F1: Max Verstappen warns Monaco Grand Prix will be Red Bull’s toughest race of the season

F1: Max Verstappen warns Monaco Grand Prix will be Red Bull’s toughest race of the season

There has been an air of predictability to Formula 1 in 2023.

As the paddock unpacks at a new location, there is talk of closing the gap on the runaway championship leaders only for Red Bull to then comfortably come away with the win.

In Monaco, there is genuine belief that the sport could witness its first winner of the season outside Max Verstappen and last year’s victor here, Sergio Perez.

Red Bull have won five races out of five this season but were eclipsed for one-lap pace by Ferrari at the last street circuit race at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Verstappen described Sunday’s race as “probably the most difficult one to win” of the season, with, as ever in the principality, much resting on qualifying pace.

The two-time world champion said: “You know that once you have a bit of a setback in qualifying, you can’t really pass in the race. I want to win. You try to do the best you can and then you go again for the next one.”

Of his challengers, Ferrari perhaps pose the biggest qualifying threat while Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin should like the vagaries of the circuit with its slow-speed corners.

There is also a potential spring forward in pace for Mercedes with their upgrade package, due in Imola, but making its debut in practice on Friday afternoon after the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was cancelled.

Verstappen picked Ferrari as his biggest threat but said: “Also, I think Aston Martin are quite good in the slow speed. It’s going to be a little bit more difficult, closer together. We still have a good car, it’s just trying to extract the most out of it.

“We know over one lap it’s not our strongest point but nevertheless we still took quite a few pole positions this year.”

Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton has quashed rumours that he could be set for a switch to Ferrari at the end of the season.

Rumours were circulating that Ferrari were preparing to table an offer worth £40million a year to lure him into a cross-grid switch.

But the 38-year-old said: “My team is working closely behind the scenes with Toto [Wolff, his Mercedes team principal] and we are almost at the point of having a contract ready. It is much more relaxing because before I was doing it myself.

“Naturally when you are in contract negotiations, there is always going to be speculation and, unless you hear it from me, that’s what it is."