More than the starting grid, which will become an essential element tomorrow, what remains hot after qualifying in Monaco is the feeling of having witnessed a sporting spectacle of the highest level. Sometimes Formula 1 twists and turns to look for an artificial route that leads to what we saw today in Monte Carlo, a route that probably doesn’t exist.
The show, at the highest levels, takes shape when there are two or more riders competing for a result on the verge of tenths, or, as happened today in Monaco, hundredths. Such a small margin creates that unpredictability which is the salt of the sport, everything else is a consequence.
In the Monte Carlo qualifying there were four potential polemen, four riders who gave everything in a last lap lived in an atmosphere of unreal silence even in the pits of the teams involved. Max Verstappen won, but to do so he had to pull off what was probably his best qualifying lap since he made his Formula 1 debut in 2015.
After the FP3 session, Verstappen’s pole position was almost taken for granted, but things went differently, because with the progressive ‘rubberisation’ of the track, the opponents became formidable. In the last lap, a surprising Esteban Ocon took the top of the standings, then twenty seconds later it was Leclerc’s turn. As Charles crossed the finish line, Alonso’s sectors were already putting his pole at risk, and indeed the Aston Martin garage exploded shortly after, as Fernando crossed the finish line.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
At that moment Verstappen passed through the Piscine 0″204 behind Alonso’s time (and also behind Leclerc by 0″023) a margin that seemed impossible to recover in three corners. Max saw the gap on his display and understood that to aim for pole it was necessary to risk everything. He literally did it, hitting the Anthony Noghes-style outside rail and inside barriers as he entered the final straight. The risk paid off, and a pole came that blew up the Red Bull pit wall.
“I knew I was late before the last sector – confirmed Max – I took a risk, I hit some walls. It’s a stretch where the car performs well (Red Bull brought one of the widest rear wings ever seen on an Adrian Newey car to Monaco) but I actually pushed harder on that last lap.”
Fernando Alonso and Max Verstappen comment on qualifying in Monaco
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
Verstappen’s pole in the end made everyone agree and it couldn’t be otherwise. Alonso acknowledged that it would not have been possible to do more today in Monaco, even if the difference between the two was only 84 thousandths of a second. In the end, Fernando can look at a decidedly half-full glass. For 22 thousandths (his gap on Leclerc) he put Aston Martin in the front row, and as he rightly recalled on the team-radio with the team immediately after the end of qualifying “… two months ago we would never have imagined something similar”.
The greatest bitterness is in the Ferrari garage, and it couldn’t be otherwise. Perez’s departure seemed like the first good news for the Scuderia garage, and at that point the minimum wage seemed to be a front row position behind Verstappen. Instead, Leclerc also had to surrender to Aston Martin, a bitter and somewhat surprising verdict, also the result of a Saturday that began with setup problems in the FP3 session.
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
The situation improved in qualifying, but Charles didn’t actually have the opportunity to take advantage of that feeling, which is essential on a city track, lap after lap.
Three hours after the end of qualifying, confirmation of the penalty that demoted Leclerc from third to sixth position on the starting grid for having hindered Lando Norris also arrived.
A blow to Charles’ ambitions, who at least aspired to fight for the podium, a goal that now appears at the end of a very uphill road. “What do I need tomorrow? – commented Leclerc immediately after qualifying – a little more luck, maybe the one I didn’t have in previous years”.
However, the home race does not seem to be one of the luckiest scenarios for Charles, and it was of little use to have explained to the team of stewards (as confirmed by the on-board camera) that he was warned late by his track engineer of the arrival of Norris behind him.
The infraction has taken place, and the penalty is a consequence of it. Leclerc will start from sixth position tomorrow, Sainz from fourth, it is not the scenario that Ferrari had foreseen on the eve of the Monegasque away match.