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Monaco Takeaways: The Verstappen-Alonso F1 show

Monaco Takeaways: The Verstappen Alonso F1 show

Monaco Takeaways: The Verstappen-Alonso F1 show

The 2023 Monaco Grand Prix was supposed to be the first Formula 1 weekend where Red Bull would be challenged, but it was only Fernando Alonso who was able to take the fight to Max Verstappen.

Red Bull have been easing their way through their 2023 F1 campaign, both their drivers winning all races so far, and the trend continued in Monaco despite Ferrari and Aston Martin looking to give them a hard time, with predictions that the RB19 might not be able to flex its muscles as usual.

Well, Ferrari went AWOL, and the task of challenging Max Verstappen was left for Fernando Alonso, especially with Sergio Perez putting himself out of contention, while Mercedes were trying to find their feet with their heavily upgraded W14.

And challenge he did, as the Spaniard pushed the Dutchman to the very limit in Qualifying, the latter’s final barrier-scraping lap in Q3, a clear proof of how deep he had to dig to prevail, doing so with the slightest of margins (0.084s) and all in the final sector (he was down three tenths before that) a part of the circuit he has dominated all weekend long.

On the other hand, Charles Leclerc’s homecoming will have to wait for another year, as he and Ferrari were nowhere to be found, despite some flashes of speed in qualifying, but the F1 weekend at the principality was a blue and green affair, with some touches of pink.

Here are some takeaways from the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix.

Two generations slug it out

As mentioned, Monaco was not going to be a walk in the park for Red Bull and Verstappen, as the tight circuit layout would theoretically play into the hand of their rivals, and despite always featuring in the sharp end of the standings, the Milton Keynes outfit and their star driver had to work hard for the win, which in a way makes one wonder as to whether they can be beaten in 2023.

On the other hand, Alonso and Aston Martin rose to the occasion, and it was a joy to see the sport’s oldest driver slugging it out with its new superstar as both delivered flawless performances, evident by how close they were in qualifying.

The race was always going to augment Red Bull’s advantage, as this has been the case thus far in 2023, but right until Aston Martin made the wrong call on Alonso’s tyres when the rain came, their driver had a serious chance to win the race, and if not, just make his Red Bull rival’s life a miserable hell in the final part of it.

But keep in mind, that up until Red Bull were given the rain lifeline, Verstappen had to drive a very calculated race on the medium tyres, as his rival had the advantage of the hards, and he did so beautifully, showing once again how far he has come to becoming a complete racing driver, not just a blindingly fast one.

The battle between those two was a joy and privilege to watch, Verstappen the star of the new F1 generation getting better and better race by race, and Alonso arguably the best of the old guard, delivering relentlessly regardless of his age. Sheer brilliance from both.

In the end it was Verstappen who won, but no one would’ve begrudged Alonso his 33rd win which – from what we’ve seen over the Monaco weekend – is not far away.

A second chance for Otmar Szafnauer?

Another highlight from F1’s Monaco weekend, was Esteban Ocon clinching a deserved third place on Sunday in the face of much adversity. This couldn’t have come at a better time for the under-pressure Alpine team and their boss Otmar Szafnauer.

Recently, over the Miami weekend, Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi blasted his F1 team for the poor performance they have delivered so far in 2023, insisting heads would roll if the situation doesn’t improve, and pointing out that the “Buck stops with Otmar“. There were also some murmurs in the F1 paddock that the French team are courting former Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto to replace the under-fire Szafnauer.

However, Ocon’s brilliant podium – his qualifying equally so – and Pierre Gasly also scoring points in seventh, capped off a fruitful weekend for the Enstone-based squad in Monaco, which could give them and their boss some breathing space, as they try to move forward from their slump.

Now we have to be careful, that Alpine’s result is track specific, as the slow speed corners suited their A523 and its torque-y Renault power unit, but what bodes well for them is the fact they ran a clean, error-free operation over the whole weekend, something they have struggled with in 2023.

Regardless of what the future holds for Alpine, they leave Monaco with the perfect result and they deserve it. As for Szafnauer, has he earned his second chance? Or is it already too late?

Monaco, the Crown Jewel of F1

Monaco has been the subject of gossip regarding its future on the F1 calendar, as Liberty Media continue to bring in new, high-paying venues, as their only aim is milking the sport down to the last dime.

But this past weekend in Monaco served a perfect reminder as to why the principality belongs on the F1 calendar with a thrilling qualifying on Saturday, followed by an intriguing race in mixed conditions.

Just to say, the number of overtakes during an F1 race is not and should not be the judge of how good it is, the proof being Sunday’s Grand Prix where, up until the rain hit the track, no one could’ve predicted who would win, given Alonso’s tyre advantage over Verstappen. It was a battle of strategies being devised behind the scenes, as the 20 best drivers in the world worked hard at their steering wheels to make sure they kept their cars out of the barriers.

And then you get the saying that Monaco is too narrow and that F1 has outgrown it with the new wider cars which makes overtaking more difficult. Carlos Sainz shamelessly said that after his botched attempt to pass Esteban Ocon on Sunday.

Well, with the track being narrow, the emphasis is on the drivers making sure they use all of their skills to avoid crashing when on the limit, which gives us qualifying sessions like the one we had last weekend.

As for the race, a driver chasing the other, putting him under extreme pressure, waiting for a mistake, or the smallest of gaps to open before sending it, is simply a rewarding experience to the avid motorsport fan, unlike artificial DRS-aided passes, which have become so common in today’s F1.

So to all the naysayers, Monaco was, is, and will be F1’s Crown Jewel, even if Liberty do the unthinkable and push it off the sport’s calendar.

Quick hits

  • A decent start of life for Mercedes’ upgraded W14, although we will not get to know how good it is until the next race in Barcelona, and credit for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell for their performances in the new car finishing the race fourth and fifth respectively.
  • What a difference a year makes, Sergio Perez going from hero to zero, after an embarrassing outing at the scene of one his greatest career victories.
  • Is it just me, or was the Triple Crown livery McLaren ran on their MCL60 in Monaco just ugly? At least Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri scored some points…
  • Once again, what is going on with Lance Stroll? His performance in Monaco, awful in Qualifying, then playing bumper carts during the race poses some serious questions regarding his form, especially when Alonso is flying up at the front.
    His performance, or lack of it that is, puts Aston Martin in a difficult position in the Constructors’ Championship as they are only one point ahead of Mercedes, with Alonso only delivering points every race. But no worries, father Lawrence will dish out some money to compensate for the losses in the team’s prize money.