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Practice report

F1 Monaco GP: Sainz leads Alonso in truncated first practice

Carlos Sainz topped FP1 at Formula 1’s 2023 Monaco Grand Prix ahead of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, while Max Verstappen finished sixth amid complaints about his Red Bull’s handling. 

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas set the initial pace with a 1m26.993s, but that was rapidly bettered by a series of quicker times from Zhou Guanyu, Fernando Alonso, Hamilton and Lando Norris, as first place benchmark was 10s lower by the end of the opening five minutes of the one-hour session. 

Alonso and Norris exchanged positions at the front, with the latter and the two Ferrari drivers the only runners using the medium tyres during the early laps while all the others used the hards as they gained confidence with every tour and benefitted from F1 rubber being laid down on the tight, twisty, city track. 

Just past the five-minute mark, Charles Leclerc’s second flier sent him top with a 1m15.931s before Sainz, who had thwacked the barrier inside the second part of the Swimming Pool but escaped without damage only minutes earlier aboard his Ferrari, then forged ahead on a 1m15.198s. 

Leclerc then moved back ahead on a 1m15.037s after a brief trip to the Ferrari garage while his team-mate continued to pound around uninterrupted. 

Leclerc’s next flier lowered the benchmark to a 1m14.562s before Sainz ended the session’s opening 20 minutes quickest on a 1m14.401s, which he then beat with a 1m14.245s before heading to the pits along with most of the pack. 

At this stage, Alonso trailed in third with Verstappen fourth and not matching the high early lap total of the Ferrari drivers after pitting before them to make set-up changes having complained that his early set-up was causing so much bottoming out that he feared he was “going to shunt”. 

After a brief lull in action, more drivers emerged to use the mediums for the first time, which Hamilton used to post a 1m14.035s and move ahead of the Ferrari pair at the head of the times. 

Verstappen also used the mediums to gain time, but after two fliers he had still not moved ahead of Sainz’s previous benchmark as he reported that Red Bull’s adjustments and had not improved his ride and felt it was “still doing the same thing on the bumps – it’s really not good”. 

He was told he would likely have to live with the problem until more substantial changes could be made ahead of FP2, while George Russell complained that he could not get his tyres working properly on his updated Mercedes W14, leaving his rears sliding too much – the Briton languishing outside the top 10 heading into the final 25 minutes. 

Just as Alonso moved up to second just 0.064s behind Hamilton’s leading time on the mediums, the session was halted after Nico Hulkenberg had an incident at the chicane at the exit of the tunnel. 

The Haas driver, sitting towards the rearing of the standings, clipped the inside barrier of the first part of the complex at the bottom of the hill leading down to the Monaco harbour, which popped his left-rear tyre off its rim and he then spun as he went through the middle part of the complex. 

Although Hulkenberg was able to escape and tour slowly back to the pits, the session was red flagged for three minutes while debris from the incident was recovered. 

FP1 resumed with 20 minutes left to run, with Alonso moving into first place with a 1m13.907s on his first flier after the resumption, just after Perez had moved into third and heading Sainz’s early leading times on the mediums. 

The Ferrari drivers had finally reappeared a few minutes before the red flag, still running the medium tyres but not bothering the head of times as they had in the early stages. 

That changed when Sainz moved back to first place with a 1m13.690s to edge Alonso by 0.058s, heading into the final 10 minutes. 

Alonso then cut the gap to 0.020s just after he had been enraged by coming across Perez running slowly on the racing line through Casino Square, before Sainz’s next flier edged him to 0.338s as he registered a 1m13.372s. 

There were no further improvements as Alex Albon then crashed hard at St Devote and brought out the red flags again – the Williams driver losing his rear end halfway through the right-hand first corner and then slamming his front and rear left-side wheels into the barriers. 

With just over three minutes remaining on the clock, the session was not restarted, with Albon reporting he was ok and just “knocked my knees” in the impact. 

The top three were followed by Perez and Leclerc, who, just before the red flag, had bailed out of a lap that was set to be a personal best after a chicane lock-up and then losing the rear of his Ferrari through the second part of the Swimming Pool. 

Verstappen ended up sixth having also had a major sliding moment at that spot during the late running – the world champion gesturing angrily as he toured slowly away and through the track’s final turns. 

Norris ended up seventh ahead of Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll, who climbed up the order late on and was another driver to clip the walls – the Aston driver doing so at the final corners after catching an on-throttle oversteer snap as he powered towards the pit straight during the middle part of FP1. 

Albon rounded out the top 10, his position preserved thanks to his shunt, with the other Williams driver, Logan Sargeant down in 18th and having to tour slowly back to the pits with a problem at the rear of his car ahead of the halfway point. 

In the other Mercedes, Russell finished down in 15th. 

Monaco GP - FP1 results:

Cla # Driver Chassis Time Gap
1 55 Spain Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1'13.372  
2 14 Spain Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 1'13.710 0.338
3 44 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1'14.035 0.663
4 11 Mexico Sergio Perez Red Bull 1'14.038 0.666
5 16 Monaco Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1'14.093 0.721
6 1 Netherlands Max Verstappen Red Bull 1'14.244 0.872
7 4 United Kingdom Lando Norris McLaren 1'14.467 1.095
8 31 France Esteban Ocon Alpine 1'14.585 1.213
9 18 Canada Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1'14.653 1.281
10 23 Thailand Alex Albon Williams 1'14.666 1.294
11 77 Finland Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1'14.718 1.346
12 20 Denmark Kevin Magnussen Haas 1'14.725 1.353
13 22 Japan Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1'14.820 1.448
14 10 France Pierre Gasly Alpine 1'14.866 1.494
15 63 United Kingdom George Russell Mercedes 1'15.066 1.694
16 21 Netherlands Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri 1'15.083 1.711
17 81 Australia Oscar Piastri McLaren 1'15.192 1.820
18 2 United States Logan Sargeant Williams 1'15.557 2.185
19 24 China Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1'15.684 2.312
20 27 Germany Nico Hulkenberg Haas 1'15.785 2.413

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