Max Verstappen snatched pole position from Fernando Alonso at the end of a thrilling Monaco Grand Prix qualifying and will have a golden opportunity to extend his world championship lead after Sergio Perez‘s crash left him in 20th.
Perez won the race last year and looked a match for his teammate in FP3 but will be left to rue what is likely to be an extremely costly error, with overtaking notoriously difficult around the iconic street circuit.
That will be of little concern for Verstappen, however, who kept his nose clean to take his third pole of the season. The Dutchman faced stiff opposition and trailed Alonso and Charles Leclerc but pulled it out the bag with a last-gasp 1:11.365 to pip the Spaniard by less than a tenth of a second.
“Very happy,” Verstappen said. “We knew it was going to be a struggle bringing everything together.
“My first sector wasn’t that good but I gave it everything in the final sector and pulled it out when I needed it most.
“We need a clean start [tomorrow], it’s a short run to Turn 1, but I think race pace-wise we look good so we just need to keep it clean and calm.”
Leclerc raised home hopes of a third Monaco pole in a row during a hugely dramatic session. The Monegasque had struggled throughout the weekend but eclipsed Esteban Ocon by less than a tenth as the seconds ticked down.
A charging Alonso was next to cross the line and demoted Leclerc by two hundredths with a first pole in more than 10 years a real possibility, but both were thwarted by the world champion, who produced a stunning final sector to recover from a ragged start to the lap.
Behind the top three, Ocon took a surprise fourth for Alpine with a monumental lap that had him provisionally in top spot with less than two minutes of the session remaining.
Carlos Sainz finished fifth, ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who had to battle to make it out of Q1 and Q2 but recovered well to lead the Mercedes charge from his teammate in eighth.
Between the Mercs, Pierre Gasly completed an excellent session for Alpine, with Yuki Tsunoda and Lando Norris finishing ninth and 10th respectively.
Perez’s title hopes suffer huge setback
Perez got within six points of Verstappen after winning the Azerbaijan GP and looked set to build on that momentum after lining up on pole in Miami.
However, since then, his hopes of landing a first world title have taken a huge knock. Verstappen produced a brilliant comeback drive from ninth to snatch the race win in Miami and will now have a huge chance to extend his advantage further in Monte Carlo.
Unlike other layouts, the dominance of the RB19 matters little around the streets of the Principality, so Perez faces the prospect of leaving Monaco pointless.
In contrast, Verstappen is ideally placed to win and more than double his championship lead that currently stands at 14 points.