Fernando Alonso challenges Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen wore a smile on his face on the way back from his racing car to the Formula 1 paddock. Fastest after the second practice session for the Monaco Grand Prix (Sunday, 3 p.m./ live on Sky and on FAZ.NET-Formula-1 -Ticker) in his Red Bull. The short walk from the pit lane to the motor home of the world champion team was easy. Especially since the champion only got going in the second hour of practice on Friday afternoon and made it to the front.

On other circuits, such a Friday time is not particularly familiar when calculating a Grand Prix forecast. But this much can be said: The Verstappen/Red Bull combination will also be the benchmark in the Principality for the fight for pole position on Saturday. But the two-time champion from the Netherlands wants to look around, at least keep an eye on the backers. On Friday, the son of the city symbolically appeared in his rear-view mirror.

“Let’s see if we can squeeze more juice out of the car”

Charles Leclerc in second place in the Ferrari only needed 65 thousandths of a second longer for the city tour of around 3.3 kilometers. Followed by Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari, also beaten by just 0.107 seconds. His compatriot Fernando Alonso (4th) is 0.220 seconds behind in the Aston Martin as a candidate for a coup. “I’ll be more aggressive,” said the old master a few weeks before his 43rd birthday, “like in no other race.” Monaco, where the tax artists ignore the casino in a rush of speed, is worth the risky investment.

Mercedes has put a lot into the black Silver Arrow in the past few weeks and months. Money, but above all brain power when trying to give the W14 a form that will advance it and the pilot. Maybe even on par with Aston Martin and Ferrari. After the storm disaster in Emilia Romagna last week and the cancellation of the Grand Prix in Imola, the former series world champion presented his B version at the foot of the palace: Rounder, more bulging on the sides, with new front wheel suspension and a new underbody, sent on the race trip with the hope that the conversion would lead to acceleration.

Causes enthusiasm among the fans: world champion Max Verstappen

Causes enthusiasm among the fans: world champion Max Verstappen

Image: AFP

The atypical Monaco racetrack is not exactly a test ground for validating suitability for everyday use. But the engineers also wanted the 2023 model to get rid of the nervousness of the rear end, uncontrollable deflections. Where, if not in Monaco, is at least the predictability of a sophisticated racing car with a weight of almost 800 kilograms and 1000 hp worth its weight in gold. Because the necessary approach to the crash barriers, for example in the Tabac curve or the swimming pool passage, is at most centimeters. Hamilton drove “only” half a second slower than Verstappen. But Monaco suggests a consolidation of the field year after year, this time 0.7 seconds up to and including twelfth, George Russell in the second Mercedes.

This is solely due to the short round. Hamilton made it clear over the radio that humans could probably do more if the machine allowed it: “Damn it,” he exclaimed, “I can’t go much faster.” That’s why the B version doesn’t have to be a failure. Only before the Grand Prix in Barcelona in just over a week will it become clear what is in the conversion. “Monaco is not the right place to test and improve, but the car felt good in general,” said Hamilton, “it’s a shame we weren’t as close at the end of practice as I had hoped, but I’ve definitely felt the improvements. Let’s see if we can squeeze more juice out of the car.”

The opportunity to win points and prestige in Monte Carlo with courage and the desire to approach dangerously pushes the drivers to the limit. Monaco winners are promoted to a virtual club like the winners of the Kitzbühel ski run. But sometimes it’s all about staying away from everything that coldly deforms the good car. Nico Hülkenberg will not catapult his Haas into the winning zone even with the greatest magic at the wheel. As 15th he was one second behind. Colleague Sainz, on the other hand, is within striking distance with the Ferrari like Leclerc.

Verstappen warned of the approach to the limit on Saturday in qualifying in front of the Scuderia. “Your car looks more drivable. We’ll need something else if we want to stay ahead of them.” Unless the competition misjudges by a few centimetres. Sainz touched the barriers at the entrance to the swimming pool passage, the wishbone of the right front wheel ripped out of its anchorage and the Ferrari rushed into the barriers when exiting the corner. Nothing happened to the Spaniard, the car is repairable. “The track,” says Alonso, “does not forgive the smallest mistake.”


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