Lewis Hamilton is set to receive a boost in his quest for the world championship, with Mercedes to unleash an upgraded engine for this week’s Canadian Grand Prix.
Hamilton’s peerless Mercedes team have dominated the new campaign, finishing first and second at all but one of the opening six rounds.
The Briton, with four victories under his belt, is 17 points clear of team-mate Valtteri Bottas and 55 ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the championship standings.
And world champions Mercedes are poised to strike another blow to their rivals with the planned introduction of their first fresh engine of the season at Montreal’s high-powered Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Mercedes will be the last of the front-running manufacturers to introduce its new-specification power unit this year, with Ferrari and the Honda-powered Red Bull team having already introduced their first updates in Spain and Azerbaijan respectively.
Drivers are only permitted to use three engines without penalty throughout the 21-round campaign.
The good news for Hamilton comes in stark contrast to the troubles at Ferrari.
Vettel has not won a race since last August’s Belgian Grand Prix, a streak of 14 rounds, and Ferrari’s under-fire team boss Mattia Binotto provided a rather bleak assessment of their chances.
“We know we’re not competitive enough right now and, for the time being, we haven’t got any more changes coming on the car that will have a significant effect on the problems we have encountered since the start of the season,” he said.
“We arrive here ready to do our best and to put the mistakes of the last few races behind us.”
Hamilton has won three of the last four races staged in Canada and will match Michael Schumacher’s record of seven wins there with another triumph on Sunday.
The world champion, 34, who last weekend flew to New York via a stop-over at Mercedes’ Northamptonshire factory following Niki Lauda’s funeral in Vienna, will face the media in Montreal on Thursday.
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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