Max Verstappen claimed his fourth win of the year with a "very lovely" victory in the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix despite rain hitting the race soon after midway, causing chaos and quite a few thrills and spills in the process.
Aston Martin threw away their best chance of victory by opting to switch Fernando Alonso to new slicks rather than inters when the rain hit, and had to settle for second ahead of Alpine's Esteban Ocon, Alonso's former team mate.
Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and George Russell just missed out on the podium, even though Russell had received a five second penalty for an unsafe return to the track ahead of Sergio Perez.
The Mexican driver finished in P17 after a horror day placing any chances of the championship in deep doubt. Despite the mayhem from the rain, the only retirements from the race were Aston's Lance Stroll and Haas' Kevin Magnussen.
Miami and Vegas might have the edge when it comes to modern showbiz razzamatazz but no one can beat Monaco when it comes to old world glamour. The grid was packed with the great, the good and the fabulously wealthy as the 20 drivers prepared for the Grand Prix to get underway bathed in sunshine and blue skies - although there were a few more clouds around than previously, and the forecasts hinted at a small chance of showers during the course of the afternoon. Surely some mistake?
Rain seemed the only serious threat to Red Bull's Max Verstappen today, starting on mediums from pole position ahead of Fernando Alonso. Opting for the hard tyres, the Aston Martin driver was always going to give it it his best, but simply staying ahead of Alpine's Esteban Ocon and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz who were starting from the second row was a big enough challenge as it was. Meanwhile local hero Charles Leclerc was starting from sixth behind Lewis Hamilton, after being handed a three place grid drop for impeding McLaren's Lando Norris during the final round of qualifying on Saturday.
The key moment came when the lights went off and the cars charged down to the first corner. It was Alonso's only realistic chance of taking the lead, but Verstappen more than had it covered and the Red Bull sailed through Sainte Devote and up the hill at the head of the field. Meanwhile Alonso managed to hold on to second from Ocon as Sainz repelled an early lunge from Hamilton. But things got messy further back, with a slow Alex Albon backing up the cars behind him contributing to a coming together between Nico Hulkenberg and Logan Sargeant into Mirabeau, plus possible damage for Lance Stroll who had been squeezed into the barrier but who was still able to continue.
It was a slow stop for Hulkenberg who had also picked up a penalty for causing a collision. Zhou Guanyu likewise pitted at the end of lap 1, and Sergio Perez - having started from the back of the grid after crashing in qualifying - came in as well for an opportunistic stop and switch to hard tyres allowing him to pick up a couple of spots and put him back out in clear air, a clever strategic call by the Red Bull team which would only pay off when the first scheduled round of pit stops started to cycle through.
Six laps in, Verstappen was already two seconds clear of Alonso and the pair had dropped Ocon, Sainz, Hamilton, Leclerc and Pierre Gasly, while George Russell was in eighth but under investigation for being out of place on the grid. Mercedes braced themselves for the worst, but when word came down from the race stewards it was big sigh of relief for them with no further action deemed necessary. As a result, he continued to run ahead of AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda and McLaren pair Norris and Oscar Piastri.
Ocon was bottling up the field in third and Sainz' patience finally ran out. He tried a move coming out of the tunnel and into the Nouvelle Chicane on lap 11. There was contact and damage to the Ferrari's front wing left endplate, but it didn't seem to affect the SF-23's pace too seriously and he was able to stay out and continued to apply the pressure on the Alpine. Alonso was briefly concerned about picking up a puncture from the debris, but the Aston pit wall reassured him that all was well. Meanwhile Perez had been making the most of his pit strategy opportunity and was setting fastest laps, but he was still only P18 as he drew up to the back of Stroll, with Zhou closing up behind to join the queue. The contingency plan was not working out for the Mexican after all.
By lap 18, Verstappen's lead over Alonso was up to seven and a half seconds with Ocon a further 15s in arrears and still under heavy pressure from Sainz, Hamilton, Leclerc, Gasly, Russell and Tsunoda. The closest battle on track at this point was between Sargeant and Haas' Kevin Magnussen for 15th, who successfully pushed past at Mirabeau. Sargeant then quickly surrendered positions to Stroll, Perez and Hulkenberg before heading to pit lane for new tyres, his Williams team mate Albon having already made the same decision as the FW45 suffered worse than expected tyre graining.
Sainz was also reporting "higher than expected" graining on the Ferrari, and he was additiionally being warned about the state of his damaged front wing, but he resisted calls to bring him in - seemingly as part of a ruse to prompt Alpine to pit Ocon instead. Sainz was also being warned about the potential of some light rain, as the clouds overhead started to noticeably bulk up and the breeze grew significantly stiffer over the bay.
By now Verstappen was hitting the thick of the backmarkers and losing time getting through the traffic, but the threat of rain meant Red Bull weren't convinced that pitting right now was the right call, and they kept him out despite Alonso's hard tyres now giving him a performance edge. In the end it was Hamilton who pulled the pin on pit stops first and came in on lap 32, followed next time through by Ocon although it was a slow stop by Alpine opening the window for Sainz to try the overcut on lap 34. He didn't make it and was left audibly frustrated by the team's tactics as Ocon, Sainz and Hamilton resumed in the same order in which they had been previously.
Perez' day was going from bad to worse. He took advantage of the race leader (his team mate) lapping him and Stroll to make a move on the Aston only to cut the chicane in the process. He then went into the back of Magnussen, complaining about being brake testing. It forced him to pit for a new front wing, dropping him to P19, but at least the stewards decided that this amounted to 'giving the position back' to Stroll and avoided a penalty. Stroll meanwhile promptly clashed with Magnussen down the inside of Anthony Noghes in their ongoing battle over 14th.
At half distance the top five were yet to stop, but of those only Verstappen had started on the mediums. The rest - Alonso, Leclerc, Gasly, and Russell - were all on their original hard tyres followed by Ocon, Sainz and Hamilton who were the highest runners of those to have made stops. Sainz was still complaining about being called in prematurely, ostensibly to cover Hamilton, but it meant that he had squandered his hard tyre advantage and had to eke out the rest of the race on the mediums.
Leclerc finally bailed out of the fight to pit on lap 45, but despite a smooth 2.2s stop he still emerged some distance behind Hamilton. His stop meant that Gasly was temporarily promoted to third. Unconcerned, Verstappen serenely continued on his original mediums and had stabilised the gap to Alonso, allowing the team to maintain a holding pattern in case the mixed mentions of rain turned out to amount to anything. There had been a few drops at the hairpin on lap 49, while Russell reported 'spitting' as Messenet - and then in a blink of an eye there was proper drizzle moving in from the hills where the clouds were now dark and ominous.
It doesn't take much precipitation to make the street of Monaco turn as slippery as ice, and suddenly the drivers were struggling. Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll both gambled that the rain was here to stay and pitted for intermediates, as did Zhou and Albon, but Red Bull asked Verstappen to stick with it for now despite his well-worn mediums now in a rapidly declining state. Alonso was next in - but amazingly he stayed on the slicks with a switch to mediums. What were Aston thinking? As if the fates were laughing themselves silly at this misstep, Sainz promptly spun and slid off at Mirabeau to underline just how treacherous the conditions now were.
Having clipped the barrier at Portier, Verstappen was finally in for inters - and Alonso was also back in for the same tyre, Aston quickly admitting that that they had blown their first call and thrown any chance of winning the race away as a result. Ferrari had also been thoroughly caught out and now had to double stack their cars for a change to the inters. And yet amazingly, the only real casualty from all this mayhem was Stroll who came to a stop having clouted the wall before the tunnel and wiped out his front wing. Meanwhile the rain continued to pour down.
Magnussen didn't make it back to pit lane before finding the barriers and damaging his front wing, sending him limping back and into retirement. Sargeant had also had a moment and hit the barriers while Russell was dinged a five second penalty for an unsafe return to the track and swiping right across the path of Perez at Sainte Devote. Even as word came down about that decision, Perez himself fishtailed his way through the swimming pool section and nearly came to a premature finish. With little left to lose at this point, Perez had pitted again for full wets while even Verstappen had his hands full and was lucky not to catch the wall.
With 16 laps to go, Verstappen's lead was now 18s over Alonso followed by Ocon, Hamilton and Russell (subject to his penalty) with Leclerc sixth ahead of Gasly, Sainz, Tsunoda and Norris. Piastri was just out of the points in 11th followed by Bottas, Nyck de Vries, Zhou, Albon and Perez, who was the top runner on the full wets followed by Hulkenberg on the same compound.
By now the rain was starting to ease off but the track was still fairly wet with little chance of a return to slicks before the chequered flag. Even so, Verstappen pulled out a full pit stop length of time at the front just in case it was needed. Meanwhile Hamilton was doing his best to pressure Ocon for the final podium position, but further back Tsunoda was struggling with his brakes. He lost out to both Norris and Piastri before sliding off at Mirabeau and dropping to P13 on lap 69. "Brakes are unreal man," Tsunoda wailed, together with other presumably crucial technical data obscured by a very long bleep on the broadcast.
Verstappen had clipped the wall again but without damage or loss of time at the front, and finally he was able to coast his way to the finish to clinch victory ahead of Alonso. Ocon stubbornly resisted attacks from Hamilton to join them on the podium. Russell backed off in the closing laps but still had enough of a margin over Leclerc to hold on to fifth despite his penalty. Rounding out the top ten were Gasly, Sainz, Norris and Piastri, while Bottas, de Vries and Zhou just missed out.