Mediterranean rain intervenes in the city state, forcing teams to make difficult decisions.

Up To Speed: Monaco Madness; Even The Weather Can't Stop Verstappen

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Up to Speed, an ongoing blog on Aramco LIFE that will follow the 2023 Formula One race season and highlight the fast-paced action of the sport. Check in after race days and share your comments on the blog, on the season, or the sport in general.

May 30, 2023

Max Verstappen extended his Formula 1 championship lead by keeping his cool in a rain-affected Monaco Grand Prix.

Verstappen earned a last-gasp pole position for F1’s most prestigious race ahead of Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 Team’s Fernando Alonso and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon.

Verstappen and Alonso raced away from the field at the start of the race, Verstappen settling into a comfortable race lead that was then threatened by a sustained rain shower halfway through the race.

The rain shower forced the teams to make difficult strategic decisions — with the degree of rain varying from corner to corner - and put the drivers under intense pressure to keep their cars on the road.

Alonso had pitted for fresh dry tyres as the rain came, while Verstappen stayed out on his worn dry tyres and tried to maintain his lead.

Both Verstappen and Alonso then pitted for intermediate tires to better cope with the conditions. Verstappen survived two brushes with the wall and a continuing threat from Alonso behind to claim the race win.

It marked Verstappen’s fourth grand prix win in six races and allowed him to extend his championship lead as his team-mate and neatest title Sergio Perez finished outside of the points, after contact with both Lance Stroll and later Kevin Magnussen stunted his recovery from a qualifying crash that grounded him to last place on the grid.

Alonso’s second place was his and his team’s best result of a tremendous 2023 so far where the team is second in the constructors’ championship - an improvement of five places on where it finished last year.

Ocon held on for an excellent third place finish for Alpine — the team’s first of the year — with Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell completing the top five.

The next race takes place in a few days’ time at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, a popular testing venue for teams and one that will revert to the original high-speed final two corners for the first time since 2006.

May 8, 2023

Even having to start from ninth on the grid didn't stop Max Verstappen coming through to a Miami Grand Prix victory that reasserted his control on the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship battle.

A week after being defeated in Azerbaijan by Red Bull team mate and title rival Sergio Perez, Verstappen looked imperious through practice and the early part of qualifying for the first of F1's three visits to the United States this year, holding a comfortable margin over all his rivals on the street track creatively arranged around Miami's Hard Rock stadium.

But he abandoned his first run in the pole shootout after a minor error and then didn't get a chance for a second flying lap because Charles Leclerc crashed his Ferrari and prompted a red flag. That left Verstappen only ninth, with Perez on pole position.

The reigning champion made rapid progress on race day, taking just 15 laps to hack a path through to second place — including a stunning two-at-once pass on Kevin Magnussen and Leclerc along the way.

Perez was only four seconds ahead of Verstappen when his nemesis reached second place, and the gap was soon dwindling. Verstappen had started on the harder compound tire with the aim of leaving his pitstop as late as possible to help him recover ground, and with overnight rain that cleaned up the track surface, plus a drop in temperatures making that a much stronger tire over the race distance than the medium with which Perez started, the race was now really falling into his hands.

In the 24 laps between the Red Bull drivers' pitstops, new leader Verstappen couldn't quite pull out enough of an advantage to stay ahead of Perez when he came in for his late tire change, but it didn't matter. Though the large Mexican contingent in the crowd roared with hope when Perez regained the lead as his team mate pitted, Verstappen was soon right on Perez's tail and shrugging off his team mate's best defensive efforts to retake the lead and secure victory.

The Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 team notched up a fourth podium finish in five races with Fernando Alonso third after chasing Perez early on and then staying clear of the Mercedes versus Ferrari battle behind, which was won by a hard-charging George Russell.

Mercedes and Ferrari will be the focus of attention at the next race in a fortnight — as Ferrari tries to give its home crowd something to cheer at Imola and Mercedes brings the first of the upgrade packages it hopes will start to revive its fortunes. Fourth for Russell and sixth from 13th on the grid for Lewis Hamilton in Miami showed Mercedes doesn't lack fighting spirit, but also how much it needs those car changes to close the gap to its old arch-rival Red Bull.

May 1, 2023

Sergio Perez breathed fresh life into Formula 1’s championship battle by taking advantage of a safety car intervention to beat Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen to victory in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc’s shock pole position on Friday suggested a possible challenge for victory in this race, but the Red Bulls had far too much pace for Ferrari to handle on race day and Leclerc finished more than 21 seconds behind race winner Perez after 51 laps of the challenging Baku street circuit.

After both overtook Leclerc with relative ease early in the race, using the power of Red Bull’s potent Drag Reduction System (DRS) on Baku’s long main straight, Verstappen held a narrow lead over Perez - who looked quicker and more comfortable on his car’s medium compound Pirelli tires during the race’s opening stint.

Verstappen complained about a lack of grip and was called into the pits by Red Bull to fit hard compound tires at the end of lap 10. This happened just before a safety car was called while marshals retrieved the stranded AlphaTauri of Nyck de Vries, who clipped the wall and broke his car’s front suspension.

Perez was able to pit under the safety car, gaining him track position over his team-mate. Red Bull later admitted it slightly misjudged the situation, thinking de Vries would be able to continue and the safety car wouldn’t be needed.

Verstappen overcame Leclerc’s Ferrari easily again after the restart, but could find no answer for Perez, who won this race by just over two seconds to cut Verstappen’s championship advantage to just seven points.

Leclerc finished a distant third, less than a second clear of Fernando Alonso - who produced a brilliant drive from sixth on the grid for the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 Team, including an opportunistic pass on Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz just after the safety car restart.

The next race is less than a week away in Miami. Will Verstappen hit back, or will Perez carry his winning form over from Baku? Can Alonso get back on the podium again after his near-miss in Azerbaijan or will Ferrari’s improved pace stand in his way again? And will Mercedes be able to regain their Melbourne podium form after a really disappointing outing in Baku?

Miami is another temporary circuit comprising local roads, so it is sure to present yet more unpredictability and drama.

April 3, 2023

Reigning Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen overcame the early threat of a resurgent Mercedes team and the excitement of three red flags and two restarts to win a spectacular Australian Grand Prix for Red Bull.

With his Saudi Arabian GP-winning team mate Sergio Perez starting at the back having crashed in qualifying, Verstappen found himself reprising his old rivalry with the Mercedes team in Melbourne — and falling rapidly behind both its drivers as George Russell jumped him off the start, and Lewis Hamilton overtook him further around the first lap.

Verstappen wasn't down in third for long. Russell lost the lead by making his first pitstop just before the race was red-flagged, after Williams driver Alex Albon’s high-speed crash from sixth place. Everyone else was able to change tyres while the race was stopped, so Russell was left down in seventh and retired with a fiery engine failure soon afterwards.

Hamilton led from Verstappen at the restart, but the Red Bull driver's sheer speed was too much for the Mercedes for now. Verstappen was soon surging around the outside of his old adversary to take the lead and pull away.

The final hurdle for Verstappen to overcome was a pair of late red flags. The first, caused by Kevin Magnussen crashing, set up a restart with just two laps to go, but a series of collisions when racing resumed meant another instant red flag and effectively the end of the race.

The order was reset to how it stood just before that last stoppage, meaning the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 team took third and fourth with Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll — ahead of the charging Perez — despite both being caught up in the final crashes.

F1 now has a four-week break before its next round in Azerbaijan — which will also be the first 2023 appearance of the sprint race format. Red Bull's pace advantage is such that it will surely still be the team to beat when the season resumes, but might its main 2022 opponent Ferrari be closer? Though a first-lap collision for Charles Leclerc and penalty for Carlos Sainz meant Ferrari didn't score in Melbourne, Sainz's strong race pace hinted that the team's optimism that it might have made a set-up breakthrough in Australia could be justified. And even if Red Bull is still unbeatable, the challenging Baku street track always serves up incidents and surprises.

March 20, 2023

Red Bull took its second straight one-two finish as the 2023 Formula 1 season continued with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, but this time had to work harder for it - with world champion Max Verstappen needing to come through from 15th on the grid to take second place behind team-mate Sergio Perez.

The Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 team was again Red Bull's closest challenger, leading at the start and earning third with Fernando Alonso.

Bahrain GP winner Verstappen looked like he'd be unstoppable again through practice at the super-fast Jeddah Corniche circuit, but a broken driveshaft meant an early end to his qualifying session and left him 15th on the grid while Perez took pole with Alonso next to him on the front row.

And it was Alonso who made the best start and immediately thrust Aston Martin into the lead at its strategic partner Aramco's home race.

The sheer speed of the Red Bulls was soon apparent, though. Perez managed to overtake Alonso on lap four, and Verstappen was quickly breezing past rival cars in the middle of the pack.

As the race hit half-distance, Verstappen overtook Alonso for second place. Could he close the five-second gap to Perez and challenge his team-mate for victory?

Both drivers tried their utmost — causing some nervous moments for the Red Bull pitwall - but Perez was able to hold his champion team-mate at a safe distance. Verstappen did snatch the bonus point for fastest lap away on the very last lap, though, meaning it's him not Perez who leads the championship now.

Alonso pulled away from the Mercedes of Russell and Lewis Hamilton and the two Ferraris behind them, securing his 100th F1 podium and a second third-place finish from his first two races with the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 team.

The next round on the 23 race Formula 1 calendar starts on Friday, March 31 with Free Practice sessions, Qualifying will take place on Saturday, April 1, and the Race on Sunday April 2 at Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia.

What say you?

So who do you think will win in Melbourne? Will Red Bull continue their dominance, or can Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant break their stranglehold? Log in to Aramco LIFE and make your voice be heard in comment section below.


— The Arabian Sun: May 31, 2023