew Verstappen had an advantage if the race ran without any major interruption. Having survived the most vulnerable part of the race with his lead intact, Verstappen was encouraged to “settle in now” by race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase before he’d even finished rounding the Fairmont Hairpin for the first time.

Verstappen duly obeyed, easing himself into his race pace going gradually faster lap by lap until eventually finding his pace around the 1’17 mark by the 10th lap. Alonso kept up with the Red Bull slowly speeding up through the early laps, keeping Verstappen’s lead steady at under two seconds. Both were rapidly pulling away from third-placed Ocon, despite the Alpine driver being on the medium compound.

Ocon had his mirrors full of scarlet as Sainz stalked him menacingly, itching to get by. But Sainz’s attempts to intimidate the Alpine appeared to backfire on lap 11, when a half-hearted look to the inside into the chicane saw him clip the rear of Ocon’s car, knocking the left-hand endplate of his front wing loose.

“He turned really early,” Sainz claimed in a doubtful attempt to pin the blame on Ocon. “Check the front wing.” Eventually, the endplate liberated itself from Sainz’s front wing heading up the hill to Massenet, but the Ferrari driver was able to continue without pitting for repairs, his only reward being a black-and-white flag from the stewards for his hasty lunge.

On the 13th lap, Alonso was warned of potential debris on his way out of Sainte Devote but happily reported all seemed clear. Heading out of Portier, however, he was back on the radio to warn of a potential puncture on his front-left tyre. Despite being assured that “all looks okay”, Alonso dropped a full second to the leader in just half a lap.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, Monaco, 2023
Alonso suffered a mystery pace loss early on
“Did you have some contact, Fernando?,” race engineer Chris Cronin enquired, almost accusatorily in tone. “Negative,” Alonso immediately denied. After some nervous moments as Aston Martin scanned their data, the team were satisfied that all was indeed well with their driver’s car.

Over the next ten laps, Alonso dropped back to over 10 seconds adrift of Verstappen. But the graining on the Red Bull’s tyres was so severe it could be seen from space and as he caught up to a gaggle of backmarkers, his lead over Alonso began to shrink.

Behind, others who had started on the medium tyres were beginning to struggle. Mercedes brought Lewis Hamilton in at the end of lap 31, Alpine following suit with third-placed Ocon one lap later. Ferrari opted to pit Sainz on his hard tyres to switch to the mediums in a bid to cover Hamilton behind – much to Sainz’s chagrin.

But out front, Verstappen showed no signs of slowing down despite the state of his tyres. In fact, he began to increase his pace, pushing his advantage over Alonso behind to almost ten seconds once again.

“I’m not sure how long I can keep this up for, though,” the leader warned. “Understood, Max,” Lambiase replied. “Just keep us informed.”

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In the hour leading up to the race start, and for the first hour of racing, the FIA’s Meteo France weather radar had shown an imposing mass of rain clouds spanning well over 100 kilometres in width slowly creeping from the north towards the site of the race. However, as it did, it was also depositing most of its contents over France, likely leading many teams to expect there would be little chance of the rain playing a role in second and final hour of action.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Monaco, 2023
The developing rain made life tricky for drivers
But with uncanny precision, a sudden formation appeared on the radar almost the moment the clock struck 4pm. Just to the north of the circuit, a second unforeseen blob apparated on the weather screens as if magically summoned by a genie watching from the harbour. Only this one was well within striking range of the circuit.

By lap 50, the unexpected shower was giving the strategists reason for concern. “Maybe spots of rain around turn six to turn eight,” cautioned Lambiase as Verstappen lost almost half a second to his second-placed pursuer. Soon, the grip levels began to fall noticeably in the middle sector. Verstappen and Alonso found themselves having to fight their cars with their steering wheels from the exit of the hairpin down to Portier.

One lap later, the entire field was suddenly six seconds slower through sector two than they had been the previous time around. The rain had now gone from a risk to a full dilemma. And there were decisions that needed to be made rapidly.

“Just have a think if you think it’s inters,” Alonso was told. “We think it is a short shower.”

On lap 54, Aston Martin made their call. But rather than fitting intermediates on his car, Alonso was moved onto a fresh set of mediums. Team principal Mike Krack later explained the logic behind their team’s decision.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, Monaco, 2023
Alonso returned for intermediates one lap after taking mediums
“We thought it was only a short shower,” Krack said. “Our radio was not very good because we did not expect any, actually.

“We had to come in because the hard tyres had already a lot of laps on them and they were starting to cool down and then you are really just sliding. At this point, in here, it was not raining yet or very small drizzle and we thought also with the high ground temperature, that it would dry up quickly again.”

But it took less than a single sector for Alonso to realise they’d made the wrong call. “It’s raining heavily in turn three, turn five” he informed them. “It will be inters, next lap.”

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Almost as if to prove Alonso right, Sainz slid off the track under braking for Mirabeau and bumped sideways into the wall, although managing to quickly drive back out onto the circuit relatively unscathed. Soon after, Lance Stroll and George Russell both joined Sainz by sliding off into the Mirabeau escape road.

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, Monaco, 2023
Russell couldn’t avoid joining Stroll in the run-off
But as Russell drove back to the racing line, he did so directly in the path of Sergio Perez, running far behind in the second Red Bull. Perez clattered into the Mercedes, and though both continued, Russell was given a five-second time penalty.

By now Verstappen, who had rubbed the barriers at Portier where the track was especially wet, had seen enough and pitted at the end of the lap to switch to intermediate tyres. Alonso followed suit for his second stop in two laps to fit the correct tyres for the worsening conditions, but emerged with his second place still intact, having enjoyed a substantial lead over Ocon.

With cars kicking up rooster tails of spray, the entire field switched to intermediates, save for Kevin Magnussen’s Haas. His gamble to remain out on hard dry tyres failed to pay off when he ended up in the barriers of La Rascasse. Astonishingly, despite Magnussen’s trip the to barriers and the other incidents seen around the circuit, there was not a single Virtual Safety Car, Safety Car or red flag to offer respite from the extremely challenging conditions.

When everything shook out, Verstappen now enjoyed a lead of over 20 seconds – easily his biggest of the day so far. Ocon had emerged from the pits still in second, while the Mercedes of Hamilton and Russell had moved ahead of the Ferrari’s in fourth and fifth who had double-stacked for their tyre changes. The rain had vanished just as quickly as it had appeared, meaning that unless there was another drastic change out of the blue, the conditions should remain static until the end of the race.

Verstappen’s position seemed rock-solid, his mission now simply to check off the fewer than 20 laps remaining with plenty of buffer to Alonso allowing him the freedom to leave more margin to the barriers lining the circuit. But Verstappen has never been one for unnecessary breathing room behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car and as he exited the Swimming Pool for the 70th time, he clipped the outside barrier just hard enough to have him issue a worried warning to his team. However he avoided causing any actual damage to his tyre or car.

But that was the only moment of elevated heart rate for Verstappen for the remainder of the race. He had led every lap from pole position, like so many before him at Monaco, but few could begrudge him his success when he took the chequered flag to place his name among those select few multiple Monaco Grand Prix winners.

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“It was quite hectic towards the end,” he admitted after the race. “But I think the whole race was all about management.

“The hard bit is that, you have a good lead, you don’t want to risk too much, but also you don’t want to drive too slow, because then you have no temperature in your tyres. So just trying to find a bit the middle ground initially was a bit tough. But then after a few laps I think I settled in and felt quite comfortable.”

Alonso followed Verstappen home almost half a minute later, but despite pitting once more than the race winner, he was sure he hadn’t lost a potential victory.

“I think we didn’t have a chance, to be honest,” he said. “We were hoping for more graining or bigger degradation and Max was able to drive 50 laps on an amazing pace, and that was the reason why he won the race. Not because the strategy: he was just faster than us.”

After absorbing pressure from Sainz in the early laps and Hamilton in the later ones, Esteban Ocon claimed an excellent podium for Alpine in third – his first rostrum appearance since claiming his breakthrough victory almost two years ago.

“It’s been a while – feels good, I can tell you that!” Ocon said. “It’s been an incredibly tough race to get under control but the reward is immense. So I’m extremely pleased.”

Fernando Alonso, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Monaco, 2023
The win was never on, Alonso insisted afterwards
The two Mercedes of Hamilton and Russell finished fourth and fifth, while Ocon’s team mate Pierre Gasly split the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz in seventh place. Neatly rounding out the top ten as the fifth team with two cars in the points was McLaren, Lando Norris leading home rookie team mate Oscar Piastri who claimed his second points finish of the season in tenth. The pair benefited from the late demise of Yuki Tsunoda as he struggled with glazed brakes after the rain fell.

But once again, the day belonged to Verstappen. Not only had he added yet another win to his ever growing tally, he had gained 25 points on his team mate and only championship rival Perez, who wrote himself out of all relevance in the race with his crash in qualifying. Verstappen had also eclipsed Sebastian Vettel as Red Bull’s most successful driver by race wins – with no sign of slowing down.

“I would have never thought that I would be in this position in my career,” admitted Verstappen. “When I grew up, I wanted to be a Formula 1 driver and winning these races is amazing. It’s better than I could have ever imagined, for sure.”

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Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Monaco, 2023
Verstappen’s fourth win of 2023 gives him a 39-point championship lead

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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6 comments on “Rain can’t stop Verstappen etching his name among Monaco’s great multiple-winners”

  1. Great article.

  2. Redbull were very solid this weekend. This team is the current benchmark on probably every level. They could have made so many wrong calls yesterday, but they kept Max on the medium until the best possible moment. If he pitted earlier he would have lost the lead and no one would point a finger at them. We were going to talk about the great Aston Martin strategy to start on hards and take the lead when the rain comes. Redbull denied that.

    However i did not studied the lap times during the rain. If Alonso fitted inters in his first pit stop, is it possible that he would jump over Max? What was the delta between cold inter and slicks during those laps?

    1. Jimmy Cliff
      29th May 2023, 13:57

      Alonso outlap on new mediums was really fast partly due to driving straight coming out of the tunnel.

  3. Coventry Climax
    29th May 2023, 16:13

    Thank you, @WillWood.

  4. Thanks! Reading this I’m puzzled why people found the race boring.

  5. “and even Alonso”

    This grudging and oh-so-reluctant acknowledgement says a lot about the author

Comments are closed.