Verstappen bracing for a challenge in 'tricky' Monaco


Max Verstappen is bracing for a tough fight in Monaco this weekend given the legendary street circuit’s unique characteristics that don’t favour Red Bull’s RB20.

After suffering a clear defeat at the hands of Lando Norris and the in-form McLaren team in Miami earlier this month, Verstappen managed to reclaim the top step of the podium in Imola last weekend.

However, the fight was far from one-sided, with a resurgent Norris, breathing down Verstappen's neck in the closing stages of the race and finishing less than a second behind the Dutchman.

The race was another indication that Red Bull's early advantage appears to be shrinking as other teams, particularly McLaren, close the performance gap.

While Verstappen acknowledges the improvements of Red Bull’s car in a low-speed environment, the championship leader remains cautious about his chances of prevailing around Monaco’s tight and twisty layout.

His own words paint a picture of a team preparing for a potentially difficult weekend.

“It’s a completely different track,” the Red Bull driver said on Thursday. “I think looking at the track layout, it’s probably not going to be our best track, just because our car normally struggles a bit over bumps and kerbs.

“We did work on it a bit compared to last year. I think so far, on most of the tracks that we’ve been to, our low-speed performance has improved a little bit. But I don’t think this is going to be a very easy weekend."

Red Bull has been invincible in the last three races held in Monte Carlo, with Verstappen winning twice and teammate Sergio Perez triumphing in 2022.

But being armed with the best car on the grid is no guarantee for success in the glitzy but unforgiving Principality.

“Monaco is never very straightforward, even when you are supposed to have the best car,” said Verstappen.

“It’s a very tricky track to get everything to work, get the tyres to work in a quali lap, for example. Red flags – there’s always a lot of disruption and a lot of things can go right, but also a lot of things can go wrong.

“So we just need to be honest. Of course, Imola started off really bad and we managed to turn it around. I wouldn’t want to have a weekend like that again – it’s quite stressful and not nice.

“But we know that this is a more difficult track for us, even though we have won here in the past. It’s quite complicated. So we’ll see where we’re at tomorrow.”

Verstappen unsurprisingly singled out Ferrari and McLaren as Red Bull’s likely strongest opponents.

“In the last few years, I think Ferrari has always been very, very strong here,” he added. “Plus McLaren, lately, their last two races really ramped up in performance. So they for sure are the ones to watch as well.

“In Monaco, you might have some surprises – last year Esteban did an amazing lap as well in qualifying.

“So these kind of things in Monaco, they can happen when someone feels really good and confident. So we’ll see what happens.”

After enjoying a succession of dominant runs to the world title in 2022 and 2023, Verstappen is tempering expectations for the championship’s upcoming races.

The 26-year-old is clearly anticipating a more challenging battle against his competitors this year.

“I think after Miami, it was quite clear when we went to Imola that it had all closed up quite a bit, even though Imola was probably also not our easiest weekend,” he said.

“It will depend now who will put more performance on the car, find the best possible set-up on the car. But for sure things have closed up, which – I think from our side – makes it very important to try and be at our very best – 100%.

“I know that is not always a very realistic possibility, but you always try to get to a certain point and maybe the last few races we haven’t been operating at that.

“Every single weekend we try again and try to find the best possible set-up in the car. But for sure you can see it’s definitely closing up.”

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