Fernando Alonso will seek to break Max Verstappen and Red Bull’s winning streak and claim his first win since 2013 as Formula One resumes this weekend with the 80th running of the classic Monaco Grand Prix.
After floods forced the cancellation of last week’s European ‘season opener’, the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola, the F1 circus was happy to be greeted by blue skies and warm sunshine in the Mediterranean principality on Wednesday.
As visitors sought shade, Alonso and his Aston Martin team contemplated how to gamble on delivering his third win on the old, but glamourised street circuit, where he triumphed with Renault in 2006 and McLaren in 2007.
After four third-place finishes from five races, the 41-year-old Spaniard has emerged as not only the biggest threat to double champion Verstappen and his team-mate Sergio Perez, but also this year’s box office attraction, a wily wolf with unrivalled experience.
“We have a car that maybe isn’t the fastest on the straights, but very good in the corners,” he explained with a flash of his customary mischievous grin.
“So we need to improve that –- but it is good for the circuits that are slower like Monaco and Budapest and Singapore.”
Alonso is third in the drivers’ title race on 75 points behind Verstappen on 119 and Perez, a street circuit specialist who won last year’s race and more recently in Jeddah and Baku, on 105.
“This is the race every driver grows up and wants to win and I was lucky enough to achieve that last season,” Perez said. “So, it’s made me hungrier to stand on the top step again.”
– ‘Anything possible for Leclerc’ –
Local hero Charles Leclerc of Ferrari, who has never tasted success at his home event, on what was once his bus-route to school, will hope for a change of fortune as he bids for a third consecutive Monaco pole position.
Since 2017, he has accumulated only 12 points – for finishing fourth in 2022 – and is long overdue a result that reflects his precious talent, Ferrari’s form and reliability notwithstanding.
“Unfortunately, we have had problems from the first three races,” he conceded, reflecting on his meagre total of 34 points and seventh place in the title standings. “But here, anything is possible.”
He conceded that he will face a ferocious battle with the Red Bulls –- “cars that are operating on another planet” — in Saturday’s qualifying session and warned of the threat from Alonso’s sleek green machine.
“Aston Martin are capable of making a splash,” he added.
Despite the introduction of a major package of upgrades on their car, Mercedes are expected to remain in pursuit of their rivals with seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton unlikely to add to his three Monaco triumphs and record 103 overall.
“We have the first step in a new direction,” said team chief Toto Wolff, who is in talks with Hamilton on renewing his contract.
“It won’t be a silver bullet… But it may give the drivers a little more stability.”
Hamilton’s future remained a subject for conjecture with his name associated again with Ferrari and Leclerc’s with Mercedes as rumours swirled.
“I’ve nothing to say,” said Leclerc, whose contract runs to the end of 2024.
“I can understand that people talk… Rumours exist, ok. But it doesn’t worry me. I am fully concentrated on the race and our work. I love Ferrari and I hope we can climb and reach the top together.”