Monaco showed mesmeric Max Verstappen only has one obstacle to title – and it’s not Sergio Perez

Monaco showed mesmeric Max Verstappen only has one obstacle to title – and it’s not Sergio Perez

The rain had been and gone but no abundance of showers could stop Max Verstappen topping up that cake with the sweetest of icing. Cruising to victory out in front as the Monaco Grand Prix reached its crescendo on Sunday, the irrepressible Dutchman did not fancy letting up. So much so that, with six laps to go, the ultimate humiliation very much rained down on his team-mate.

Verstappen lapped Sergio Perez. For the second time.

Powered with an identical car Perez, quite rightly, was being touted as a genuine title contender a month ago. Off the back of two wins – sprint and race – in Baku, the gap was just six points heading into Miami. He didn’t know it at the time but due to the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix’s cancellation, two more street tracks would give the so-called “king of the streets” a perfect opportunity to take the lead.

But after failing to hold off Verstappen from ninth on the grid in Florida, Perez had something he can simply not afford this past weekend in Monaco: a nightmare grand prix.

A incomprehensible crash early in Q1 into Saint Devote wrecked his chances from the get-go. Slap bang last on the grid, in near-identical circumstances to Australia at the beginning of April. On Sunday, he pitted five times when the majority of the field pitted just once.

You can only imagine what was going through Verstappen’s head when he saw Perez for the second time in the distance. Perhaps a wee smile, aware of the boost to his championship hopes. Perez finished 16th and from six, the gap in the standings is now 39 points.

Verstappen, for what it’s worth, was mesmeric in the principality, a place he calls home. The 25-year-old won this race on Saturday, after an outlandishly thrilling qualifying concluded with the lap of the season so far.

Because Verstappen was in trouble. First, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon shot to the top of the standings with a stunner. Then, Fernando Alonso – “pushing like an animal”, to use his own words – set the new benchmark. Verstappen had one more go.

Two-tenths down heading into the final sector, Verstappen pinpointed his RB19 to such perfection that walls had to be kissed. Lighting up the swimming pool complex, seeping every last drop out of the car at Rascasse and a little bump with the barrier through Antony Noghes. Pole was grabbed, by 0.084 seconds, right at the death. And with it Sunday’s win too.

Max Verstappen won this race on Saturday, when he pipped Fernando Alonso to pole (Getty Images)
Max Verstappen won this race on Saturday, when he pipped Fernando Alonso to pole (Getty Images)

Nevertheless, it was a season-best for 41-year-old Alonso, whose highly-craved 33rd grand prix victory does genuinely seem to be just around the corner. After five third-place finishes in six races, he bettered it this time with second spot.

So focused, so revitalised, so it seems Alonso may be the only slight obstacle in Verstappen’s title charge. Given a new lease of life at Aston Martin, Formula 1’s elder statesman is relishing the challenge laid down by the Dutchman, 16 years his junior.

And while people may jump to state that Verstappen’s third-straight title is nothing more than a formality… who knows? All it takes is a retirement or two for the pendulum to swing. While Mercedes grapple with upgrades – Lewis Hamilton and George Russell did finish a respectable fourth and fifth respectively – and Ferrari continue to be, well, Ferrari, Aston may provide the only credible opposition in the coming races.

Alonso’s last victory was a decade ago in Barcelona. If he’s top of the podium again this time next week then, maybe, the wily old fox can launch a season-long attack at Verstappen.

An attack which should have – yet seemingly won’t – come from across the garage at Red Bull.