Does Formula 1 need a race in Monaco – after this qualifying? Nothing that is not analyzed, calculated and simulated before the convoy starts moving at the racecourse. Even the maximum possible lap times are calculated in advance, sometimes demanded by engineers. The spectacle on Saturday afternoon in the Principality, however, was probably not on anyone's radar.
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A time hunt for the best starting position for the Monaco Grand Prix this Sunday (15.00 hrs in the F.A.Z. live ticker for Formula 1 and on Sky), which presented other potential winners from minute to minute at the end of the hour. The lead changed four times. Each time, the audience murmured. Because the favorite Max Verstappen was ousted. First by Fernando Alonso, the old master in the Aston Martin.
"What a last sector!"
No sooner had champion Verstappen managed to counterattack than a surprise guest appeared at the front, two minutes before the time ran out: Esteban Occon in the Alpine (Renault). Charles Leclerc, who knew every nook and cranny in the Principality simply because of his experiences on the way to school, finally set out to outshine everyone with his Ferrari. The Monegasque back on pole at home for the third time in a row, which was last achieved by a certain Ayrton Senna between 1988 and 1991?
Not at all. Alonso shoots past and whizzes past. His mechanics are thrilled. But Verstappen is still on the track. Too slow despite 270 km/h on the way up to the casino, even in the second sector it doesn't look like the last overtaking manoeuvre. He fights, pushes the Red Bull to the limit, touches the barriers and wins the duel in the last few metres – by 0.085 seconds. "What a last sector," team boss Christian Horner shouts to his driver and conveys the pecking order: first ahead of Alonso and Leclerc.
The 23rd pole position of his career is not something that Verstappen – at first glance – particularly elated: "We knew it was going to be very close. The first sector wasn't ideal, I had to risk everything, I gave everything I had," he says in a chatty tone, unexcited, relaxed, barely moved a few minutes after the show still on the track. Nothing about him bears witness to this extraordinary achievement.
While mechanics look at the rims ground by the "wall" contact, Verstappen signals composure. The hands are in his pockets, the cap is in place, and so is the demonstration: Verstappen's very first pole position in Monaco corrects the slight impression that he doesn't have it that way with cornering through alleys in the ultimate one-lap quick test. Leclerc is hot on his heels with 19 pole positions in significantly fewer races.
"A lot can happen in the race"
The Ferrari man achieved eight of them on street circuits. Verstappen didn't have a single one to offer until Saturday. Pressure to deliver at the very last moment is a testament to what distinguishes champions and winners, especially when they don't necessarily love the terrain but are forced to overcome this "weakness".
"I think that was one of the best laps (Max) has ever done in qualifying. When he arrived at the swimming pool, he was 0.2 seconds behind Fernando," Horner told Sky TV. Nevertheless, Verstappen considered Saturday afternoon, which was marked by large revolutions, to be more of a successful preparatory exercise: "A lot can happen in the race, there could be rain, a safety car. It's going to be about getting a clean race and staying calm."