Monaco kicks off Formula 1’s flood-delayed European season with Fernando Alonso sensing a chance to end dominant Red Bull’s rampaging success at the most glamorous and historic of street circuits, and so far this season.
A home race for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Monaco would have been part two of a triple-header with Italy and Spain but the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix scheduled for Imola last weekend was called off due to devastating floods.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez have won all five races so far this season by some distance, and the last two in Monaco. They will be favourites again but, despite a history of processional races in the principality, the metal-fenced streets of Monte Carlo can bite back — particularly in the wet.
Italian Jarno Trulli took the sole win of his career in Monte Carlo in 2004 and Frenchman Olivier Panis won his only Grand Prix in a wet 1996 race, with only three cars still running at the finish.
Aston Martin’s Alonso, winner in Monaco with Renault and McLaren in 2006 and 2007, will be ready for any opportunity that comes his way after securing four third places so far in 2023.
“We seem to have a car that is maybe not the fastest on the straights. We need to improve that, but we are very good on the corners,” Alonso told Sky Sports television when asked where he might win.
“I would say that the slowest speeds of the championship, let’s say Monaco, Budapest, Singapore; this kind of circuits, I think we put our main hopes at the moment,” added the Spanish veteran.
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Leclerc has secured pole for the last two years on the track which was part of his walk to school but has yet to celebrate on the Monaco royal podium as a F1 driver.
Mercedes are bringing an upgraded car and Monaco is one of seven-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton’s favourite circuits with three previous wins there.
“We are introducing the first step in a new development direction,” said team boss Toto Wolff. “It won’t be a silver bullet; from my experience, they do not exist in our sport.
“We hope that it gives the drivers a more stable and predictable platform. Then we can build on that in the weeks and months ahead.”
Double F1 world champion Verstappen, the 2021 Monaco winner, needs no extra encouragement to assert himself and will want to turn the tables on Perez after losing to him last May. The Mexican crashed in qualifying but still ended up third on the grid and ahead of Verstappen at a circuit where overtaking is extremely difficult.
Verstappen appeared to nurse a grudge for months and refused to give a place back to Perez in Brazil in November, alluding to “something that happened in the past”. Dutch media reported it as payback for Monaco, with Perez having to deny deliberately crashing to prevent Verstappen lapping faster.
The Mexican, now 14 points behind Verstappen, will be looking for a repeat win to get back in the battle: “This is the race every driver wants to win growing up and I was lucky enough to achieve that last season. That has only made me more hungry to stand on the top step once again. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)