Monaco’s Mexican standoff.

The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the most predictable races of any Formula One season; a high-speed single-file parade around a track steeped in prestige and history. A race where passing is close to impossible and action is usually constrained to whatever happens on the run to the first corner on the opening lap.

Unless it rains, of course… and then all bets in this most glamorous of gamblers’ paradises are off.

In a race that ended over three hours after it began on Sunday, one that featured a deluge that flooded parts of the track, a red flag to fix a demolished barrier and didn’t even run to its full distance, the 2022 Monaco Grand Prix was all about who could keep their head and perform under duress. It was a task Oracle Red Bull Racing’s Sergio Pérez was more than qualified for.

The Mexican, third on the grid after a hefty crash in qualifying on Saturday, promised he’d atone for a long night for his mechanics repairing his battered RB18 machine. After 64 laps of mostly breathless action, Pérez won his third F1 race to become Mexico’s most successful driver, delivering a crushing blow to Ferrari after Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz locked out the front row of the grid 24 hours earlier at a track where qualifying usually determines the race result.

Verstappen has rarely had to play second-fiddle to his team-mates – or any other drivers, to be fair – across his F1 career. However, he was behind Pérez in all three practice sessions and qualifying in Monaco, somewhat frustrated after Pérez’s crash late in Q3 prevented him from potentially advancing from fourth on the grid.

The odds were against Verstappen given nobody had won a Monaco Grand Prix from outside the top three on the grid in the dry since Alain Prost in 1985. Yet, in the chaotic conditions where so much could have gone wrong on Sunday, third place – and extension of his championship lead after main rival Leclerc had qualified on pole – was a result worth far more than 15 world championship points.

The reigning world champion’s second straight Monaco podium did snap a run of four wins from as many finishes in 2022, and denied him a chance to win four Grands Prix in a row for the first time in his career. But as always with Verstappen, there was a bigger picture in mind.

There’s often a thin line between success and misery in Monaco, and Scuderia AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly found that out first-hand on Saturday when the Frenchman was desperately unlucky to qualify just 17th, bad luck seeing his weekend unravel in an instant.

Red Bull Racing celebrate race victory for Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing at the Red Bull Energy Station pool. 29.05.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Race Day. – www.xpbimages.com

Gasly, who finished comfortably inside the top 10 in all three practice sessions, was the innocent victim of a red flag caused by team-mate Yuki Tsunoda in Q1, the Japanese driver clipping the inside wall at the Nouvelle Chicane and scattering debris onto the circuit. When action resumed, Gasly just failed – by a second – to begin his final hot lap in time, and tumbled all the way down the order to 17th place.

Given the weather and the close proximity of the trackside barriers at Monaco, it was testament to the skill of the modern-day F1 driver that there were just three retirements in a race that featured trapdoors at every turn.

Schumacher’s crash that caused the red flag stoppage prompted a heart-in-mouth moment when his Haas came to a halt on Lap 28. The German clouting the wall in the middle of the super-fast Swimming Pool section of the track, spinning into a nearby barrier, and the car splitting in half before coming to a halt, the gearbox parting ways from the rest of the machine.

Fortunately Schumacher was more surprised by the accident than injured from it on what was a costly day for Haas, team-mate Kevin Magnussen another driver to retire before half-distance.

After the majesty and history of Monaco, F1 tackles its fifth street circuit in the first eight races of the 2022 season in a fortnight’s time – but the city thoroughfares of Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix (June 12) could barely be more different than the sinewy, slow-speed paths of The Principality.

Baku most resembles the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Saudi Arabia for pure velocity, but unlike Jeddah and its sweeping corners between concrete blocks, Azerbaijan offers flat-out blasts that wouldn’t be out of place at tracks like Monza and Mexico. The 2.2km straight from Turn 16 to Turn 1 seeing cars reach eye-watering speeds of more than 350kph beside the Caspian Sea.

Extreme slipstreaming and audacious passing attempts into the first corner are guaranteed, while many drivers have danced too close to the old medieval city walls at Turn 8 over the five years the circuit has been on the schedule.

Source Red Bull Magazine