Red Bull have dominated the 2023 Formula 1 season so far with five wins from five events but the Monaco Grand Prix usually gives us a different pecking order and Ferrari could be the team to beat.
The gap from Red Bull to the rest of the field has generally at least been half a second per lap but, if they have a weakness, it’s the slow corners and the 2.074 miles of Monaco is
Race day is likely to be a formality if it’s dry but Saturday’s qualifying is set to be a thriller because Red Bull will not have it all their own way.
Leclerc’s time to shine
Charles Leclerc has a dismal record at his home event after retiring in the 2018 and 2019 Monaco GP, failing to start the 2021 race and lost the 2022 Grand Prix due to a big strategy error from Ferrari.
Over one lap though, he is sensational, as he has shown over the last five years, with the skill to seriously push his car to the edge, albeit beyond the limit.
Take Baku for example, a street circuit he adores, and somehow can get within centimetres of the wall without hitting it. Monaco requires that same confidence as the closer to the barriers you are, the faster you go.
There’s no doubt Ferrari will at least be a match in qualifying for Red Bull and they have been stronger in the slow stuff too.
Should Leclerc be on pole position, surely Ferrari can rectify their woes from 12 months ago and end the Red Bull streak.
“I do not believe too much in luck, but it’s true that when you see the records, it’s not always been easy on race day [in Monaco],” Leclerc told the press.
“But Saturday was good, which I hope we can reproduce a good performance this Saturday, with a better Sunday this time.
“I think Red Bull is still the team to beat. With a special lap, maybe we can beat them in qualifying.
“In the race, they are extremely quick – but again on a track like this, overtaking is very difficult. Not only Red Bull is quick, Aston Martin will be in the mix.
“Mercedes arrived with a very different-looking car, which I’m curious to see how it performs. And then we need to see where we are and what’s possible.”
Alonso plays down Monaco chances
It’s been over 10 years since Fernando Alonso won a Formula 1 race and it will be an iconic moment should he be victorious in 2023.
Aston Martin haven’t been as good as Ferrari in the slow corners, so Alonso thinks Monaco will be similar to Baku.
“I think we are not thinking that we are the strongest in Monaco,” said Alonso. “I don’t think that this is going to be a huge change compared to Baku, which is still a street circuit.
“I think Ferrari was outstanding in Baku and we could see another great weekend for them here. But then, if I tell you that I don’t come here thinking that I can win the race, I will lie to you, because this is a one-off opportunity.
“We know that Monaco, Singapore, there are specific race tracks that you need to gain the confidence on the free practice, get closer and closer to the walls, and yeah, I will attack more than any other weekend, yes.”
Mercedes bring big upgrades
Despite Monaco not being the best circuit to bring a raft of upgrades to, Mercedes have still brought new bodywork, including new sidepods, a new front suspension and a new floor.
An accident from Lewis Hamilton or George Russell would scupper Mercedes‘ development plans and Monaco is one of the most challenging tracks on the F1 schedule.
As for their performance, Mercedes could even find themselves behind McLaren this weekend as they haven’t exactly shined in the twistier stuff this year.
“The upgrades, will be difficult to see just how it works at this kind of track, but I’m hopeful that it puts us a little bit closer to these guys,” said Hamilton.
“I don’t think we’ll be fighting for a win, necessarily, but hopefully it’ll be more than a fight.”
McLaren to cause a surprise?
McLaren have had an underwhelming season in the midfield, simply fighting to score points at most events.
They have a very draggy car, the slowest in a straight line, but are excellent in the slower corners, so Monaco, on paper, is there best track on the calendar.
The MCL60 has great mechanical grip and Lando Norris is more than capable of producing a barnstorming qualifying performance.
“It’s been a track we’ve actually done well at in the past,” said Norris. “Even at times where we didn’t expect. P5 last year, P3 the year before.
“So, we probably do perform better here than maybe some other places.”
Oscar Piasti added: “I think it’s supposed to be a lot colder than Miami was, which we think was part of our issue as well.
“So obviously a very different circuit here to Miami, so hopefully it suits us a bit better. But in saying that, we need to address our weaknesses in other areas too.”