Monaco Grand Prix Preview: All Eyes on Red Bull–McLaren Duel

Max Verstappen vs. Lando Norris has been the talk of the paddock, but their teammates may play the biggest role in the championship fight. Plus, the Carlos Sainz sweepstakes are heating up.
McLaren driver Lando Norris and Red Bull driver Max Verstappen will face off in Monaco.
McLaren driver Lando Norris and Red Bull driver Max Verstappen will face off in Monaco. / John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The crown jewel of the Formula One calendar is upon us once again as the paddock sets its sights on one of the most historic sites in the world of racing at the Monaco Grand Prix. Max Verstappen and Lando Norris have delivered back-to-back thrilling races and the championship race appears to be fully on heading into the summer months.

As the battle heats up, here’s what to watch this weekend.

The second seats at Red Bull and McLaren

Sure, Verstappen and Norris have been locked in a pair of duels during the past two Grand Prix, but it’s important to not overlook either driver’s teammate—and how each one might play a role in the fight to win races beginning this weekend in Monaco.

Starting over in Woking with McLaren, Oscar Piastri has been on the rise in recent weeks—even if the results don’t necessarily show the full extent of it. In Miami, the second-year F1 driver made a savvy move on the first lap to leap into second place behind Verstappen, but the safety car that helped his teammate earn his maiden victory proved far less advantageous for him. He later collided with Carlos Sainz and plummeted down the order, finishing in 13th. 

McLaren driver Oscar Piastri looks on during a press conference in advance of the Miami Grand Prix.
Piastri has had a strong run of late, posting among the fastest times in qualifying at both Miami and Imola. / John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

At the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Piastri qualified in second only to receive a three-place starting grid penalty for impeding Kevin Magnussen during Q1 that took him off the front row. Had he gotten a chance to start there, it very well could have been him chasing down Verstappen in the final laps. He settled for fourth—a position where he’s finished three times this year and has yet to best in 2024. Given the importance of qualifying in Monaco—and Pisatri’s impressive form on Saturdays—this weekend seems ripe for a breakthrough.

As for Sergio Pérez, Imola represented an outlier in what otherwise had been the best start to his 14-year career in F1. The Red Bull driver started the year with six straight top-five finishes and quickly earned the support of team consultant Helmut Marko, who suggested that if the 34-year-old could maintain his form, he was a shoo-in to stay in the team’s second seat in 2025.

But Red Bull’s struggles with its setup in Imola seemed to affect Pérez more than Verstappen. He missed out on Q3, started the race in 11th and only managed to pick up three places while barely putting up resistance against the weekend’s clearly superior McLarens. Headed into Monaco, Pérez will need to prove that Imola was the exception, not the rule, or risk having his seat come back up for grabs as the summer continues.

Sainz sweepstakes heats up 

Of course one of the drivers who might be eyeing Pérez’s seat at Red Bull is Sainz. The 29-year-old remains without a 2025 landing spot after the announcement that Lewis Hamilton would be taking over for him at Ferrari, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t options

Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz gets strapped into his car in the paddock area before the F1 Sprint Race in Miami.
Poised to leave Ferrari after Hamilton's signing, Sainz remains one of the most sought after drivers on the grid. / John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the biggest update in Sainz’s search came from Monaco earlier this week when Sky Sports reported that Mercedes would no longer be in the running to sign him. The report suggested that Toto Wolff & Co. are more focused on Andrea Kimi Antonelli or Verstappen, should he become available. 

That seemingly leaves three primary options for Sainz: Sauber (which will become Audi in 2026), Williams or Red Bull. Again, the latter seat seems to be Pérez’s to lose, so Sainz would have to be willing to play the waiting game well into the summer for an opportunity with the two-time reigning constructors champions. That leaves Sauber, who has reportedly presented the Madrid native a lucrative offer to drive alongside Nico Hülkenberg, or Williams, who recently secured Alex Albon’s services into the new regulations period.

Here’s what remains open on the driver’s market as the Monaco weekend begins: One seat at Red Bull, one seat at Mercedes, one seat at Sauber, one seat at Williams, two seats at Alpine, two seats at Haas and two seats at Red Bull.

Monaco mayhem 

The street circuit in Monaco has long been regarded as the premier circuit, not only in F1 but in all of racing. Between the winding, narrow streets, the super-sized yachts bobbing in the harbor and the deep-rooted history of the sport in Monte Carlo, there’s no denying the magic of the event—even as calls to change the format of the Grand Prix grow. 

Monaco is different when it comes to the action on the track. Saturday’s qualifying, even more so than a typical race weekend, is the main event because overtaking is exceptionally difficult on the tight corners around the circuit. Whoever qualifies at the front of the grid is well set up to win, provided they can keep their car out of the wall the following day.

That being said, pit-stop strategy becomes all the more important during Sunday’s race and mistakes can prove catastrophic (see: Ferrari’s disastrous double stack in Monaco in 2022 that cost Charles Leclerc a victory at his home race). Crashes and subsequent safety cars are typically expected in Monaco, which can always throw a wrinkle into the most seemingly straightforward races (see: Miami this year).

Don’t let the glitz and the glamor fool you. Monaco is unforgiving and the pressure for teams will be dialed up this weekend—especially with the tide starting to turn in the championship battle.

Zach Koons


Zach Koons is a programming editor at Sports Illustrated who also specializes in Formula One news and analysis. He started as a breaking news writer at SI before joining the programming team in 2023. Also a contributor to NBA and college sports coverage, Zach previously wrote for The Spun and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and currently hosts the Bleav in Northwestern podcast. Zach is a 2022 graduate of Northwestern University and lives in New York City.