Sun, May 28, 2023 7:06 PM
By JEROME PUGMIRE, AP Auto Racing Writer
MONACO (AP) — Formula One champion Max Verstappen's lights-to-flag victory at the Monaco Grand Prix gave the Red Bull driver his fourth victory of the season and a record 39th overall for the team as he extended his championship lead to 39 points over teammate Sergio Perez on Sunday.
Verstappen’s wins have all been with Red Bull since his first on debut for the team at the Spanish GP in 2016 when he became the youngest F1 winner at 18 years old.
Seven years and two world championships later, the Dutchman set a team record for wins as he passed former Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel’s previous tally of 38 victories when he won four straight titles from 2010-13.
"It’s great, I never thought I’d be in this position in my career," Verstappen said. “It’s better than I could have imagined for sure."
Spanish veteran Fernando Alonso was a season's best second for Aston Martin as he collected a fifth podium in six races, albeit 28 seconds behind Verstappen, while Frenchman Esteban Ocon secured third place and a rare podium for Alpine.
Red Bull has won all the races so far.
“It’s super nice to win it in the way we did today with the weather and everything to stay calm and bring it home," Verstappen said.
For most of the race, he coasted on a dry and narrow track where overtaking is the hardest in F1.
But an incident-free race in Monaco is rare and heavy rain played havoc with about 20 of the 78 laps left. Some drivers had pitted for the wrong medium tires shortly before the downpour and slid around.
“It was incredibly slippery," Verstappen said.
Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr. glided sideways into the barriers and was lucky not to damage his Ferrari. Kevin Magnussen lost control of his Haas and Lance Stroll retired after damaging his Aston Martin.
Red Bull had wisely put Verstappen on the versatile and more suited to the wet conditions intermediates on Lap 56 and they carried him to his second win in Monaco. The first was in 2021.
Lewis Hamilton finished fourth for Mercedes and picked up a point for fastest lap. His teammate George Russell was fifth, having earlier almost slammed into Perez as visibility worsened. A serious crash was somehow avoided in a hectic few minutes before the rain eased off.
“Braking was extremely fragile," Alonso said. “I think everyone did an amazing job today to keep the cars on track.”
Alonso is third in the standings and closed the gap on Perez to 12 points. The 41-year-old Alonso's podium was his 103rd in F1, while Ocon grabbed his third.
“I’m speechless at the moment," Ocon said. "A little bit on my cloud at the moment.”
Russell was given a five-second penalty for rejoining the track in an unsafe manner but had just enough to keep fifth place ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc.
Pierre Gasly (Alpine), a seething Sainz, Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri (both McLaren) rounded out the top 10.
On Saturday, Verstappen just edged out Alonso to deny him his first pole for 11 years.
Perez, who won the race last year, started from last after a clumsy crash in qualifying and finished 16th.
The sinewy 3.4-kilometer (2.1-mile) street circuit gives the pole sitter a massive advantage if he makes a clean getaway, which is what Verstappen did as Alonso’s gamble to start on hard tires didn’t work.
“Max drove super well on the medium tires on that first stint," Alonso said. “We (went) for all or nothing. We started on the hard tire and didn’t have the pace."
After 26 of the 78 laps Verstappen was 12 seconds clear of Alonso, who even persuaded himself he had a puncture. Twice his team assured him it wasn’t the case.
Eventually Verstappen started losing time and wanted to pit for new tires but his team told him he’d fall behind Alonso if he did that.
At the same time Perez stuck among the back markers was getting tense, almost clipping Stroll and then bumping into the back of Kevin Magnussen’s Haas.
Sainz, meanwhile, was furious that Ferrari — a team with a worrying reputation for still making bad strategy calls — pitted him too early and put on the wrong tire to cover Ocon’s stop and let his team know with an outburst over team radio.
The Spaniard had already endured a difficult day after his front wing clipped Ocon's Alpine as he tried to overtake. A portion of the wing came off subsequently but Sainz got away with just a warning for the incident.
The sky then darkened and rain started to fall heavily soon after drivers had completed 50 laps.
“I have to drive super slow because my tires are (expletive),” Verstappen lamented on Lap 54, while Alonso pitted a lap later for mediums.
Early on, Sainz’s front wing clipped Ocon’s Alpine as he tried to overtake coming out of the tunnel. A small piece of debris came off but the wing stayed on the car, and Sainz got away with a warning.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports