After five rounds of Red Bull Racing domination, the knives are out at the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix.
The track plays to Red Bull Racing’s weaknesses — if you can call them that given the car’s immense advantage over the field — while all the other frontrunners have reasons to expect stronger performances.
Ferrari starts as an early favourite. Charles Leclerc has taken two poles in a row in the principality and is the only driver not in an RB19 to start from pole this season.
His Ferrari is a heavy user of its tyres, but that could actually be an advantage in the pursuit of the all-important pole position at the low-energy Monaco circuit.
“What you can say for Monaco is that quali pace is much more important,” Ferrari boss Frédéric Vasseur said. “It means that we are fully focused on quali.
“We have good hopes for the quali session.”
But the emerging dark horse is Aston Martin.
The AMR23 has been as quick or quicker than Red Bull Racing through the slow corners this season. Usually the drag-loaded car hands all that time back down the straights, but there are no meaningful straights to speak of in Monaco, meaning it’s all upside.
“If I tell you that I don't come here thinking that I can win the race, I will lie to you, because this is a one-off opportunity,” Fernando Alonso said.
“There are specific race tracks that you need to gain the confidence on the free practice, get closer and closer to the walls. I will attack more than any other weekend, yes.”
Mercedes, meanwhile, is the weekend wildcard.
The team has brought a concept-changing car upgrade this weekend after deciding to drastically change development direction at the start of the season.
The German marque is hopeful the suspension changes alone should allow for a big step forward around the serpentine streets.
“There are arguments to say it may deliver more on the track than it delivers on the [simulator] because it's going to be helping our confidence in driving the car,” George Russell said of the expected gains this weekend.
Lewis Hamilton added: “I've been so excited to get in the car and feel these changes and I feel that hopefully puts us on the right path now to progress forward and try and catch the guys ahead.”
For the first time this season, the spotlight has been returned onto Red Bull Racing.
“I think it's going to be a little bit more difficult and closer together,” title leader Max Verstappen said. “But we still have a good car, [we’re] just trying to extract the most out of it.
“Sometimes your car works perfectly for these kinds of conditions and sometimes it's maybe not ideal.
“I prefer to have a quick car for most of the tracks. It's not ideal for Monaco, but it’s okay. It's only one race on the calendar.”
It’s always brave to bet against Red Bull Racing, but if you were going to do it anywhere, you’d do it here.
I’m fully buying into the hype that this will be an unpredictable weekend — and I’m fully on the Fernando Alonso hype train too. Leclerc will have the home-track advantage on Saturday, but wily Fernando Alonso will do the business on Sunday from the front row.
Pole position: Charles Leclerc
Podium: Fernando Alonso, Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen
Winning margin: Five seconds
The views expressed in this article are those of the author. Quotes have been obtained from team press conferences and issued press releases.