Monaco couldn't come at a better time for Ferrari, Mercedes, Aston Martin and others who are hoping to slow the Red Bull Express in 2023. One of the slowest, if not the slowest, circuit on the calendar (where average speeds are usually in the mid-90 mph range) Monaco does not have the long, high-speed sections where Red Bull can utilize their pure speed and power advantage. Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin has long circled this circuit as the team's best chance for a win in 2023, and he is probably not the only driver thinking that their chances are pretty good entering the weekend.
"We seem to have a car that is maybe not the fastest on the straights," Alonso told formula1.com. "We need to improve that, but we are very good on the corners. I would say that the slowest speeds of the championship — let's say Monaco, Budapest, Singapore [are our best chances]. These kind of circuits, I think, are we put our main hopes at the moment."
That played out fairly to script in qualifying, where Alonso ran a 1 minute, 11.449-second lap to grab provisional pole. The Aston Martin certainly was quick. The problem was that Max Verstappen and his Red Bull were just a bit quicker, flying around Monaco in 1 minute, 11.365 seconds to relegate Alonso to the second spot on the grid.
So it all could be to play for right at the start and the run up to Sainte Devote, and Alonso will try his best to take advantage of the only weakness Verstappen has -- inconsistent starts.
"I mean, it's very short to Turn 1, but we have normally a good start this year," Alonso said to formula1.com. "Max is a little bit inconsistent, so maybe it's one of those bad ones tomorrow."
But winning at Monaco is likely not the only subject on the Spaniard's mind with the announcement that Aston Martin has signed to receive engines from Honda starting with the new engine specs in 2026. Alonso, who is thought to have a contract that expires in 2024, has previously mentioned that he was already considering racing beyond 2024 with the team, but that was before Honda was announced as the team's engine supplier. The two parties had a notoriously bad relationship during his period at McLaren from 2015-17, even referring to the power plant as a "GP2 engine" ahead of a race at Honda's home track, Suzuka, and the Japanese manufacturer was thought to not want to work with him again.
Those thoughts, apparently, have changed.
"The selection of drivers is up to the team to decide," Koji Watanabe, president of Honda Racing Corporation, told formula1.com. "So, if the team decides we'll have Alonso as a driver again, we will have no objections whatsoever in him driving."
Aston Martin said that it has not discussed the driver line-up with Honda or Alonso in particular, but are hoping that the Spaniard can be retained.
"Clearly Fernando is doing a great job in the team and I'm delighted to have him as part of our team as he's making a great contribution both on and off the track," Martin Whitmarsh, Group CEO of Aston Martin Performance Technologies, said. " … I'm sure everyone here is referring to some comments that were made in the heat of the battle once, which were quite memorable for some, but I think he understands and respects what Honda is doing."
And what Honda has done since the split with Alonso, and McLaren, has gone on to power Red Bull to both the drivers and constructor's titles in 2021 followed by assisting Red Bull Powertrains in claiming the titles again in 2022.
The other story making tongues wag in the paddock ahead of the weekend would be that regarding Carlos Sainz Jr.' availability due to a suspected injury at a charity soccer match on Tuesday. Sainz has denied there is any worry that he won't be on the starting grid come Sunday, and took to Instagram to post a picture of him kicking a ball and stating that he will be "completely ready to race this weekend in Monaco."
And there were also garage whispers around Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes and Ferrari as talk had circulated that the seven-time world champion, who is out of contract at Mercedes at season's end, was contemplating a move to Ferrari. Hamilton quickly threw water on all that early Thursday, as formula1.com reported the Briton as saying that his new contract with Mercedes is almost ready.
"I think naturally when you're in contract negotiations there's always going to be speculation," Hamilton said. "Unless you hear it from me, then that's what it is."
Controversies ended then? Stay tuned.
How to watch the 2023 Formula 1 Grand Prix of Monaco
- Date: May 28
- Location: 2.073-mile (3.337km), 19-turn Circuit de Monaco
- Time: 8 a.m. ET
- TV: ABC, ESPN+, ESPN Deportes
- Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
What to expect
Considered one of the "Triple Crown" races of the motorsport world, along with the Indianapolis 500 (run on the same day) and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, what Monaco lacks in pure speed thrills it more than makes up for in very tight, technical turns and a unique section along the water where the drivers enter a tunnel and are in relative darkness before emerging at the harbor in bright sunlight, a transition that makes drivers adjust their eyesight and navigate the chicane at the start of the harbor section.
But those tight, winding sections and narrow street of Monte Carlo and La Condamine also can make for a rather straightforward race due to how hard it is for the cars to get next to each other and execute a pass along such narrow roads.
So, strategy more than pure speed will be the key factor at Monaco, with the pitstop planned completely around giving the driver the best track position possible upon return to racing. Sergio Perez made two stops last year on his way to victory in a race that was delayed by rain and shortened from the usual 78 laps to 64.
But a one-stopper is the usual strategy at Monaco, with drivers pitting at some point before a lap in the mid-30s depending on whether they start on the softest compound available or the medium one. Should they start on the hardest then that window can be extended out to the mid-50s.