Verstappen tops second Monaco practice as Sainz crashes

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19. 26.05.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Price / XPB Images
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Championship leader Max Verstappen successfully shrugged off a sluggish start to the Monaco Grand Prix weekend to finish Friday on top in second practice by 0.065s from local hero Charles Leclerc.

Leclerc's Ferrari team mate and FP1 pace setter Carlos Sainz had been enjoying another strong session and was third fastest at the time he hit the wall in turn 16 to trigger a red flag stoppage.

Fernando Alonso was fourth for Aston Martin ahead of an uncharacteristic flier from McLaren's Lando Norris in fifth. They were followed by Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and by Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull.

Carlos Sainz had been fastest in the midday first practice session despite the Ferrari glancing the wall at the start, but with no lasting damage unlike both Nico Hulkenberg and Alex Albon who has triggered red flags after more substantial hits. The damage to the Williams had been serious enough that the engineers were still working on repairs to Albon's gearbox, rear wing, front wing and front left suspension when the lights went green for the start of FP2, but Hulkenberg was straight out to make up for lost time in the Haas.

George Russell (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W14. 26.05.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

After a subdued time earlier, George Russell was looking more up to speed and immediately went top with a time of 1:15.482s. That was was five thousandths clear of Max Verstappen with Sainz initially third despite starting the session on hard tyres. But Monaco is a track that evolves quickly within any given session, and soon it was Fernando Alonso on top with a time of 1:14.611s, four thousandths quicker than Russell's Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen's next run was quick enough to move the goalposts significantly with a time of 1:13.985s proving some three tenths quicker than Sergio Perez, with Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon also making their bow in top four. But they were soon hustled by a further flurry of flying laps, including Hamilton briefly going top before Verstappen once again went 0.127s quicker with a time of 1:13.857s, and Alonso pipping Perez to pick up third. There was also a good lap for Yuki Tsunoda putting the AlphaTauri into sixth ahead of Sainz.

Albon was still firmly stuck in the pits, but Lando Norris had finally made it out. The McLaren mechanics had spent extra time checking the suspension of the MCL60 before clearing him for departure on hard tyres after a 12 minute delay, which saw him go 13th. By now Verstappen had trimmed the top time to 1:13.567s ahead of the latest runs from Alonso, Russell, Sainz, Hamilton, Ocon, Kevin Magnussen and Pierre Gasly. Stroll was ninth ahead of Perez after the Red Bull made a mistake at the chicane and had to abort his latest run. Meanwhile homeboy Charles Leclerc had been labouring outside the top ten and was just 12th quickest, but as the track began to thin out with drivers heading back to pit lane it was a chance for the Monegasque to finally get a clear run and go sixth.

Perez also finally got another clean lap of his own in, vaulting past Leclerc to go second by less than a tenth from Verstappen, who responded in turn by putting in a new effort of 1:13.312s. Sainz was now up to third, and another good run from Leclerc meant the Monaco native was just a few hundredths behind in fourth followed by Alonso. He had bolted on a new set of soft tyres on the Aston Martin and came back out ready to play, immediately going half a second quicker than the Red Bulls with a time of 1:12.786s, the soft-shod Ocon second ahead of the similarly sprightly Russell and Hamilton. Soon there was a big move from Sainz putting the Ferrari top on 1:12.569s keeping him ahead of new runs from Alonso and Leclerc, with a surge from Valtteri Bottas briefly putting the Alfa Romeo into fourth until deposed by the latest effort from Hamilton.

Verstappen had been in no rush and bided his time in the Red Bull garage before finally heading back out for his first run on the soft tyres. However traffic meant that it proved only enough for third behind Sainz and Alonso, albeit ahead of Leclerc and Perez. That bumped Hamilton to sixth from Bottas, Gasly, Ocon and Stroll, and Russell just outside the top ten in P11.

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Aston Martin F1 Team AMR23. 26.05.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Price / XPB Images

Norris was finally finding his rhythm and the McLaren now bounced up into the top five, a respectable 0.337s off Sainz' milestone which continued to top the timesheets - despite another push lap from Alonso, who had encountered traffic on his way. Verstappen finally had a clear run to put in a new time of 1:12.462s, a tenth quicker than Sainz. At the other end of the timesheets it was perhaps unsurprising to find the three rookies (Nyck de Vries, Oscar Piastri, Logan Sargeant) slowest as they tried to get their heads around the unique challenge of Monaco.

By contrast, Leclerc held the home advantage and used it now to move into second place just 0.065s slower than Verstappen. But just as things were looking good for Ferrari, Sainz ended up hitting the wall at the exit of the turn 16 chicane in the Swimming Pool, the same spot where Leclerc memorably crashed two years ago. Retrieval operations triggered a brief six minute red flag, which meanwhile allowed Tsunoda to limp home to pit lane having clipped the barrier and punctured his rear tyre in a separate incident.

Although we had lost Sainz and Tsunoda, it was good to see Albon finally back out on track and feeling his way on soft tyres, albeit with an older spec rear wing after the Williams mechanics successfully completed their repair work. Norris had also headed back out but got an immediate recall order from the McLaren pit wall, which had detected an issue on the car. Meanwhile Verstappen was back on the medium tyres, suggesting there was no more improvement to come from the Red Bull today and that the focus was on longer distance runs in the remaining time available to the drivers before the chequered flag.

Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren. 26.05.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Verstappen ended the session on top from Leclerc and Sainz, with Alonso surviving a late wild slide to finish in fourth followed by Norris, Hamilton, Perez, Bottas, Gasly and Ocon. Stroll was 11th ahead of Russell, Zhou Guanyu, Magnussen, Hulkenberg, Tsunoda, de Vries and Piastri, with Albon finishing his truncated session in P19 ahead of team mate Sargeant.

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