Max Verstappen narrowly pipped Fernando Alonso to pole position for tomorrow’s Monaco Grand Prix to cap a thrilling end to a captivating qualifying hour in the Principality.
However, it was a nightmare afternoon for 2022 Monaco victor Sergio Perez, the Mexican unable to mount a challenge after crashing out at the start of Q1.
With his Red Bull team-mate out of the picture, Verstappen was made to fend off the threat from rivals teams to secure his maiden pole in Monte Carlo.
READ MORE: F1 2023 Monaco GP – Qualifying Results
Despite not featuring in the top three on his first run, the reigning World Champion improved in the dying embers to eclipse Alonso’s Aston Martin by just 0.084s.
Alonso had set the provisional benchmark time in Q3 of 1:11.706s to leave him marginally ahead of the two Ferraris, with the top three separated by just 0.053s.
Verstappen, Esteban Ocon and Charles Leclerc then all took turns at the top before Alonso looked set to land his first Formula 1 pole in 175 races until Verstappen hooked together a stunning final sector on his last lap to deny the Spaniard.
The pair collectively thwarted Leclerc’s hopes of landing a third consecutive pole on home soil, while Ferrari partner Carlos Sainz could only manage fifth overall.
Having crashed at the end of FP3 and survived late scares in both Q1 and Q2 to reach the final stage, Hamilton proceeded to pull out a mighty lap in the revised Mercedes package to wound up sixth, two places ahead of team-mate George Russell whose weekend struggles continued.
Both Alpine cars had showcased a good turn of speed throughout qualifying, peaking with Ocon sitting on top of the timesheets midway through Q3. Although the Frenchman dropped down the order, he ended up qualifying fourth, with Gasly backing him up in seventh.
Yuki Tsunoda impressed again for AlphaTauri to register a starting berth of ninth for the race, leaving Lando Norris to complete the top 10 for McLaren.
The sole McLaren representative in Q3 was only able to set a single lap in the final segment, having seen his participation put in doubt after damaging his front left suspension on the exit of the Nouvelle chicane at the end of Q2.
But the most notable absentee from the shootout for pole position was Perez, whose qualifying was curtailed on only his second flying run when he carried too much speed into Turn 1 and slammed the rear of his Red Bull into the exit barrier.
With the track evolving heavily once Q1 resumed with 11 minutes remaining on the clock, Perez was then dealt the additional blow of his initial effort not being good enough to make the cut for the second segment, meaning he is guaranteed to start last for tomorrow’s race.
Perez’s short-lived participation in qualifying enabled the under-pressure Nyck de Vries to scrape through into Q2 at the expense of Logan Sargeant’s Williams. However, the Dutchman, one of two drivers still scoreless this season, was unable to deliver beyond 12th in the next session.
Haas was the only team to endure the ignominy of both cars exiting the first stage, Magnussen (17th) leading Hulkenberg (18th) for the second successive qualifying session.
Guanyu Zhou was the slower of the two Alfa Romeo drivers and will occupy the slot alongside Perez on the back row, having momentarily topped Q1 earlier in the session when the times tumbled.
Nevertheless, Valtteri Bottas in the sister C43 car set the slowest time of all in Q2, dropping out with Lance Stroll who provided the shock casualty after missing the signal to head into the weighbridge.
Alex Albon had elevated his Williams as high as third in the first part of qualifying, but the Thai representative could not repeat his exploits next time around, settling for 13th.
While Verstappen wrapped up a crucial pole – his first in Monaco at the eighth attempt – Perez will have to contend with battling his way back through the pack at a circuit where overtaking is notoriously difficult.
The crash has huge ramifications for the title race, with Perez, entering this weekend already 14 points behind his team-mate in the championship, set to line up at the opposite end of the grid.