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Max Verstappen

Why Verstappen and Red Bull lost their advantage in Monaco

Red Bull managed to win the Monaco Grand Prix four times between 2018 and 2023, but now that lead seems to have disappeared like snow in the sun. Why is that?

Verstappen FP1 Monaco
To news overview © XPBimages

Monaco is normally a very good to Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo won in 2018, Max Verstappen in 2021 and 2023 and Sergio Perez in 2022. The team from Milton Keynes always felt figuratively like a fish in the royal waters, but now, expectations are invariably tempered. 

That sounds crazy when you look at the results of the last three years. Red Bull consistently won the prestigious race, even within the current ground effect regulations, yet things did not go smoothly. 

Take last year, when Verstappen had to use his exceptional talent to drag out pole position and beat Fernando Alonso. That didn't seem to be in the cards until that magic moment. He somehow found three tenths in the final sector, to secure pole position. 

And that takes some getting used to, because Red Bull always travelled to Monaco with sky-high expectations. In the previous era, especially between 2016 and 2021, the team was known for the so-called rake of the car, which allowed them to create a lot of downforce. 

Usually, the weak(er) Renault or Honda engine was the Achilles heel against the dominant Mercedes at many circuits, but in Monaco, Red Bull was able to disguise that handicap. Indeed, downforce was in order ánd crucial on the tight street circuit.

The result? Fine performances. In fact, Ricciardo should have already won in 2016, were it not for his pit-stop failure. Red Bull had not prepared the tyres and Lewis Hamilton ran away with the victory. In 2018, the Australian did hit the mark, after which Verstappen struck for the first time in 2021. Monaco was a true Red Bull circuit. 

Dominance over

Now, as crazy as it sounds, that is different, with the free practice sessions of the current edition being the low point. In his own words, Verstappen bounced around "like a kangaroo," resulting in fourth place in the representative, second practice session. 

Secretly, however, the struggle in Monaco begins as early as 2022, when the current ground effect regulations were introduced. Okay, Red Bull won in 2022 and 2023, but actually the car was not always good enough.

In the first year, for example, Ferrari was faster than Red Bull, but threw it away through poor strategic calls in the rain. And last year, as mentioned, Verstappen's talent came to the fore, including in racing. 

The Dutchman drove phenomenally and kept his cool in the rain. Still, Alonso's Aston Martin may have been the fastest car in qualifying, though of course that doesn't count in hindsight. And again this season, Verstappen does not seem to have the upper hand for now.

How come? The current Red Bull does not remotely like kerbstones and bumps. Last year that became painfully obvious in Monaco and especially Singapore. One of Red Bull's weapons is to generate a lot of downforce through the floor. 

To do this, the car must be tuned low, but on the bumpy street circuit in Monte-Carlo that is not possible. That means Verstappen loses downforce and on top of that, Red Bull is also no longer necessarily the fastest car in slow corners. The advantage in recent times was mainly taken from the efficiency of the car.

Verstappen said the following about Red Bull's Monaco struggles after the free practice sessions. "It's the worst possible outcome of the weekend so far, though. Certain bumps and kerbstones were impossible for us to take. 

"Every time we do, we lose an awful lot of time because the handling of the car is not good. That prevents us from going faster. I also have no idea how to start solving it, because it has to do with the design. You can't solve that overnight."

The conclusion? Red Bull's lead in Monaco has gradually disappeared in recent years. Where once the team could take the crown in the principality, it has now become a major challenge and perhaps even one of the team's weaker points. 

Add to that the rapid development of McLaren and Ferrari and you can't help but conclude that it's going to be a great battle in Monaco. Game on.

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