Max Verstappen battling his car as Carlos Sainz Jr. takes the top spot in Monaco’s first practice session

Speaking with the media on Thursday ahead of the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix, championship leader Max Verstappen admitted that the streets of Monte Carlo might make for a “closer” race than any other so far this Formula 1 season.

If Friday’s first practice session is any indication, that prediction might just come true.

Carlos Sainz Jr. of Ferrari led the timing sheets in the first session, as Verstappen seemed to be battling his car and its setup just as much as he was the twisty Monaco circuit. Just 17 minutes into the practice session Verstappen could be heard radioing into his team his desire to pit, and his frustration with the car. “Ah mate I want to box I’m going to shunt like this with the car setup like this,” said Verstappen to his team.

Red Bull worked on his RB19 for a bit, but the driver did not find much improvement after returning to the track. When asked at the 28-minute mark of practice if he had any feedback on the changes, his response trended towards the negative. “Yeah it’s a little bit better on the rear, but yeah it’s still doing all the same things on all the bumps,” said Verstappen before adding “[i]t’s really not good.”

Verstappen was not the only driver battling his car. George Russell also expressed his frustration with the W14 throughout the first practice session. The upgraded Mercedes brought to Monaco have been much discussed, including the end of the zero-pod days for the team. However, Russell was giving his team lots of feedback throughout practice, focused on the rear of the car.

At the 26-minute mark of practice Russell relayed this to his team: “I can’t really get my tyres working, I don’t have the confidence. Like I’m just losing the rear exit of Turn 3 and through Turn 4, the thing’s just sliding.”

Asked if the issue was the front of the car being too strong, he went in a different direction.

“Feel’s like the rear’s too weak.”

On the positive side of the ledger for Mercedes Lewis Hamilton had a strong practice session, pushing into P1 midway through the practice with a strong run on the medium compound. While Sainz and Fernando Alonso ultimately finished ahead of him in P1 and P2 respectively, Hamilton’s P3 finish should give Mercedes a bit of confidence that perhaps their upgrades will bear fruit this weekend.

Sergio Pérez — who won here a year ago — and Charles Leclerc rounded out the top five.

The session ended a few minutes early when Alex Albon lost the rear end of his Williams coming out of Turn 1 and crashed hard into the barrier. With just over two minutes remaining, race officials indicated that the session would not resume.

Here is the full classification from the first practice session in Monaco:

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