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Verstappen grabs Monaco pole with spectacular final lap

By AFP - May 27,2023 - Last updated at May 27,2023

Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen gives an interview after taking pole position in the qualifying sessions of the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix in Monaco on Saturday (AFP photo by Andrej Isakovic)

MONACO — Max Verstappen delivered a spectacular late lap on Saturday to claim his maiden Monaco Grand Prix pole position in a thrilling and dramatic qualifying session. 

Red Bull’s defending double world champion and series leader clawed back three-tenths of a second in the final sector to beat Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc of Ferrari. 

“We knew this was going to be a little bit of a struggle for us, here on this circuit,” admitted the Dutchman. “In qualifying here, you need to go all out and risk it all.”

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner described the lap as the “best of his career”. 

Verstappen’s success with a best lap in one minute and 11.365 lifted him 0.084 seconds clear of Alonso, who said he had been driving “like an animal” and pledged to fight for victory in Sunday’s classic race. 

“Tomorrow, we will try to win the race,” he said. “It is a pity we couldn’t take pole but Max was a little bit faster.”

Local hero Leclerc, who had taken pole for the last two years, was downcast. 

“I am not satisfied, not with P3,” he said. “It was a very tricky qualifying and I struggled a lot with the car.”

Verstappen’s pole was the 23rd of his career and gives him an opportunity to extend his lead in the title race ahead of Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, who won last year, but will start from the back of the grid after crashing out in Q1.

Esteban Ocon was fourth for Alpine ahead of Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton in his revamped Mercedes and Pierre Gasly in the second Alpine. 


Perez crash


After dominating final practice, Red Bull were hot favourites to repeat that success as qualifying began under blue skies and a very warm sun providing an air temperature of 25 degrees with the track at 50. 

Verstappen stamped his authority on proceedings with an early lap in 1:13.784, a tenth faster than Perez, who promptly crashed heavily at Sainte Devote. 

Perez, considered the current ‘king’ of street track racing, lost control as he turned to climb the hill to Casino Square, sliding left into the barriers in a cloud of steel debris. 

Initially, he appeared dazed by the impact, reporting “Guys, I’ve crashed” to the team before remaining in the car until, with some help, he climbed out unhurt. 

A crane lifted the Red Bull off the track as work to repair the barriers began. 

The session was red-flagged for 10 minutes, but for Perez the day was over and he seemed consigned to a distant grid slot in Sunday’s 78-lap race. 

An immediate scramble to progress began with Williams’ Alex Albon briefly on top before Verstappen resumed normal service followed by Alonso’s 1:12.886 — only for the Dutchman to respond, two-tenths faster. 

This late drama saw Hamilton survive as Williams’ Logan Sargent, the Haas duo of Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg and Guanyu Zhou of Alfa Romeo joined Perez in taking an early Q3 exit. 

After that breathless drama, Verstappen led the way in Q2 and set the pace followed by Alonso and Russell with Ferrari struggling and Hamilton, who crashed and damaged his car in final practice, complaining about a problem with his right rear suspension.

As Hamilton fell to 11th, Norris smacked a wall at Tabac, after clipping the barriers, but made it back to the pits for repairs as a typical late effort lifted the seven-time champion to fifth. 

Leclerc also recovered to take second while McLaren’s Oscar Piastri, Nyck de Vries of Alpha Tauri, Albon, Stroll of Aston Martin and Bottas, in the second Alfa Romeo, missed the cut for the thrills of the top 10 shootout.


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