Hamilton turns on the style to master Monaco
Published 30/05/2016 | 02:30
What a way to do it, what a place to do it. With a drive worthy of his great hero, Ayrton Senna, one which will live long in the memory, Lewis Hamilton won the most pulsating Monaco Grand Prix of recent times, turning the world championship on its head.
After eight years, the Monaco drought is over. After eight races without victory, covering seven painful months, the drought is over full stop.
A season of misfortune came to an end, too, as a disastrous pit stop by Red Bull relegated a seething Daniel Ricciardo to second place.
Starting third on the grid after yet another mechanical issue in qualifying, Hamilton's prayers for rain were granted and he mastered the conditions with a bold one-stop strategy that none of the other leaders dared to try.
For the rest of the race, it was a case of defending firmly from Ricciardo, just as Senna did from Nigel Mansell in 1992.
This was not just a drive of supreme skill; it was one of consequence, too.
Trailing Nico Rosberg by 43 points going into this weekend, and without a win so far this season, Hamilton needed to start making inroads. In one race, he has almost halved the deficit to 24 points. All of a sudden a fourth world championship seems a lot more likely.
Rosberg was admirably stoic and honest in defeat, but in truth, he was as dismal as Hamilton was dazzling. He had to be ordered out of his team-mate's way by Mercedes in the opening stages, so dreadful was his pace.
In the end, he stuttered home seventh, losing a place to Nico Hulkenberg on the approach to the chequered flag. It was a bad day for Rosberg, but a brilliant day for Formula One's showpiece event. The only minor complaint was the special treatment proffered to Justin Bieber, with the singer waiting on the steps of the podium for Hamilton, Ricciardo and Sergio Perez, who took a well-deserved third for Force India.
Once Bieber had finally been removed from the fray, the stage rightly belonged to Hamilton.
"What a special day," the overawed three-time champion said. "Truly one of the hardest races I can remember having. Thank God that today went the way that I hoped. I'm lost for words really. I prayed for a day like this and it came through, so I feel truly blessed."
The demons have been hard to keep at bay in the first six races of this year, as mechanical failures have left him on the back foot. After qualifying here, Hamilton was the most dejected he has been all season, almost writing off his chances of victory.
The Hamilton of a few years back would have let it get to him. Or in his words: "I would have been p****d off all night long." But on Saturday night, he met some friends, had a beer and cleared his head.
The 31-year-old owes Mercedes a drink after a bold call to order Rosberg out of the way with Ricciardo scampering ahead.
Hamilton learnt of the decision only as his team-mate was conducting his press duties in the motorhome afterwards.
As he took the microphone, he patted his rival on the back and said in his ear: "Thanks for being a gentleman."
It changed the race after 16 already-eventful laps. Frustratingly, it began under the safety car, with the stewards finally listening to the drivers' pleas after eight laps.
Jolyon Palmer was immediately caught out on the pit straight. He lost control running over the markings for a zebra crossing, ploughing into the barrier.
The oldest driver on the grid crashed a few laps later at Loews hairpin. In the process, Kimi Raikkonen blocked a few drivers, making an enemy of Romain Grosjean.
Meanwhile, Ricciardo was rapidly pulling clear, driving as brilliantly as he had done to take pole position on Saturday.
Mercedes responded. Rosberg did not ask any questions, and Hamilton pulled away at nearly three seconds a lap. It was not a sequence of laps the German will like to be reminded of.
Ricciardo and everyone else came in for intermediates, but Hamilton stayed out on the full wet tyres. He was to nurse them round and go straight on to slick tyres, a decision that won him the race a year on from a calamitous strategy call that cost him certain victory here.
But even on a drying track, the crashes kept coming. Daniil Kvyat launched an ill-judged move on Kevin Magnussen at Rascasse, before Magnussen crashed all by himself at Mirabeau on lap 33.
Max Verstappen made his way to ninth from the back before putting it in the barriers at Massenet. The two Saubers took each other out, again at Rascasse, two-thirds of the way through. It was only by virtue of their supreme skill that, unlike the rest, Hamilton and Ricciardo managed not to collide. The closest they came was on lap 37.
The Englishman went straight on at the chicane after the tunnel, squirming away and leaving Ricciardo little space. The stewards investigated, but rightly decided not to spoil a brilliant duel.
Yet Ricciardo should never have been anywhere near Hamilton. Five laps earlier, he came into the pits, as requested, only to find there were no dry tyres to put on his car.
The blunder proved decisive, as he eventually emerged just behind the Mercedes.
Ricciardo's loss was Hamilton's gain. Spots of rain that arrived a few laps from the end only became a shower once the race was done. Luck was on Hamilton's side at last. (© Daily Telegraph, London)