Lewis Hamilton said Niki Lauda’s spirit guided him to the toughest win of his career in Monaco.
Hamilton pointed to Lauda’s name, which graced the back of his one-off red helmet, after he fended off Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to claim a nail-biting victory – his third on Monte Carlo’s famous streets.
Lauda, Mercedes’ non-executive chairman, died on Monday, aged 70. Hamilton, whose team all wore red caps in tribute to Lauda, said he planned to phone the late Austrian’s wife, Birgit, on Sunday night. He also confirmed he will attend Lauda’s funeral in Vienna on Wednesday.
Hamilton was left to masterfully tiptoe his way to the end after a strategy error left the Briton on less durable tyres than his rivals.
He even survived a late collision with Verstappen when the young Dutchman launched a gung-ho move for victory with three laps to go.
Relieved and wearing his Mercedes race suit, as well as a red baseball cap emblazoned with the word ‘Niki’, Hamilton then celebrated his win by back-flopping into the swimming pool.
After towelling down, he reflected on an emotional win.
“I definitely felt like Niki was racing with me,” said Hamilton after the 77th win of his remarkable Formula One life.
“That was for you, Niki. Your fighting spirit was right there with me every step of the way. I know he was looking down and taking his hat off to us.
“It was the hardest race I have ever had, it was the biggest challenge I have had. It has been such a hard week, emotionally. I just wanted to do the job and deliver for Niki. When I was driving, I was like what would Niki do?
“As a driver, my goal is to be respected as Niki was. He was a hero to so many.
“I cannot wait to give my dad a call and see what he made of it. I am sure I will get a chance to speak to Birgit after the race, too – to let her know how much I appreciated her support. She kept us connected.”
The build-up to one of the sport’s biggest events had been played out against the backdrop of the death of one of its grandest characters.
Drivers, past and present, lined up at the front of the grid in the moments before Sunday’s race for a one-minute silence as they stood to remember the three-time world champion.
Pole-sitter Hamilton blasted away from his marks to keep Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas and the fast-starting Verstappen at bay.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc then crashed with Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg. Debris from Leclerc’s punctured tyre littered the track.
Out came the safety car, in went the leaders. But Mercedes curiously put the less durable medium tyre on Hamilton’s car. Verstappen had the harder rubber on, which saw Hamilton coming under increasing pressure in the latter stages – his tyres shot.
Verstappen sensed his moment on the run out of the tunnel and launched an assault down Hamilton’s inside, but he could not make the move stick, as his right-front hit Hamilton’s rear left. A flurry of sparks ensued, but both men somehow made it to the finish.
Verstappen was demoted to fourth following a five-second penalty for a pit-lane collision with Bottas. Sebastian Vettel finished second as Bottas completed the podium.
Hamilton spent much of the race taking aim at his team for their tyre blunder. At one stage, he said he needed a “miracle” to win.
“I don’t know how I did it today,” added Hamilton, who is now 17 points clear of Bottas in the standings.
“There were so many opportunities to make mistakes, so many opportunities to give up, and so many opportunities to make excuses.
“I was like, I am not letting go. I was holding on for dear life. I will have a glass of wine, or maybe a few, to celebrate tonight.”
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc set the fastest time in final practice for the Monaco Grand Prix as team-mate Sebastian Vettel crashed out.
Monegasque Leclerc edged out Valtteri Bottas by 0.053 seconds, with Lewis Hamilton in third, two tenths down.
Mercedes dominated practice in Monte Carlo on Thursday, but Leclerc’s pace on Saturday morning will provide Ferrari with hope that they can take the fight to the Silver Arrows in the shootout for pole position later.
Vettel’s final running before qualifying ended in the barriers.
The four-time world champion had completed just seven laps when he lost control of his Ferrari under braking for the opening Sainte Devote corner.
Vettel locked up his front-left tyre and slammed into the barrier, sustaining damage to the front of his Ferrari.
The German walked away unscathed from the accident, but his Ferrari mechanics will face a race to get his car ready for qualifying.
The Mercedes cars are running a red halo in tribute to Niki Lauda, their non-executive chairman who died, aged 70, on Monday.
It was confirmed on Friday night that a one-minute silence in the Austrian’s honour will be staged on the grid before Sunday’s race.
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen finished fourth ahead of his team-mate Pierre Gasly.
British teenager Lando Norris was 16th, one place behind Carlos Sainz in the sister McLaren.
George Russell propped up the time sheets, three seconds off the pace.
Provided by Press Association Sport
Formula One bosses are keen for the sport to return to free-to-air television – describing Sky Sports’ exclusive deal as “sub-optimal”.
The Monaco Grand Prix, one of the world’s grandest sporting events, will be broadcast behind the paywall on Sunday.
Sky Sports brokered a £600million six-year contract with F1’s former supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, in 2016, to gain live television rights in the United Kingdom.
This season is the first year of that deal, with Channel 4, who screened 10 live rounds in 2018 including the race in Monaco, reduced to showing a highlights’ package – 1.7million watched its coverage of the Spanish Grand Prix earlier this month.
The British Grand Prix in July will be the only race on the 21-round calendar which will be screened live by Channel 4 this season.
“It concerns us in a pretty material way,” said Sean Bratches, Formula One’s commercial boss.
“From a brand standpoint, F1 is nowhere near the position to lose free-to-air viewership.
“The revenue element from pay television is very exciting and attractive to us, but from a reach standpoint it is sub-optimal. In our vision and our plan, our ideal circumstance would be to have 75 per cent on free-to-air, and 25 per cent on pay TV.
“There is no wriggle-room in our agreement, contractually. That would have to be something Sky would initiate and agree with us.”
F1 lies second only to football as delivering the biggest audience numbers for Sky – the broadcaster is understood to be reporting a five per cent year-on-year increase in its viewing figures. More than two million people tuned in to watch Lewis Hamilton win his fifth world championship in Mexico last season.
Hamilton, who is yet to speak publicly since Niki Lauda’s death on Monday, is bidding to win for a third time on the streets of his adopted home to extend his seven-point lead over Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the championship.
The Silver Arrows have dominated the new campaign, beginning the season with an unprecedented five one-two finishes from the opening five rubbers.
Hamilton, 34, was also quickest in both practice sessions at the principality on Thursday.
“One of the things we are trying to do is create less predictability in the sport,” added Bratches.
“I am enamoured when Lewis wins the race but I would love to see some of the other brands on the podium.
“The bottom-three teams in the Premier League know they cannot win the title, but they also know that when they play Chelsea, Manchester City or Tottenham, that they have the opportunity to win or get a point – that is not the case in Formula One.
“There is a chance to address that. We think the best days are in front of us and we have a lot of plans to make that happen.
“Every conversation we have, we put the fan in the middle of the table and if what we are doing does not affect the fan in a positive way then we orient back to that north star.”