MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2023 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Verstappen: A difficult start but a good end

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2023 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Max Verstappen was slow out of the blocks today, but between FP1 and FP2 at the Monaco Grand Prix on Friday, the double Formula 1 World Champion found the sweetspot in the Red Bull RB19 to end day one, in Monte Carlo, fastest of all.

During the morning session under the splendid Cote d’Azur sunshine, Verstappen was not happy with the setup of the car and informed them they had to live with it for the first session on the Monaco streets.

By the afternoon, the track had rubbered up, gifting the field about a second or more with grip from rubber laid down in FP1 and also by support races on the bill this weekend. Verstappen’s best effort was 1:14.244 and only good for sixth, even a quarter second slower than Sergio Perez in the sister Red Bull.

But that changed in the afternoon, as the between-session changes to the RB19 worked a treat as he popped up top of the time screens with a 1:12.462s – nearly two seconds faster than earlier. Notably only a tad quicker than Charles Leclerc, who was second quickest in the Ferrari, ending the day 0.065s off the top time. It’s close at the top.

Max: I’m looking forward to qualifying, let’s see what we can do

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing prepares to drive in the garage during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2023 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Reflecting on his day at Monaco, Verstappen said in the team report: “FP1 was quite tricky today, I wasn’t happy with the ride of the car but FP2 was much better, the car was a lot more competitive. Compared to Ferrari, I think the handling is still lacking on the curbs and the drops in camber.

“We need to work on that ahead of [Saturday] because you can see that they are still very close, we’ll need more for qualifying to stay ahead of them. I felt more confident in FP2 to push a bit more, we had a difficult start but a good end. I’m looking forward to qualifying, let’s see what we can do.”

Verstappen is the favourite for everything these days, favoured to take Pole, to win the race and to win this Championship, such has been the dominance of Red Bull this season.

But, this weekend it appears closer than expected, as Ferrari have a nimble car with two drivers capable of taking the top spot start should they enjoy a good Saturday. It is well known that to win the race around the twisty unpassable streets of the Principality, starting from P1 on the grid is the hardest part of the job.

Perez: It wasn’t a great day in terms of pace in the car

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner speaks with Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing in the Pitlane during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2023 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

In the other RBR, Perez found about a second in between sessions, half of what Verstappen extracted, the Mexican ending the day seventh, half a second down on his teammate and only good for seventh.

Perez reported after Friday practice in Monaco: “It wasn’t a great day in terms of pace in the car, I think FP1 went a little bit better than FP2. After the changes we made in the car we have plenty of things to review before tomorrow’s quail.

“I will sit down with my Team and go through everything because every millisecond here is going to make a difference. They are just little things, nothing huge is standing out at the moment, so I am not massively worried. It’s going to be a real challenge heading into qualifying, it’ll be an interesting session.

“We need to make sure we get on top of the tyres and put them in the window at the right time to get the perfect lap around here,” added Perez, who lies second in the 2023 F1 Championship Standings ahead of Round 6 on Sunday in Monaco, trailing Verstappen – who leads – by 14 points.

Red Bull are cantering away with the 2023 F1 Constructors’ Championship, on 224 points more than double their closest challengers, Aston Martin on 102 points.