Verstappen pips Alonso to thrilling Monaco pole, Perez crashes out

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing celebrates his pole position in qualifying parc ferme. 27.05.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images
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Max Verstappen claimed another outstanding pole position in Saturday's qualifying session in Monaco, but the Red Bull driver was pushed to the absolute limit by a determined Fernando Alonso who came within 0.084s of pulling off a brilliant coup for Aston Martin.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc will line up in third place subject to an investigation for blocking another car during the session. Esteban Ocon was P4 after a fantastic final round effort from the Alpine driver put him ahead of Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen's team mate Sergio Perez will start from the back of the grid after suffering a heavy accident at the start of a flying lap early in the first round of qualifying. McLaren also have a lot of work to do overnight repairing Lando Norris' car after a crash at the end of Q2.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Alpine F1 Team A523 and Pierre Gasly (FRA) Alpine F1 Team A523 leave the pits with other cars during qualifying. 27.05.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Monaco may be the grand old dame of Formula 1, but she had already shown that she still had all her own teeth this weekend - and that they were razor sharp, having taken bites out of Carlos Sainz and Alex Albon on Friday, and Lewis Hamilton in final practice earlier on Saturday. That was just hours before the cars lined up to get underway for one of the most crucial qualifying sessions of the season, taking place on this occasion under blue skies and warm Mediterranean late May sunshine.

Q1: Verstappen fastest from Tsunoda and Albon as Perez crashes out

First to head out was Alex Albon, needing all the time in the recently repaired Williams than he could get, followed by his team mate Logan Sargeant and by AlphaTauri rookie Nyck de Vries. The rest of the field was soon in hot pursuit, although Aston Martin took a slightly laid back approach to the proceedings and Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll momentarily held back to let the traffic clear. But no one could risk being caught out by red flags for too long, so within a couple of minutes even they were heading out to lay down a banker lap.

With a certain inevitability it was the Red Bulls that took immediate control with Max Verstappen going top with a time of 1:13.784s, 0.066s quicker than his team mate Sergio Perez. The Astons were looking swift in third and fourth for Alonso and Stroll respectively, with local hero Charles Leclerc fifth for Ferrari ahead of Esteban Ocon, Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda. But these were just initial feints, as proven by Alfa Romeo's Zhou Guanyu promptly going top by 0.008s.

The McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri had just found more pace to go one-two, when the red flags were out - and it was for Perez. He had just been starting a new flying lap when he had been put off by traffic and duly crashed exiting the first corner, in similar manner to Albon's Friday accident. The car came to rest in the middle of the track forcing a red flag. The car was clearly significantly damaged, and the driver was also looking a little crumpled as he was checked over by the medics while the RB19 was craned away by the ever-efficient Monaco marshals. Perhaps it was the blow to his championships prospects that had really knocked the wind out of him.

There were still just a little over 11 minutes left on the clock by the time the session resumed once the marshals had completed repairs on the TechPro barrier that had taken the brunt of Perez' impact. The Ferraris took point as the cars headed back out, with Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and George Russell also keen to get underway as their initial times before the red flag had left them on the cusp of elimination.

Albon jumped to the top with his run while Hamilton's was relatively sedate. Russell did better but Verstappen was soon back in charge again. There were good efforts from the Alpine and AlphaTauri cars while Alonso succeeded in planting the Aston flag on the summit with a new time to beat of 1:12.886s. By comparison, The two Haas cars were waiting in pit lane before deploying new sets of softs at the optimum moment; by this point the only other car not in the fray was that of Perez. He was now down to P17 with no chance of making the first cut.

Verstappen was back on top by 0.242s from Alonso, and Leclerc jumped into the safety of third place ahead of Stroll, Ocon, Russell, Gasly, Tsunoda, Norris and de Vries, pushing Albon down to 11th just ahead of Hamilton leaving both in growing danger of being eliminated. With two minutes remaining, those in the drop zone included Sainz, Sargeant, Zhou and Valtteri Bottas. But it was far from decided, as an eye-catching flier from Tsunoda demonstrated when it put the Japanese driver on top by two thousandths of a second from Verstappen. The Red Bull quickly responded to snatch the spotlight back: "I did ride the wall a little bit but I think it's fine," he reported to the pit wall, while meanwhile Leclerc was complaining that he had been baulked by his own team mate on that run.

Hamilton's latest bid for safety was thwarted by a lock-up and overrun at the Nouvelle Chicane. He had one last chance to regroup and go again, and that saw him lightly brush the wall before leaping into the top ten where he could breathe again. Also leaving it to the last second was Sainz whose post-chequered flag finish finally saw him up to fourth - albeit somewhat overshadowed by a last flier from Albon which put the Williams third. It looked like Sargeant would join him in Q2 but a final run from Piastri saw the McLaren through and the American knocked out along with Kevin Magnussen, Nico Hulkenberg, Zhou and the already-sidelined Perez.

Alex Albon (THA), Williams F1 Team 27.05.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Charniaux / XPB Images

Q2: Verstappen cruises into the final round ahead of Leclerc, Alonso and Russell

There was barely time to draw breath before the second round of qualifying was underway. Verstappen was once again straight down to it with a time of 1.12.038s putting him ahead of Gasly, Alonso, Ocon and then the two Ferraris and their McLaren counterparts. The Mercedes cars were struggling to make it into the top ten, while Albon was yet to come close to repeating his earlier Q1 pace and Tsunoda not yet even having emerged from the AlphaTauri garage.

Meanwhile Verstappen was cheerfully pushing on with a new fastest lap time of 1:11.908s putting him two tenths clear of Alonso, Gasly, Ocon, Sainz, Leclerc, Norris, Piastri and Bottas in ninth leaving Hamilton and Russell fighting over the final transfer spot. Russell bolted on new tyres and put them to good use by charging up to P3, but Hamilton was less effective and remained on the bubble in tenth as he complained about his right rear suspension over the team radio, a possible legacy of his FP3 crash and rapid lunchtime repairs, or perhaps that light swipe at the end of Q1.

Leclerc managed to thread his way four thousandths of a second ahead of Alonso to take second behind Verstappen. Sainz couldn't match that and remained in P7, and promptly found himself in eighth as Tsunoda finally put in a flying lap time pushing Hamilton back down into the drop zone. Norris was just hanging in there in ninth but then thumped the barrier at Tabac doing heavy damage to the MCL60 on both sides; crucially he was just about able to nurse the damaged car back to pit lane without triggering a red flag.

Even so, de Vries and Stroll ran out of time to begin a final run and were duly knocked out. Hamilton did get to go again, and despite complaining that he'd not had time to warm his tyres before starting his run he still managed to produce enough speed to move up to fifth just behind Russell. His improvement cost Piastri a chance of a place in the final round, and Bottas and Albon also failed to find the extra speed required to make the threshold, which meant that Norris had actually just make it through to Q3 - although the damage to his car made it highly unlikely that he could play anything other than a cameo role in the remaining round despite the mechanics springing into a frenzy of activity during the intermission.

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Aston Martin F1 Team AMR23. 27.05.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images

Q3: Verstappen narrowly foils Alonso's hopes of clinching Monaco pole

Verstappen was the first to head out when the lights at the end of pit lane went green, opting to go straight out on fresh tyres while the Alpine pair were on a used set to start the final round. He duly went top, but it wasn't as good as he had been hoping for and he was soon bettered by Alonso going 1:11.706s with Leclerc then slotting between the pair for second place. Sainz then split the difference between Alonso and Leclerc to take provisional second for himself with just 0.053s covering the top three while Verstappen was left over three tenths down in fourth - which promptly became fifth when Russell completed his slightly quicker lap.

There was little surprise when Verstappen's next push lap put the Red Bull on top with a time of 1:11.654s. But just when it looked as though the championship leader was assured of pole, there was a surprise contender in the form of Ocon going a tenth quicker still with three minutes remaining. There was also a cheer from the crowd as the somewhat scuffed McLaren rose from the dead and emerged from pit lane to complete a timed lap to put Lando Norris into P9.

Now it was Ferrari's turn to play their hand, Leclerc laying claim to the top spot - only for Alonso to go 0.022s quicker still. Could Alonso's time survive one final assault from Verstappen? It was a nail-biting finish to the session, with the man managing to meet the mark with a time of 1:11.365s to beat Alonso by 0.084s. Despite the disappointment, Alonso will be delighted to be starting tomorrow's race from the front row alongside the Dutch driver.

In the process, Leclerc was bumped down to third alongside Ocon with Sainz and Hamilton teaming up on the row behind. Gasly finished seventh followed by Russell, with Tsunoda set to start the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix from ninth having managed to put in a time slightly better than Norris before the finish.

Qualifying top three in parc ferme (L to R): Fernando Alonso (ESP) Aston Martin F1 Team, second; Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing, pole position; Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari, third. 27.05.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

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