MONACO – Max Verstappen used every inch of Monte Carlo’s famous street circuit to secure his first pole position in the Principality.
The lap that saw the reigning two-time World Champion top the grid for Sunday’s race was a prime example of why Saturday’s Monaco Grand Prix is considered one of the not-to-be-missed days on the Formula 1 calendar should.
Verstappen had been fifth before his final lap, which was just 0.084s quicker than Fernando Alonso’s time in the Aston Martin.
When asked what he had done differently, Verstappen later said: “Touched a few walls! I was always quite fast in the last sector, but I definitely pushed a little harder on the last lap.”
Verstappen has a growing list of memorable performances from which to choose his best performances.
Arguably his most famous qualifying lap is the one he failed to finish at the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, when he crashed into the wall on the final corner of what was then the most exciting lap in modern Formula 1 racing.
The Dutch driver risked the same result several times on Saturday. On his first run, he hit the wall with his left side in the last corner. The last run was even more remarkable when he got as close as possible to the wall that curved on the start/finish straight.
When asked if Saturday’s performance was his best yet, Verstappen said: “No, I don’t think so, but it was good enough. I’m just happy to get my first pole here.”
“The whole qualifying went pretty well in my opinion, but I struggled a bit to get it right on the first lap warming up with the tires and overall in all sectors. But I knew I had to make the last lap it because they improved.
“I also knew that I was behind in the last sector [the four drivers ahead]So I had to go flat out in the last sector and risk everything to regain the lap time. And thankfully we did.”
With his team-mate and title rival Sergio Perez dropping out in first qualifying and having to start from the back, Verstappen has a unique opportunity on Sunday to take the dominant lead in the championship. Given the incredible form he’s in, it will seem like a giant step towards a third title, even this early in the season.
Alonso’s wait continues
For a few moments, it looked as if F1 fans would see something they had last seen at the 2012 German Grand Prix – 41-year-old Alonso on pole.
Alonso’s return to the lead was the standout story of the season and he was in great form – not just on the track but over the radio, once telling Aston Martin he was driving ‘like an animal’.
Alonso later revealed that he “raised the level of risk to an uncomfortable level” in the latter part of qualifying. As he has done in the competitive Aston Martin car all season, the two-time world champion showed why he is still considered one of the best F1 drivers.
One person who supported Alonso in the final seconds was another driver in this conversation, old rival and former McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton.
“I thought Fernando had pole and thought it would be great for him, but the Red Bull was too fast,” said Hamilton after qualifying.
With a front row seat, Alonso still has a good chance of winning. If he did, it would be his first since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix and the first for Aston Martin since entering Formula One.
“Like nowhere else on the calendar”
Monte Carlo is the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ of F1 circuits, with incredible Saturday spectacle often followed by a Sunday processional race. While the tight, twisty course and large, imposing barriers make for the toughest qualifying lap of the year one day, 24 hours later they make overtaking nearly impossible.
Homeland hero Charles Leclerc, who will start from sixth after a three-place penalty for blocking Lando Norris in qualifying, said there was no comparable place on the F1 schedule.
“Race day isn’t the most exciting race in terms of overtaking,” he said. “But Saturday is just incredible. The feeling we had in the qualifying round is so good and yes it’s like nowhere else on the calendar. It feels really good.”
“Lots of adrenaline,” Verstappen said of the average qualifying lap in Monaco. “Every time you hop in the car your heart rate is probably a little higher than at other tracks when you’re doing a qualifying lap because you know that if you make a little misjudgment or whatever, you’re going to end up in the wall.”
Monaco’s long-term future as a Formula 1 race venue remains an open question, despite signing a deal last year that would see the race held until 2025. Alonso said it would be wrong if it was ever dropped from the schedule.
“I think it’s a very unique place,” said Alonso. “Even last year when there was talk that Monaco might not be on the calendar for the future, that doesn’t sound right. It always has to be like this.”