Verstappen hits back to top Monaco GP FP2 as Sainz dumps Ferrari into the wall

Red Bull hit back in the second practice session ahead of Sunday's Monaco GP

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After an unusually scruffy FP1, championship leader Max Verstappen bounced back to top the second practice session ahead of the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix.

The soft tyres came out and the lap times tumbled around the streets of the Principality, with Verstappen’s 1:12.462 placing him less than a tenth clear of Charles Leclerc.

Carlos Sainz, who topped FP1, finished third for Ferrari but gave his mechanics some work to do after crashing and bringing out the red flag with 17 minutes left on the clock.

Two tenths behind Verstappen, Fernando Alonso continued his fine form to stick his Aston Martin in fourth ahead of Lando Norris in the McLaren that is expected to perform better around the unique Monaco layout.

Oscar Piastri in 18th will be scratching his head as to how his teammate pulled out the best part of a second on him.

Lewis Hamilton was once again the lead Mercedes in the upgraded W14 in sixth, half a second behind Verstappen and more than two tenths faster than George Russell in 12th.

The seven-time world champion will be buoyed to have navigated the iconic street track quicker than Sergio Perez in the so-far unrivalled RB19. The Mexican could only manage seventh as he bids to defend his Monaco GP win from last year.

Valtteri Bottas took eight, ahead of the two Alpines of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon.

Elsewhere, Lance Stroll finished 11th, with Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant propping up the field for Williams.

Three-way fight for pole?

FP2 brought out the red-marked soft tyres and gave more of an indication of the proper pecking order.

The world champion may have clinched top spot but it was by a narrow margin, with Leclerc eventually putting together a lap after a series of errors had blighted his earlier efforts.

The Monegasque has endured a difficult relationship with his home race and will be desperate to put that right this weekend.

With pole being pivotal to success, Leclerc will be encouraged to have finished just 0.065 seconds behind the Dutchman as Ferrari look to recover from a difficult start to the season.

But don’t write off Aston Martin and, in particular, Alonso.

The Spaniard has talked up his chances of landing a first win in more than 10 years here and was only two tenths off the pace in FP2.

While an outsider in the anticipated fight, he can’t be ruled out.

Where do Mercedes stand?

Monaco is an outlier on the F1 calendar, so the effectiveness of the Mercedes upgrades won’t become clear until we head to a more traditional layout.

However, for this weekend, the team appear in a similar position to the one has become all too familiar for the former world champions.

Hamilton finished sixth, one place and half a tenth behind Norris in the McLaren, the team they are likely to be up against come qualifying and race day.

He was also half a second behind Verstappen and three tenths behind Alonso, placing the Brackley-based unit firmly outside the top three looking in.

It is early days, however, and anything can happen in Monaco.

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