The Monaco GP winners who didn't start on pole — and the strategy that links them


Of the last 20 Monaco Grands Prix, only six have been won by drivers from a non-pole position. Cambridge Kisby investigates how they pulled it off

Monaco Grand Prix 2023

Does starting from pole really secure a Monaco GP win?

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Pole position is seen as crucial to a successful Monaco Grand Prix weekend given the near-impossibility of passing on the narrow street circuit.

Of the 20 races held in Monte Carlo since the last major track modifications in 2003, when a new pitlane was built, 14 have been won by drivers who started from the front of the grid.

But even if drivers do miss out in the most important qualifying session on the F1 calendar, history shows that there’s one key strategy that can offer hope of victory from lower down the grid: the overcut has been used by five of the six winners who didn’t start from pole in the past 20 years. As we detail below, however, any driver who fails to qualify in the top three still has little hope of winning, no matter which tactics they adopt.

The size of modern Formula 1 cars means that sticking rigidly to the racing line is usually enough to defend even the most slender lead, as Daniel Ricciardo proved when he won in 2018 while 25% down on power. So any team that feels it is being held up by a car in front is likely to deploy the overcut strategy and pit later than the cars ahead, giving their driver clear air and an opportunity to run to a faster pace.

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If successful, their driver will have gained time on rivals and come out ahead when they make their stop and rejoin the circuit.

The strategy has become more powerful as the Monaco GP has turned from a two-stop race to a one-stop race — leaving little chance for leading drivers to respond should they be overtaken via an overcut. Staying out longer also gives drivers a greater chance of pitting under a safety car, costing them less time. The tactic has worked for those leading the race too, enabling them to maintain their track position and prevent anyone else from overcutting them.

This does mean that the first part of the race can simply be a waiting game until the first teams relent and call their cars into the pits. Pitting earlier for fresh rubber (undercutting) is typically less beneficial in Monaco because low tyre wear means that their’s less of a performance differential between cars on old and new tyres.

Nevertheless, even a successful overcut is still no guarantee of victory, as luck very much plays its part in Monte Carlo. In our rundown of winners who didn’t start on pole below, several were helped on their way by rivals’ pitstop blunders and well-timed safety cars.

And as our chart below shows, if you don’t start in the top three then your chances of winning are minimal — unless your name is Olivier Panis, whose charge from 14th to first in 1996 remains a legendary Monaco tale.

2022 — Sergio Perez

Starting grid position: 3rd 

Sergio Perez

Sergio Perez wins the 2022 Monaco GP

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The 2022 Monaco Grand Prix is remembered as the site of a Red Bull strategy masterclass, as Sergio Perez overcame a Ferrari front row lockout in qualifying to score his first ever victory in the Principality.

After a delayed start due to bad weather, the entire grid started on the full wet weather tyre. Perez lined up third, in front of team-mate Max Verstappen but behind the Scuderia pairing of Carlos Sainz in second and hometown hero Charles Leclerc on pole.

17 laps of running was enough to remove the majority of the standing water on-track, and Perez was amongst the first to switch to the intermediate tyre. Leclerc followed a lap later while Sainz stayed out. But on a quickly drying Monte Carlo circuit, Ferrari made a mistake when it chose to pit both Sainz and the leading Leclerc at the same time for slick tyres on lap 22 — costing both cars precious time.

Perez and Verstappen stayed out, ran in relatively free air and then pitted a lap later for the hard tyre — a decision which ultimately allowed Perez to leapfrog into the lead via an overcut, followed by Sainz, Verstappen and then Leclerc.

The race was red flagged a handful of laps later as Mick Schumacher crashed heavily at the swimming pool chicane. In order to retain track position, Red Bull switched both Perez and Verstappen onto the faster medium tyre for the restart, while both Ferraris stuck with the longer-lasting yet slower hard compound — a decision which ultimately secured a brilliant 1-3 Perez-led victory for the Milton Keynes outfit.

It was the second time in two years that a Red Bull driver had won from a non-pole position too, as Verstappen technically accomplished the feat in 2021 after Leclerc’s pole-sitting Ferrari broke down on the way to the grid. Although the Dutchman started in the second-place slot, he was still the furthest car forward on the grid.

2017 — Sebastian Vettel

Starting grid position: 2nd

Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

Vettel wins in Monaco over team-mate Raikkonen

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After missing out on a Monaco GP pole by just 0.043sec to Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel ensured he’d have the last laugh come race day.

The German put up a stout defence of second-place against the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas in the run up to Turn 1 after lights out, and was soon pestering Raikkonen for the lead. But as a familiar story began to play out, with the Finn not willing to let Vettel past, the four-time world champion adopted a race winning strategy which was built on nothing else but pure pace.

When Raikkonen chose to pit on lap 34 for a set of super soft tyres, Vettel stayed out, setting one blistering lap time after the next before making his pitstop on lap 37.

He emerged from the pitlane just as Raikkonen crossed the start/finish line but was able to sneak ahead of the Finn before the run up toward Casino Square. From there Vettel cruised to the chequered flag with enough pace to keep a comfortable lead over both his team-mate and the surging Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo behind him.

2016 — Lewis Hamilton

Starting grid position: 3rd 

Daniel Ricciardo Monaco Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton succeeds off the back of Red Bull error

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Lewis Hamilton‘s fortunes at the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix were based primarily on a Red Bull blunder, but an overcut strategy still played an important role in his ultimate victory.

Heavy rain forced the field — headed by Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Rosberg and Hamilton — to start behind the safety car but a quickly drying circuit saw of strategies to unfold.

Red Bull pitted the leading Ricciardo early, switching him to the intermediate tyre while Mercedes chose to leave Hamilton out on his full wets — hoping that a re-emergence of the safety car would hand him a free stop. The Brackley outfit’s prayer went unanswered, and Ricciardo closed back up to the Mercedes. But by pitting later than the Red Bull behind him, Hamilton has able to switch straight to the dry weather tyres on lap 31. Ricciardo attempted to follow suit a lap later, but as he entered the pitlane he was met with a surprised pit crew and no tyres in sight.

The blunder meant Ricciardo was sat stationary for 13 seconds — more than enough time for Hamilton to pass the Aussie just as he was rejoining the circuit at Sainte Devote.

On fresher tyres, Ricciardo possessed the pace to pass Hamilton in the closing stages, but couldn’t find a way past. Hamilton was crowned a Monaco GP winner for the second time.

2015 — Nico Rosberg

Starting grid position: 2nd

Nico Rosberg Lewis Hamilton 2015 Monaco grand Prix

Rosberg prospered from a questionable Mercedes strategy decision

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Nico Rosberg was set to finish second-best to Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the 2015 Monaco GP, until a confusing and controversial decision promoted him to the top step of the podium.

The German had started second behind his pole-sitting team-mate and narrowly held onto his position after a tussle with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the start.

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After settling into a rhythm, both Hamilton and Rosberg held firm in the top two positions and decided to opt for similar strategies. Both cars began on the super soft tyre, before Rosberg pitted for softs on lap 37 with Hamilton following suit a lap later. The latter kept his leading position.

The pair were set to secure a flawless 1-2 victory, but suddenly with just 13 laps to go, their smooth progress to the podium was derailed. After Max Verstappen clashed with Romain Grosjean at Turn 1, the safety car was deployed and Hamilton was strangely ordered into the pits to switch back to the super soft tyre, so that he could retain track position on fresher and faster tyres. However, Mercedes had misjudged the Briton’s leading advantage and as he re-emerged from the pit-lane, he fell behind both Rosberg and the now second-placed Vettel.

Even after racing got back under way and on his fresher tyres, Hamilton was unable to find a way past. Rosberg was handed a third-successive Monaco victory on a plate.

“The verdict is that often in life simple things have a big impact,” Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said. “And in that particular case the system showed us wrong data, and based on those data we decided to pit. We thought that we had a gap, but we didn’t have a gap, and because in Monaco you have no GPS it makes the whole thing more complicated.”

2008 — Lewis Hamilton

Starting grid position: 3rd

Lewis Hamilton 2008 Monaco grand prix

Monaco’s survival of the fastest: Hamilton’s unlikely 2008 win

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Lewis Hamilton’s debut win at Monaco in 2008 was less about strategy and more about survival.

The streets of the Principality were soaked for the majority of the 78 lap race and caught out drivers throughout the grid — including Hamilton himself. Starting from third, he fell further behind the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Kimi Räikkönen when he clipped the barrier at Tabac and picked up a puncture on lap six — forcing a premature pitstop.

Quick work from the mechanics meant the young McLaren driver only fell to fifth and a double accident at Turn 9 soon forced the safety car to be deployed —allowing him to catch back up to the leading pack.

But there was little respite for the marshals. From lap 12 onwards, Fernando Alonso clashed with Heikki Kovalainen at Turn 6; Felipe Massa locked up at Turn 1 and handed the lead to Robert Kubica; Kimi Raikkonen lost his front wing and Timo Glock spun at Turn 5.

All the while, the streets of Monte Carlo began to dry. A perfectly timed pitstop from Hamilton and a switch onto dry weather tyres allowed him to inherit the lead from Kubica via an overcut. The Williams driver had no answer for Hamilton’s pace once he pitted for slick tyres of his own — leaving the Briton to comfortably win his first Monaco GP — despite a late safety car restart.

2003 — Juan Palbo Montoya

Starting grid position: 2nd

Juan Pablo Montoya 2003 Monaco Grand Prix

A deserved victory for Montoya in Monte Carlo

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Similar to Vettel’s pure pace showing in 2017, Juan Pablo Montoya was able to defeat his Williams team-mate Ralf Schumacher in dominant fashion at the 2003 Monaco GP — once again by adopting an overcut strategy.

Montoya’s superior pace was evident almost immediately, as the Colombian hassled the back of Schumacher’s pole-sitting FW25 for lap upon lap until the German finally decided to pit.

In fresh air, Montoya’s lap times plummeted and he was soon racing in a class of his own with a commanding lead over the trailing field. After his later pitstop, he re-emerged well ahead of Schumacher, who was now in fourth due to a mistake at Rascasse, and later saw off the challenge of McLaren’s Kimi Räikkönen to take a deserved Monaco GP victory.