Max Verstappen snatched a stunning pole position in qualifying for the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix as Aston Martin mechanics celebrated what looked to be a winning time for Fernando Alonso.
But that’s only half the story in Monaco, yes pole position gives a huge advantage but anything can happen and a slight mishap in strategy can have huge implications if track position is lost – just ask Ferrari.
There’s also the possibility of rain – depending on your chosen forecast that chance is anywhere from 10-80 percent around race time – to add another variable into the mix.
Will it rain at the Monaco GP?
The grand variable that could render the rest of this article pointless is rain. It’s absolutely classic F1 that the race could be a soaker or completely bone dry depending on which weather report turns out to be accurate.
If it does rain then Monaco will mark the first F1 race where wet tyres are deployed without the use of tyre blankets, which could add another variable into the mix.
There’s already been concerns from drivers around the safety of removing tyre blankets, but that could scale up to carnage.
In 2016, Daniel Ricciardo endured heartbreak when he lost out to Lewis Hamilton in a race that started wet and finished in the dry.
Hamilton went straight from the wets to slicks, a strategy you can only pull off at Monaco because overtaking is so difficult.
Meanwhile, Ricciardo took the traditional wet to intermediates to slicks strategy. When Ricciardo pitted for inters, he emerged behind Hamilton, who was on the wets.
In general, it’s always better to be the second driver to pit in a drying race while your rival struggles on the outlap on cold tyres.
For Ricciardo, he did do this, but his Red Bull crew didn’t have his tyres ready. Even with this, he still nearly beat Hamilton at the pit exit, underling the strategy that pitting second is better.
In 2022, Carlos Sainz tried to do the wet to slicks strategy but he didn’t gain anything from it. Meanwhile, team-mate Charles Leclerc pitted onto the intermediates too late and lost out to Verstappen and eventual winner Sergio Perez.
Don’t get stuck in traffic
The other major Monaco factor you have to consider is where you emerge after pitting. Coming out on traffic could ruin your race because it’s so hard to overtake.
This is something the strategists will have to think about whether it’s dry or wet. Theoretically, the leader should keep the field bunched up, so that anyone who tries to execute an undercut, will come out in the midfield.
If it’s dry, don’t be surprised to see Verstappen try this. Yes, it will make for a dull race, but it might be the most effective way to win.
Alonso will find it very tough to launch past Verstappen off the line, but it will be fireworks if he gets a better start into Turn 1.
The virtual safety car or safety car gamble would be another possibility for Alonso, but it would rely on Verstappen pitting first.
With Esteban Ocon starting third, after Leclerc‘s grid penalty for impeding Lando Norris, you would think it will be a two-horse race between Verstappen and Alonso.
One-stop guaranteed if it’s dry
Monaco is one of the lowest degradation circuits on the calendar and the hard tyre is the preferred race tyre as it will hardly wear out.
“We don’t expect many strategic surprises: a single stop is the way to go, with the hard tyre as the main choice,” said Pirelli boss Mario Isola.
“However, which tyre to start the race on is more uncertain: the soft tyre certainly offers more grip at the start, but the medium has a wider window of use, with a better chance to make the most of any safety cars.”