Verstappen frustration as Sainz quickest in Monaco practice opener
By Ian Parkes
Friday 26th May, 2023 - 10:41pm
Max Verstappen was left thumping the wheel of his Red Bull in frustration as Carlos Sainz finished quickest in an opening practice session for the Monaco Grand Prix curtailed by a heavy shunt involving Williams’ Alex Albon.
Sainz, who has finished the last two races around the Principality as runner-up, topped the timesheet with a lap of one minute 13.372s, finishing a third of a second faster than fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso in his Aston Martin, with both on the medium tyres as the softs were not used at all by any driver
With just under four minutes remaining, however, Albon hit a barrier emerging out of St Devote en route up Massanet, smashing the left corner of the car which was left stranded in the middle of the track, bringing out the red flags and an early end.
As for Verstappen, the reigning F1 champion, who currently leads this year’s title race by 14 points to Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, endured a thoroughly frustrating session.
Out of the pits Verstappen complained about the clutch in the RB19 being “impossible”, that the car was “bottoming out”, and that it was “very difficult to drive”.
Despite a visit to the pits to make set-up changes, Verstappen at least felt “a slight improvement”, but the car was still “not good on the bumps”.
Further alterations to the rear suspension followed but again it was clear he was far from happy as he failed to manoeuvre his way out of the Swimming Pool Complex, which led to a bash of his fist against the steering wheel.
Verstappen was forced to settle for the sixth-fastest time, nine-tenths of a second adrift of Sainz.
Behind the two Spanish drivers, Lewis Hamilton was third quickest in a Mercedes W14 sporting a significant range of upgrades this weekend, the most notable being new sidepods.
In addition, there is also a new floor and front suspension, offering both aerodynamic and mechanical improvements in a bid to provide drivers in Hamilton and George Russell with a more balanced ride.
The update was due to be introduced at last weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola, only for the event to be cancelled due to horrendous localised flooding in the region that resulted in a number of deaths.
Coming into this weekend, given the tight, twisty confines of the circuit, Mercedes was not expecting miracles but Hamilton, who has long sought greater rear stability from the car, at least offered some hope for the weekend with a lap of 1:14.035s.
Russell, however, endured a starkly different hour-long session as he made early changes to the front spring, albeit he gained little comfort from the car once back on track.
The British driver complained about the fact he had “no confidence” through corners three and four, and that the rear was “too weak” in particular, leaving him down in 15th position, over 1.6s adrift of Sainz.
Perez and Sainz’s Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc completed the top five, with the latter just 0.058s behind Hamilton.
Behind Verstappen was Lando Norris, who had complained of a lack of compliance from his McLaren early on but at least was able to wrestle the car to seventh on the timesheet, followed by Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll in the second Aston Martin, with Albon rounding out the top 10 despite his shunt.
Norris’ McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri was down in 17th, 1.820s off the pace at the end of a session which also saw Nico Hulkenberg in his Haas bring out the red flags.
Hulkenberg struck a kerb at the Nouvelle Chicane, spinning his VF-23 and displacing the left-rear wheel.
With his car momentarily stranded, race director Niels Wittich stopped the session for a three-minute period that allowed Hulkenberg to return to the pits from which he did not return, with the veteran German finishing bottom of the timesheet, 2.413s down.
The second practice session starts at 5pm local time (0100 AEST).Sign up here to receive our daily newsletters and breaking news alerts, sent straight to your inbox.
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