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Verstappen takes pole for Monaco GP


JEROME PUGHMIRE Associated Press

MONACO – Defending Formula One champion Max Verstappen produced a superb final lap to take pole position at the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday and deny Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin his first pole in 11 years.

Verstappen called his first pole in Monaco “very beautiful” but there was nothing to cheer for his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez as the winner of last year’s race crashed early in qualifying.

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was surprised to lead near the end of the session before the 41-year-old Alonso moved back to the top in pursuit of the German GP’s first pole of 2012, when he was Ferrari.

But Verstappen had other ideas as he brushed the sinewy street circuit walls to beat Alonso’s time by just 0.084 seconds and take his fourth pole of the season and 23rd of his career.

“I knew this weekend that it was going to be tight,” said the 25-year-old Verstappen. “I definitely pushed a little harder.”

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Alonso walked over to Verstappen and shook his hand after a tense exchange between the two-time F1 champions.

“It feels great, I always had confidence in what I could do,” said Alonso. “We are starting on the front row in Monaco, so the job is done.”

Alonso has four third-place finishes in five races, so Verstappen joked that he would try to help him win again.

“I will think about it. I want to see Fernando win, but I want to win myself,” said Verstappen. “I love to watch his style.”

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was chasing a third straight pole on his home circuit but qualified third, 0.106 behind Verstappen.

But Leclerc was then given a three-place grid penalty by the race stewards for impeding McLaren’s Lando Norris. The stewards ruled that Norris was on a fast lap and caught Leclerc in the middle of the tunnel, where he was clearly blocked.

The stewards reviewed the team radio and found that Ferrari had failed to give Leclerc any warning of Norris’ approach until the other driver was already directly behind him.

Last year, Ferrari made a series of mistakes with strategy calls and team orders – including at the Monaco GP, where Leclerc lost a potential victory when he was called into the pits at the wrong time and ended up fourth.

Saturday’s grid penalty move moved Ocon up from fourth to third, while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr improved to fourth ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes in fifth.

Pierre Gasly (Alpine), George Russell (Mercedes), Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) and Norris completed the top 10.

Perez will start from the back.

Considered one of F1’s best drivers on street circuits, the Mexican driver lost control of his rear as he entered Sainte-Devote too fast, thudded into the barriers and smashed his left tire to bring out a red flag. out.

“He’ll be kicking himself for that,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said, adding that Verstappen’s lap was “one of the best laps he’s ever driven in qualifying.”

Hamilton, who crashed near the end of third practice, left it late to make it into Q2 on a new set of soft tires and then push into Q3 on his last lap.

“It was so hard. This car is a son of a gun. I was pushing so hard,” said seven-time F1 champion Hamilton. “When you’re driving too much, it’s the worst place to be because the car doesn’t do what you want.”

Alonso started Q3 with the fastest time and set the tone for an exciting finish.

“I’m pushing like an animal,” Alonso said on team radio.

It came close, but the Spanish veteran is well placed on Sunday to push for his first win since 2013.

Monaco is arguably the toughest track to overtake but its claustrophobic nature leads to tension and crashes.

“If an opportunity comes we will take it,” said Alonso. “We cannot take it for granted that all three cars will finish.”

Verstappen has won three races this season and leads the championship by 16 points over Perez – a gap that could widen significantly.

All of Verstappen’s 38 career wins have been with Red Bull and he needs one more to surpass Sebastian Vettel’s record of four F1 titles with the team from 2010-13.

Earlier on Saturday, Verstappen led an eventful final practice ahead of Perez and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.

A red flag ended the session with a few minutes remaining after Hamilton made an uncharacteristic error, oversteer and slamming the crash barrier with his front left tyre.

Verstappen’s back nearly hit the barrier coming out of Sainte-Devote, which is not unusual in Monaco due to the sinewy street circuit nature.

Leclerc complained he was having trouble getting into the “S” section near the pool – where Sainz crashed late in Friday’s second practice.

American actor Michael Douglas had an excellent view of it as he watched from a balcony overlooking the road.

Haas driver Kevin Magnussen’s car was stopped on track near the end of P3, prompting a virtual safety car. Moments later, with cooler tires, Hamilton locked up as he passed the Fairmont Hotel and entered the barriers at Mirabeau.

Hamilton climbed out and slid under a barrier before going back pensively with his hands behind his back as the car was lifted high into the sky blue air by a crane.

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