Thursday, November 30, 2023

Dramatic battle sees Verstappen take his third pole of the season in Monaco

The high pressure of Saturday Qualifying at the Monaco Grand Prix has once again proven to be intense and dynamic, with Max Verstappen ultimately taking pole position after a nail-biting final minute of running, now set to start alongside Fernando Alonso on the front row on race day. 

As per usual around the streets of Monte Carlo, drivers were pushing for every fraction of a second while fighting to avoid a clash with the barriers– and this year Sergio Pérez was the one to see his qualifying come to an early end. 

Q1: Sergio Perez crashes out, both Haas cars eliminated

The field’s lower runners were first out to take on the 3.337km long circuit, looking to squeeze as much time on track as possible during the session’s first fifteen minute segment. As the first laps came through, the contenders for the front rows were already asserting themselves, with Verstappen putting in a 1:13.784 to take an early lead, followed by team-mate Perez and the drivers of Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One Team, Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll. 

With just over eleven minutes left, Pérez endured a high speed crash at Sainte Dévote, putting him out of the running early on and causing a red flag. His time of 1:13.850 placed him fifth in the standings when the flag was flown, but he would drop down into the relegation zone soon after the session resumed and the circuit continued to grip up.

Track evolution allowed for a constant shuffling of the field as the session continued, with the likes of Alex Albon and Yuki Tsunoda holding the top spot at some point in Q1. Verstappen’s next time of 1:12.644 allowed him to set the pace with about five minutes left. 

Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hülkenberg sat at the end of the order and in danger of elimination, along with Zhou Guanyu, Logan Sargeant and Perez. Magnussen’s final attempt saw him reach eleventh, but it was ultimately not enough to keep him in the game. Team-mate Hülkenberg met a similar fate, setting a lap for twelfth place before sliding back down into the relegation zone as others continued into the last minute. 

Lewis Hamilton found himself in a precarious situation in the final minute, cutting nouvelle chicane on a flying lap. With less than a minute to get to the start line and put in one lap and emerge from the bottom five, he was ultimately able to put together a lap for seventh place– securing his position in Q2. 

Zhou couldn’t break out from the elimination zone with his last lap, taking nineteenth at the checkered flag. Oscar Piastri, on the other hand, was able to jump up to twelfth and avoid elimination. Both Haas cars, Magnussen and Hülkenberg, ended up in seventeenth and eighteenth respectively, while Logan Sargeant would take sixteenth– just six hundredths away from safety. At the hand of his unfortunate crash, Pérez will start at the back on Sunday. 

Verstappen lead the segment of qualifying with a 1:12.386, followed by Tsunoda and Albon in second and third with great showings around Monte Carlo. 

Q2: Norris clashes with barrier, Verstappen tightens hold on lead

Q2 saw a similar start to Q1, with Verstappen making another strong start to the session. Alonso was close behind, as well as BWT Alpine F1 Team’s Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly. Tsunoda was late to put in a time, suffering a lock-up that saw him take to the pits before setting a representative lap. 

With just under eight minutes to go, Scuderia Ferrari and McLaren F1 Team made up the middle section of the top ten, with Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team’s George Russell and Hamilton on the edge of relegation. An incident was noted by the stewards of Lance Stroll, who was sitting in the bottom five, missing the weighbridge on his way to the pits. 

Hamilton, Albon, Stroll, Nyck de Vries and Tsunoda were at risk of elimination at the five minutes left mark. Another attempt for Hamilton earns him only a position, still well in danger in tenth place. In the moments after, he reported an issue with his right-rear suspension. Tsunoda returned to the top ten with a lap for seventh place, putting Hamilton back into the bottom five. 

With just over two minutes left, Norris suffers a hefty scrape against a wall that caused some damage to his car. Still able to return to the pits, he would not get another chance to make a lap in Q2 and improve from ninth. 

Stroll is in the pits as the checkered flag is waved, eliminated along with de Vries and Alex Albon, who were unable to crack the top ten with their final laps. Piastri was knocked back into the elimination zone as Hamilton’s final lap sees him take fifth. Valtteri Bottas rounds out the field in fifteenth place.

The top three in this segment consist of leader Verstappen with a 1:11.908, hometown favorite Charles Leclerc, and a consistent Alonso. Norris makes Q3 by a narrow margin, getting through in tenth place despite not putting in another lap after the incident.

Q3: Verstappen comes out ahead after a final rush for pole

By Q3, it is clear that it is Verstappen’s pole to lose, having taken the top spot in both sections prior. His first lap time of 1:12.102, however, left the door open for his nearest rivals– Alonso would take provisional pole with a 1:11.706, followed by both Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Leclerc. Verstappen dropped down to fourth after the initial laps. 

Norris remained in the pits for the first part of the session, but was able to rejoin on track with six minutes to go after an impressive repair job by the McLaren crew. However, his first effort saw him reach only ninth place.

The rush for first continued, with pole position passed from driver to driver– Verstappen retook provisional pole by five hundredths of a second at the five minute mark before Ocon put in a shocking lap to best him with a 1:11.553.

The latest laps were most competitive due to aggressive track evolution, and the pole was passed to Leclerc for his time of 1:11.471 and then again to Alonso, narrowly besting the Monegasque driver with a 1:11.449. 

It was down to a final lap from Verstappen to decide if Alonso would earn his first pole of the season. Two sectors in, Verstappen was two tenths off of the time to beat– but a blazing final sector allowed him to secure pole by just eight hundredths of a second. 

Pos No Driver Nat. Car Q1 Q2 Q3 Laps
1 1 Max Verstappen NED Red Bull Racing 1:12.386 1:11.908 1:11.365 30
2 14 Fernando Alonso ESP Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team 1:12.886 1:12.107 1:11.449 25
3 16 Charles Leclerc MON Scuderia Ferrari 1:12.912 1:12.103 1:11.471 26
4 31 Esteban Ocon FRA BWT Alpine F1 Team 1:12.967 1:12.248 1:11.553 26
5 55 Carlos Sainz ESP Scuderia Ferrari 1:12.717 1:12.210 1:11.630 28
6 44 Lewis Hamilton GBR Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team 1:12.872 1:12.156 1:11.725 30
7 10 Pierre Gasly FRA BWT Alpine F1 Team 1:13.033 1:12.169 1:11.933 25
8 63 George Russell GBR Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team 1:12.769 1:12.151 1:11.964 29
9 22 Yuki Tsunoda JAP Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:12.642 1:12.249 1:12.082 29
10 4 Lando Norris GBR McLaren 1:12.877 1:12.377 1:12.254 23
11 81 Oscar Piastri AUS McLaren F1 Team 1:13.006 1:12.395  22
12 21 Nyck de Vries NED Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:13.054 1:12.428  20
13 23 Alex Albon THA Williams Racing 1:12.706 1:12.527  19
14 18 Lance Stroll CAN Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team 1:12.722 1:12.623  19
15 77 Valtteri Bottas FIN Alfa Romeo Racing 1:13.038 1:12.625  22
16 2 Logan Sergeant USA Williams Racing 1:13.113   13
17 20 Kevin Magnussen DEN MoneyGram Haas F1 Team 1:13.270   9
18 27 Nico Hülkenberg GER MoneyGram Haas F1 Team 1:13.279   8
19 24 Zhou Guanyu CHN Alfa Romeo Racing 1:13.523   13
20 11 Sergio Pérez Mex Red Bull Racing 1:13.850 4
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