Verstappen survives mixed conditions to win Monaco GP
By Mat Coch
Monday 29th May, 2023 - 12:59am
Max Verstappen mastered mixed conditions during as he dominated the Monaco Grand Prix for Red Bull.
The Dutch driver won by almost 28 seconds over Fernando Alonso after 78 laps of racing, with Esteban Ocon completing the podium for Alpine.
A clear start saw Verstappen head the field up Beau Rivage, Alonso slotting into second followed by Ocon, Carlos Sainz, Lewis Hamilton, and Charles Leclerc.
The elbows were out in the back as Nico Hulkenberg and a Logan Sargeant came together at Mirabeau before the field almost came to a halt as it backed up to get around the hairpin on the opening lap.
Lance Stroll reported he’d picked up damage and thought he had a puncture from the early melee, while Red Bull hauled Sergio Perez in for a set of hard compound tyres.
He gained two places in the process, passing Hulkenberg and Zhou Guanyu who’d also taken to the lane.
As the field started Lap 3, officials noted George Russell for starting out of position, though there was no penalty forthcoming.
Soon after, Hulkenberg was handed a five-second penalty for his move on Sargeant on the opening lap.
While Verstappen led the race in one Red Bull, while Perez in the sister car was in 18th, setting fastest lap on Lap 5.
Verstappen had opened a 2.4s advantage over Alonso in second while Ocon had fallen 4.7s away from the Aston Martin after seven laps.
On Lap 11, Sainz tagged the back of Ocon as they braked for the Nouvelle Chicane, damaging the Ferrari’s front wing.
The bulk of the structure remained intact, though the left-side end fence was shed half a lap later.
Ferrari initially prepared to box the Spaniard before opting to leave him out.
He remained fourth behind the Alpine, who’d fallen 11s back from Alonso in second after 12 laps.
A slow lap from Alonso on Lap 13 saw the Aston Martin driver lose a second to Verstappen ahead, while reporting a suspected front-left puncture.
There was no such concern from the pit wall, advising everything looked good on the telemetry.
A shocker from Sargeant saw the American leave the door open for Kevin Magnussen to walk through at Mirabeau on Lap 17.
Soon after, Stroll got by at La Rascasse, followed by Perez.
It was a dismal lap from Sargeant who then fell victim to Zhou at the hairpin.
Soon after, he was in the lane for his first stop, only to pick up a puncture and return to the lane just a handful of laps later.
The threat of rain, which had diminished over forecasts earlier in the week, remained.
Predictions varied from the skies opening anywhere from Lap 35 to the end of the race, complicating the decision-making on the pit wall.
Verstappen was on the medium tyres, but having opened an 11s lead was beginning to lose time in traffic while complaining about his front-left tyre.
In two laps, his gap to Ocon had reduced to 7.9s, though the Frenchman was yet to reach the traffic the leader was dealing with.
While others were waiting on the weather, Mercedes pulled the trigger and pitted Lewis Hamilton.
He emerged in clear air with a new set of hard compound tyres on Lap 32, while Ocon was in as Alpine covered the threat posed by Hamilton, doing so with ease.
Sainz then headed to the lane, Ferrari unable to leap ahead of Ocon.
Verstappen was getting frustrated out front, terming his car ‘undriveable’.
However, with Alonso within his pit window, the Dutchman was unable to pit else he handed the initiative to the Aston Martin.
Perez was having an eventful afternoon, following Verstappen through as the race leader lapped Lance Stroll, arguably cutting the Nouvelle Chicane to do so.
Just two laps later he tagged the rear of Magnussen, whose car had briefly gone into anti-stall, damaging his front wing and forcing him into the lane.
Running third, Leclerc stopped after 44 laps, rejoining eighth, behind Ocon, Sainz, and Hamilton, all of whom had already taken service.
With 28 laps remaining, rain was reported around the hairpin and Portier while Russell noted it was spitting at Turn 3 – Massenet.
The Mercedes driver followed that up by suggesting the conditions were intensifying.
The track was notably slippery on Lap 52 with Red Bull telling Verstappen to make the call on when to stop.
Valtteri Bottas and Stroll pulled the trigger early.
Running down the order, they had little to lose as they stopped for inters, the pair enjoying an immediate pace advantage over those on slicks.
The complication was much of the circuit was dry, with the run through Massenet, the hairpin and Portier notably wet.
On the far side of the tunnel, however, it was dry.
Alonso stopped on Lap 55, taking on a set of medium tyres while everyone else taking to the lane went with the intermediate tyres.
Verstappen disagreed and insisted when he stopped that he have a set of inters bolted on, Red Bull fitting them at the end of Lap 54.
That came as Sainz had a moment at Massenet as the weather continued to creep around the circuit.
Alonso was immediately back in, the circuit completely wet, taking on a set of inters but holding on to second place.
Ferrari double-stacked its two drivers who’d found themselves on track after Sainz’s spin.
Two moments for Stroll saw the Canadian understeer at the hairpin to dislodge the front wing, which became trapped under the car before being dislodged as he was unable to steer at the following right-hander. He stopped on track soon after, the race’s first retirement.
Still on hard tyres, Magnussen went straight on at La Rascasse, reversing and taking to the lane where he took on a set of the full wet tyres.
Outside the points, Perez also rolled the dice and took on a set of the full wets.
Russell picked up a five-second penalty after he skated long at Mirabeau, rejoining into the path of Perez.
Conditions then eased. It remained wet but a dryer line appeared as the rain subsided.
At the start of Lap 69, Norris put a move on a struggling Tsunoda, while a lap later Piastri followed his McLaren team-mate through.
Both had been done into Sainte Devote before the Scuderia AlphaTauri driver then ran long under braking at Mirabeau.
From there, aside from a late stop for Perez for a set of intermediate tyres, the race played out to the finish.
It saw Verstappen win comfortably from Alonso, with Ocon claiming a stunning third for Alpine.
Piastri was a strong 10th for McLaren, picking up points on his Monaco debut despite the difficult conditions, one spot back from team-mate Lando Norris.
Completing the 10 was Hamilton in fourth, then Russell, Leclerc, Pierre Gasly, and Sainz.