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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Monaco Grand Prix: Max Verstappen defies rain and Fernando Alonso threat to win

Max Verstappen survived a rain shower and the looming threat of Fernando Alonso to secure an impressive victory at a one-sided Monaco Grand Prix.

Verstappen, who beat Alonso to pole position by just 0.084 seconds, kept his cool in the slippery conditions to lead Sunday’s 78-lap race, which lasted nearly two hours from start to finish, as he secured his fourth win of the season.

Alonso finished 27.9 seconds behind the Red Bull driver with Esteban Ocon third for Alpine, as the Frenchman claimed only the third podium of his career.

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell took advantage of the rain to cross the line in fourth and fifth respectively for Mercedes.

Sergio Perez started last after he crashed out of qualifying and finished 16th following a terrible race for the Mexican driver which included five pit stops.

With Perez failing to score, Verstappen extended his lead in the standings from 14 to 39 points after six rounds of 22.

A dreary race suddenly burst into life on lap 51 as it started spitting at Casino Square, through Mirabeau and on the entry into the tunnel.

Verstappen held a 10-second lead over Alonso but, despite the rain, Aston Martin hauled the Spaniard in for his first stop of the day and elected to send him out on the dry rubber.

However, the spots of rain became heavier and Verstappen – now on 52-lap old slick tyres – had to tippy-toe his way back to the pits.

“I have to drive super-slow because my tyres are f*****,” said Verstappen.

The Dutchman briefly lost control of his Red Bull on the entry to the tunnel, grazing the wall, before safely making it back to the pits to bolt on the intermediate tyres.

Aston Martin’s call to send Alonso out on the dry tyres afforded Verstappen some much-needed breathing space, with the Spaniard back in on the following lap for the intermediate rubber. He managed to hang on to second, but was now 22 seconds down the road.

A lap earlier, Mercedes and Alpine had been the first to move from dry to wet tyres, propelling Hamilton above Carlos Sainz and Russell ahead of Charles Leclerc. Ocon remained in third.

Sainz then became the first of the major players to spin – losing control of his Ferrari under braking at Mirabeau, kissing the wall, and dropping him down the order.

The rain continued to fall and the chaos continued. Russell was hit with a five-second penalty after he ran off the road, and rejoined in front of Perez, causing the two men to make contact.

Lance Stroll hit the barriers twice and Haas’ calamitous decision to keep Kevin Magnussen on slick tyres backfired as the Dane crunched the wall at Rascasse.

Up front and with Verstappen in control, Russell put the power down to ensure his penalty would have no effect on his result, and called on his Mercedes team to allow him past team-mate Hamilton to help his cause.

“I am just stuck right up Lewis’ gearbox here,” said Russell, but the Mercedes men did not trade positions. Russell took the chequered flag 10 seconds clear to keep fifth.

Leclerc finished sixth, one place ahead of Pierre Gasly, with Sainz eighth and Lando Norris ninth for McLaren.

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