Max Verstappen shows why Monaco qualifying remains one of F1’s great spectacles

MONACO – Max Verstappen used every inch of Monte Carlo’s famous street circuit to grab his first pole position at the Principality.

The lap which put the reigning two-time world champion at the front of the grid for Sunday’s race was a textbook example of why Saturday at the Monaco Grand Prix is considered one of the can’t-miss days of the Formula One calendar.

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 quick in the last sector, but I definitely pushed a bit harder in the last lap.”

Verstappen has a growing list of memorable performances to choose from as his best.

Arguably his most famous qualifying lap is the one he didn’t finish at the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, when he smashed into the wall at the final corner of what had been, until that moment, one of the most exhilarating laps of the modern era of Formula One.

The Dutchman risked the same outcome on a few occasions on Saturday. On his first run he brushed the wall at the final corner with his left side. The final run was even more remarkable as he drove as close as he could get to the wall as it curved away down the start-finish straight.

When asked if Saturday’s effort was his best ever, 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 I think went pretty well, just I struggled a bit to put it in the first lap with warm up with the tires, and putting it altogether, all the sectors. but I knew that the last lap, I had to do it, because they improved.

“I also knew that going into the last sector, I was down on [the four drivers ahead], so I had to push flat out in the last sector, risk everything to get back the lap time. And luckily we did.”

With teammate and title rival Sergio Perez crashing out in Q1 and set to start from the back, Verstappen has the golden opportunity on Sunday to take a commanding lead in the championship. Given the incredible form he is in right now that will feel like a massive step towards a third title, even this early in the season.

Alonso’s wait goes on

For a few moments it looked like F1 fans would see something they last witnessed at the 2012 German Grand Prix — 41-year-old Alonso on pole position.

Alonso’s re-emergence as a front-running driver has been the standout story of the season and the Spaniard was on great form – not just on track, but over the radio too, at one point telling Aston Martin he was driving “like an animal”.

Alonso revealed later that through the final portion of qualifying he was “increasing the level of risk to an uncomfortable level”. As he has done all season in the competitive Aston Martin car, the two-time world champion showed why he is still considered to be one of F1’s best drivers.

One person rooting for Alonso in the final seconds was another driver in that conversation, old rival and former McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton.

“I thought Fernando had pole and thought ‘this is going to be amazing for him’, but the Red Bull was too quick,” Hamilton said after qualifying.

With a place on the front row of the grid, Alonso still has a wonderful chance of claiming victory. If he did it would be his first since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix and Aston Martin’s first since it joined Formula One.

‘Like nowhere else on the calendar’

Monte Carlo is the Jekyll and Hyde of F1’s tracks, with an incredible spectacle on Saturday often followed by a processional race on Sunday. While the tight and twisty circuit and the big, imposing barriers create the toughest qualifying lap of the year one day, 24 hours later they make overtaking as close to impossible as you can get.

Hometown hero Charles Leclerc, who will start from sixth position after a three-place grid penalty for blocking Lando Norris in qualifying, said nowhere else on the F1 schedule can compare.

“Race day, yes, it is not the most exciting race in terms of overtaking,” he said. “But the Saturday is just incredible. The feeling that we had over the qualy lap is so good, and yeah, it’s like nowhere else on the calendar. It feels really good.”

“A lot of adrenaline,” Verstappen said about the average Monaco qualifying lap. “Every time you jump in the car your heart rate is probably a bit higher than on other tracks when you do a qualifying lap, because you know when you make one tiny misjudgment or whatever, you end up in the wall.”

Monaco’s long-term future as a Formula One race host remains an open question, although last year it signed a deal to hold the race until 2025. Alonso said it would be wrong for it to ever drop off the schedule.

“I think it’s a very unique place,” Alonso said. “Even last year when there were talks that maybe Monaco was not on the calendar for the future, it doesn’t sound right. It has to be always.”

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