Tuesday 25 June 2019

Hamilton: I wanted to deliver for Niki Hamilton

Tribute: Lewis Hamilton dedicates his Monaco Grand Prix success to the late Niki Lauda. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
Tribute: Lewis Hamilton dedicates his Monaco Grand Prix success to the late Niki Lauda. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Oliver Brown

Drained by tension and drenched from his plunge into the portside swimming pool, Lewis Hamilton took a moment to savour a famous victory.

To win for a third time on the streets of Monaco, having toiled for 66 laps on fast-shredding rubber, while still fending off the attacks of a swarming Max Verstappen? It all amounted, he said, to "the hardest race I have ever had".

Having worn a helmet designed in Niki Lauda's signature colours, Hamilton claimed to have been possessed here in Monte Carlo by the late Austrian's spirit.

Lauda, who died last week at the age of 70, would have loved this victory. Hampered by Mercedes' dubious early decision to switch him to medium tyres, Hamilton was forced on the defensive at every turn, using all his peerless racing acumen to thwart the surging young Dutchman in his rear-view mirrors.

Even in the latter stages, as Verstappen flew out of the tunnel and tried one last lunge at the Nouvelle Chicane, Hamilton kept up his thou-shalt-not-pass defiance.

On Wednesday, Hamilton will head to Vienna for Lauda's funeral, an occasion that most Formula One drivers are expected to attend.

Lauda was a figure of particular significance in the five-time world champion's life, having brokered the move from McLaren to Mercedes that turned him from a prodigy into a legend.

Pointing to his bespoke helmet the moment he emerged from the car, Hamilton evoked Lauda's memory.

"I wanted to deliver for Niki," he said. "When I was driving, I thought, 'What would Niki do?' I definitely feel that he was with me today. I have never won wearing someone else's helmet design before, and I hope that one day I'm as respected as he was."

His first action after speaking to the media, he explained, would be to ring his father, Anthony, to ask him what he thought.

Then, he suggested that he might be tempted by some unusual alcoholic indulgence. "I'm going to try to enjoy a glass of wine tonight, or a few," he smiled. "From an expensive bottle, too."

Such was Mercedes' supremacy entering this race, with five straight one-two finishes, Hamilton, as the pole-sitter, might have dared to expect a serene day out in front.

But the combination of a pit-stop miscalculation and Verstappen's pace ensured it was anything but.

Verstappen, who was given a five-second penalty for unsafe release after shunting Valtteri Bottas into the pit-lane barrier, knew that he had to make his choice of harder tyres count, and fast.

His chase of Hamilton made for one of Monaco's most mesmerising pursuits. Each time they jousted, his front wing was almost touching Hamilton's rear wheel.

Verstappen made a last-ditch attempt at an overtake, clipping Hamilton's Mercedes but finding no way around. A stewards' investigation absolved both drivers of blame.

"I gave it my all," said Verstappen, whose time punishment relegated him to fourth, behind Sebastian Vettel and Bottas. "I pushed Lewis as hard as I could."


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