A late downpour caused all sorts of chaos in the Monaco Grand Prix but even that wasn’t enough to prevent Max Verstappen from extending his championship lead with a lights-to-flag victory.
The two-time defending champion pulled clear off pole, putting a manageable gap over the field which fluctuated but never looked threatened, even when rain came into the equation.
Fernando Alonso was able to come home for his best result of the season in second, while Esteban Ocon capped off an impressive weekend for Alpine with third.
The 2023 Monaco Grand Prix will be remembered as a race of two parts, the first 53 laps running in dry conditions with limited overtaking and large gaps separating groups throughout the field.
Verstappen had easily pulled clear off the start, with Alonso slotting in comfortably behind ahead of Ocon, Carlos Sainz, Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc.
There was contact further back in the pack on Lap 1, Hulkenberg locking up at Turn 5 and sliding into a Williams and sustaining damage, later awarded a 5-second penalty for the impact. Lance Stroll was another in the wars, squeezed on the outside at the hairpin entry and losing places as a result.
A rhythm was quick to establish itself throughout the pack, with Verstappen pulling clear of Alonso, who had also built a large gap on Ocon, which continued to grow.
Sainz had an opportunity to pass on Ocon on Lap 11, but out-braked himself at the chicane, running into the rear of the Alpine and damaging his front wing. He would ultimately run with this damage until the end of the race.
It was Lap 30 when lapped traffic became an issue for Verstappen, the Dutchman’s lead quickly eaten into by Alonso as he navigated the back-markers, including his teammate Sergio Perez who had boxed at the end of Lap 1 to switch to hards with an aim of running on those until the end of the race.
That plan was ultimately put to an end on Lap 32, when Perez ran into the back of Kevin Magnussen at the chicane and was forced to stop for a new wing.
By Lap 50 the front two had built a lead of over 22 seconds over the field but were yet to stop. In hindsight, running long proved to make the difference, Verstappen getting as much as possible out of his mediums until the rain came to play.
An intense downpour began at the top of the circuit on Lap 52, quickly changing track conditions and bringing proceedings to a slow crawl down through the hairpin.
With the track remaining dry in other places, the decision to switch to intermediates seemed risky, with teams staggering their stops over multiple laps.
Sainz was an early victim of the conditions, spinning at Turn 5 and losing a spot to Leclerc in the process. He was able to rejoin, but his proximity to his teammate meant a double-stack for Ferrari was a timely process, further limiting his gains.
Mercedes were the major benefactor from this, getting past both Ferraris, while Gasly was also able to leapfrog Sainz for seventh.
Alpine were fortunate that Alonso had built such a big gap in second, switching to medium compounds initially before boxing again a lap later for intermediates, holding onto his position.
While this was unfolding in pitlane, a number of drivers ran into difficulty at the top end of the circuit, including Magnussen, Stroll, Yuki Tsunoda and Logan Sargeant.
Russell was also awarded a 5-second penalty for an unsafe rejoin when he ran long at Turn 5, re-entering the track and clipping Perez.
Despite all the contact, the disruptions were minimal, the entire Grand Prix running Safety-Car free.
The rain was gone as quickly as it arrived, and it was Verstappen who took the win over Alonso and Ocon. Hamilton came home in fourth, while Russell’s penalty had little impact as he held fifth.
Leclerc, Gasly and Sainz rounded out the top eight, with the McLaren duo led home by Lando Norris in ninth and Oscar Piastri in tenth.
Bottas was unlucky in 11th, one spot ahead of Nyck De Vries who performed to his season-best result.
Stroll and Magnussen were the two retirees from the Grand Prix, both suffering damage in the closing stages.
Formula 1 returns next weekend with the Spanish Grand Prix.
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