Max Verstappen delivered a stunning final flying lap to steal pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix from under the nose of Fernando Alonso at the end of a thrilling Qualifying session on the streets of the Principality. Charles Leclerc qualified third but was later handed a three-place grid penalty for impeding McLaren's Lando Norris.
In the final runs of Q3 and in the last moments ahead of the chequered flag, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took provisional pole only to then be demoted to second place by Alonso who posted a lap of 1:11. 449. Verstappen had just started his third flying lap of the top-10 shootout, however, and still had an opportunity to eclipse the Aston Martin driver.
After the first two sectors that chance appeared to have slipped away as the championship leader was almost three tenths of a second off Alonso’s pace. Verstappen dug deep, however, and after a stunning final sector in which grazed several barriers the Dutchman crossed the line 0.084s ahead of his Spanish rival to take his first Monaco pole.
“In Qualifying you need to go all out and risk it all,” said Verstappen afterwards. “My first sector wasn't ideal in my final lap – I think Turn 1 was a bit cautious – but then I knew that I was behind, so in the last sector I just gave it everything I had. I clipped a few barriers, but of course very happy to be on pole here for the first time.
Behind the Red Bull driver, Alonso took second place with Leclerc third ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and the second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz. However, aftert the session Leclerc was handed a three-place grid penalty for impeding Lando Norris in Q3. Norris had been on a flying lap when he came across a much slower Leclerc in the tunnel.
At the start of Q1, Verstappen made his way to the top of the timesheet with his first flying lap, setting a target time of 1:13.784. His Red Bull team-mate Sergio Pérez took into P2 a little under a tenth behind with Aston Alonso taking an early third place.
However, disaster struck for Pérez. At the start of his second flying lap the Mexican made a mistake at the entry into Sainte Devote and he slid into the barriers causing significant damage to the left side of his car. The red flags were quickly out and the session was halted.
After an 11-minute delay and with 11 minutes left on the clock, the session resumed. Williams' Alex Albon quickly rose to P1 with a lap of 1:13.327 but Verstappen swiftly beat that time by almost three tenths of a second to reclaim top spot with a lap of 1:13.038. And then, with seven minutes left Alonso moved to top spot with a lap of 1:12.886 ahead of the Alpine cars of Ocon and Pierre Gasly. Verstappen wasn’t done, however, and with a little under five minutes remaining he again went quickest with a lap of 1:12.644, 0.242 clear of Alonso.
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda then jumped to top spot with two minutes to go, but Verstappen put in a good final flyer of 1:12.386 to return the top of the timesheet for a final time, ahead of Tsunoda, Albon and Sainz.
At the other end of the timesheet, Williams’ Logan Sargeant was ruled out of Q2 in 16th place ahead of the Haas cars of Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hülkenberg, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu. Pérez, with just a single flyer on the board, qualified in last place.
Verstappen was out on track early at the start of Q2 and he jumped straight to the top of the order with a lap of 1:12.038 before lowering the benchmark further with a 1:11.908. That put him 0.199 ahead of Alonso with Mercedes’ George Russell in third place.
With a little over three minutes left on the clock, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc rose to second, just 0.004s ahead of Alonso and in the final minute of the session a queue formed on the approach to the final two corners as drivers tried to carve out space for a final flyer.
Verstappen was among them but in the end the champion’s position at the top of the timesheet wasn’t threatened and he backed out of his final run. Leclerc held onto P2 ahead of Alonso, while Russell finished fourth ahead of Mercedes’ team-mate Lewis Hamilton who did require a good final flying lap to escape the drop zone.
Eliminated at the end of the middle segment were McLaren’s Oscar Piastri, who qualified in P11 ahead of AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries, Albon, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas.
At the start of the top-10 shootout, Verstappen was first out on track but the Dutchman’s opening flyer wasn’t perfect and he posted a lap of 1:12.102, almost two tenths off his Q2 best.
That left the door open and Alonso took provisional pole with a lap of 1:11.706. Sainz was in P2 ahead of Leclerc and Russell and at the end of the first runs Verstappen sat in fifth place, 0.396s off Alonso.
Verstappen went for a second flyer with a little over five minutes left in the session and this time it was better. His 1:11.654 was good enough to reclaim top spot, 0.05s ahead of Alonso.
His stay at the top was brief, however, as Ocon suddenly jumped to provisional pole with a lap of 1:11.553.
And as the seconds ticked away the competition for top spot intensified. Leclerc was next up and the Ferrari driver looked to have done enough as he went eight hundredths clear of Ocon. Alonso wasn’t done, however, and as the chequered flag came out he jumped to the top of the timesheet again with a lap of 1:11.449.
Verstappen, though, had just started his final flying lap and a little over 71 seconds later the Dutchman had claimed a spectacular third pole of the season and his first in Monaco.
2023 FIA Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:11.365
2 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 1:11.449 0.084
3 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:11.471 0.106
4 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:11.553 0.188
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:11.630 0.265
6 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:11.725 0.360
7 Pierre Gasly Alpine 1:11.933 0.568
8 George Russell Mercedes 1:11.964 0.599
9 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:12.082 0.717
10 Lando Norris McLaren 1:12.254 0.889
11 Oscar Piastri McLaren 1:12.395 1.030
12 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri 1:12.428 1.063
13 Alex Albon Williams 1:12.527 1.162
14 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:12.623 1.258
15 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:12.625 1.260
16 Logan Sargeant Williams 1:13.113 1.748
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:13.270 1.905
18 Nico Hulkenberg Haas 1:13.279 1.914
19 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:13.523 2.158
20 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing 1:13.850 2.485