On what appears to be an increasingly inexorable path to his third Formula One championship, Max Verstappen is unlikely to be derailed by any significant obstacles. Undoubtedly, the annoyance of heavy rain at the Monaco Grand Prix brought out the world champion’s best, as he once again dominated on the streets of Monte Carlo to win a race that was rescued from its usual tedious procession by welcome late drama when the skies opened.
After Saturday’s gripping qualifying, a fearsome, thrilling, sudden-death shootout that was impossible to disregard, the race on the streets of the principality had every indication of delivering the usual line-eastern anticlimax for the majority of the afternoon. F1’s crown jewel was again a dusty, flawed, shabby paste traded in a pub’s back room. The danger, drama, and daunting challenge intensified as it rained.
However, in both scenarios, Verstappen was magnificent. After Verstappen led the first 50 circuits, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon finished second and third. After leading into turn one, he was uncontested until the first pit stops.
However, when the rain began falling on the track on lap 51 and increased steadily in intensity, the race’s complexion changed.
Aston Martin made a mistake by dispatching Alonso into the pits for dry rather than intermediate tires during moments of high intensity, as Verstappen brushed the wall at Portiers on his way to take the wet rubber. The Spaniard’s chance of an early undercut on the intermediates and a victory were lost, as he had to follow him in again to do the same.
Several vehicles, including those driven by Carlos Sainz, George Russell, Lance Stroll, Kevin Magnussen, and Yuki Tsunoda, swerved and slid through the streets around them, demonstrating how difficult the conditions were.
With Lewis Hamilton and Russell finishing fourth and fifth in their newly upgraded Mercedes, they made the most of the changing conditions, certainly in terms of the team making the right call on pitting for wet tires, but Hamilton emphasized how treacherous the track had been, particularly in the opening moments as it transitioned from dry to wet.
“It was very, very bad,” he stated.
“There’s no way to convey how difficult it was for me. I couldn’t get the Intermediate tires warm enough, so I had to tiptoe. When my tires failed to function, I felt as if I were on the ice, as I was extremely restless.
After Verstappen, Alonso, and Ocon were on the right tyres, he controlled the wreckage in his wake.
Verstappen summed up the dilemma he had encountered. “When you’re that far in the lead, you don’t want to push too hard, but you also don’t want to lose too much time,” he explained. Therefore, it is quite challenging in this scenario, and I have hit the walls several times. It was extremely challenging out there, but such is life in Monaco.”
His team’s principal was anxious that the track had again shown it needed to be changed before the rain. Christian Horner stated, “Monaco is here because of its history and uniqueness. However, the issue now is that automobiles are so large. All venues must evolve, and if there was just one location where you could create an opportunity for an overtake, that would be sufficient.”
Despite the late-race drama, it was the Dutchman who had a firm grasp on the race and the championship.
Red Bull was least expected to like this course, which excels in medium- and high-speed bends and straights. Their continued edge over Monaco’s high-downforce, high-ride-height cars is worrisome for the rest of the season. They remain undefeated in 2023 and have once again demonstrated that they are capable of a perfect season.
Verstappen effortlessly sashayed his car through the streets on the slippery surface as the numbers danced. This was his 39th career victory, and with teammate Sergio Pérez finishing 16th after crashing during qualifying and starting from the rear of the grid, Verstappen now leads Pérez by 39 points in the world championship after just six races. He is now Red Bull’s most successful driver, surpassing Sebastian Vettel’s 38 victories for the team. But it was impossible not to perceive that he had much higher goals in mind.
“If you’ve had a good car for a while, you can surpass these figures,” he said. “I never expected to be in this position in my career. And winning this race is better than I could have ever imagined.”
He easily won the championship with four races left last year with a similar margin. Wet or dry, street circuit or high-speed autodrome, it is evident that he will be a formidable opponent this season.
Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finished sixth and eighth for Ferrari, Pierre Gasly finished seventh for Alpine, and Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri finished ninth and tenth for McLaren.