Hamilton takes 'miracle' Monaco win after tyre struggles
Lewis Hamilton endured a frantic afternoon in Monaco to secure the 77th win of his career, and his third in Monaco, finishing ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and his Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton, wearing a special Niki Lauda tribute helmet, enjoyed a near race-long battle with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, as he struggled to extend the life of medium tyres put on during a Safety Car period caused by a puncture for Charles Leclerc that would eventually force Ferrari’s local driver intro retirement on Lap 18.
Despite finishing just behind winner Hamilton on the road, Verstappen was eventually classified fourth, having been given a five second penalty for an unsafe release earlier in the race.
Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly finished 10 second behind the front four in fifth, while McLaren’s Carlos Sainz drove a fantastic race to finish ahead of the two Toro Rossos of Daniil Kvyat and Alex Albon, with 2018 Monaco winner Daniel Ricciardo and the Haas of Romain Grosjean completing the top 10.
FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX DE MONACO 2019
|1 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes||1:43:28.437||25|
|2 Sebastian Vettel VET Ferrari||+2.602s||18|
|3 Valtteri Bottas BOT Mercedes||+3.162s||15|
|4 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||+5.537s||12|
|5 Pierre Gasly GAS Red Bull Racing||+9.946s||11|
The race as it happened
“A miracle” is what Lewis Hamilton was asking for in the last few laps of the 2019 Monaco Grand Prix – and while it’s questionable how miraculous his third win in Monte Carlo was, it certainly was tenacious.
Hamilton enjoyed a fantastic launch off his pole position spot to lead into Turn 1, as behind, Max Verstappen tried and failed to nab second off Valtteri Bottas, who defiantly swung his Mercedes around the outside of Sainte Devote to hold the position. Lower down the order, the field filed through in a mostly polite fashion before Lance Stroll and Kimi Raikkonen made light contact at the hairpin, dropping Raikkonen to 17th.
In the first 10 laps, Charles Leclerc was, predictably, the driver on the move following his disastrous qualifying that saw him start the race in P15. He got Lando Norris for 13th with a smart move into the hairpin on Lap 2, while on Lap 7, he nipped past Haas’ Romain Grosjean with a sweet lunge into Rascasse. On Lap 9, however, he tried the same move on the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg while challenging for P11. Leclerc appeared to misjudge the space available, clipping the Armco with his right rear tyre and half spinning into the barriers. He got going again, but a right rear puncture saw his car’s floor flagellated by the delaminating Pirelli. It put enough debris across the track to force the Safety Car to be pulled on Lap 11 (Leclerc was eventually forced to retire on Lap 18, so destroyed was his car’s floor) with the front four of Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen and Vettel all diving into the pits.
Bottas was slow into his box, presumably to allow his mechanics time to get hold of another set of tyres after Hamilton’s stop. As he was released, however, that initial slowness into the pit lane saw Verstappen leave his box at the same time. Verstappen’s wheel tessellated with Bottas’ car and nerfed Bottas slightly into the wall.
Verstappen had claimed P2 with that, but the stewards decided that Red Bull had committed an unsafe release, with Verstappen eventually handed a five-second race time penalty – while Bottas was forced to pit again the following lap with a suspected puncture, but was fortunate that the Safety Car allowed him to slot back into fourth, just behind Vettel.
The race got going again on Lap 15, with Hamilton acing the restart, while Pierre Gasly, having been dropped to P8 on the grid for baulking Romain Grosjean in qualifying, was one of the main beneficiaries of that Safety Car period, having made it up to fifth place by staying out.
Behind, though, Robert Kubica and Antonio Giovinazzi came together at Rascasse, and with a car park quickly forming as drivers behind arrived on the scene, it looked as though the Safety Car might have to head straight back out. But Kubica eventually managed to get his FW42 rotated and clear, while Giovinazzi was later handed a 10-second penalty for causing the incident.
As the race settled into its rhythm, eyes turned to the sky to see whether race control’s warning of a 90% chance of rain would come to fruition. Sadly for some, it didn’t. Verstappen, on hard tyres and with that five-second penalty now hanging over him, was harassing Hamilton at the front, the five-time champ sounding edgy on team radio as he watched his front left medium tyre graining.
As the laps passed, Hamilton sounded more and more concerned, and by Lap 50, he was reporting that his front left was “dead”. Verstappen, however, had failed to launch any sort of real challenge, while Vettel and Bottas were keeping a watching brief in third and fourth, as behind, Carlos Sainz was enjoying a mega race and lying sixth for McLaren, behind Gasly and ahead of the two Toro Rossos of Daniil Kvyat and Alex Albon.
By Lap 62, Hamilton was flustered enough to force Mercedes strategist James Vowles to take to team radio. “Lewis, it’s James, you can do this – we trust in it,” he was told. But while Hamilton’s hero Ayrton Senna famously managed to win around Monaco in 1992 by planting his McLaren confidently in the middle of the track to hold back Nigel Mansell despite its tyres being shot to pieces, with just over 15 laps to go, Hamilton didn’t seem to have Senna’s courage of conviction…
On Lap 76 of 78, Verstappen, having spent so much time behind Hamilton, made his one serious move of the afternoon on the race leader, sending it down the inside of Hamilton into the seafront chicane. Hamilton shut the door, with Verstappen’s front right making light contact with Hamilton’s rear left. Verstappen was angry to have had his nose cut off by Hamilton, with the stewards deciding that the incident required closer scrutiny after the race before eventually deeming that it warranted no further action.
Either way, Hamilton had done enough to hold his rival off, and he crossed the finish line to bring home a poignant win number 77 in a fitting tribute to the ’77 (and ’75 and ’84) champion Niki Lauda, whose helmet colours he proudly sported and pointed definitely to as he stood on top of his car.
Verstappen crossed the line second but fell to fourth thanks to his penalty, despite having driven a brilliant race that earned him the Driver of the Day accolade. That meant that Vettel and Bottas – who’d both played bit parts to the action at the front during the race – got promoted up to second and third, Vettel thus effectively being the driver to end Mercedes’ five-race streak of one-two finishes.
Gasly took useful points in fifth, plus an extra one for fastest lap, while Sainz held on to take sixth – maintaining his 100% points record in Monaco with a sensational drive – ahead of a fine showing for Toro Rosso, with Kvyat holding off Albon. A late surge for Daniel Ricciardo in the Renault, meanwhile, saw him benefit from a five-second penalty for Romain Grosjean for crossing the pit lane exit line, meaning that last year’s winner ended up in a strong ninth place, to claim just his second points finish of the year, as Grosjean came home 10th.
Further back, meanwhile, George Russell drove a brilliant race to finish 15th for Williams, keeping the likes of Racing Point's Lance Stroll and Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen at bay to give the Grove team something to cheer about.
Hamilton now moves alongside Sirs Jackie Stewart and Stirling Moss and his old team mate Nico Rosberg in the three-time Monaco winner category – but in what was an emotional day for both him and Mercedes, he’ll surely remember this victory as one of his most hard-fought.
The key quote
“That was probably the hardest race I’ve had, but nonetheless I really was fighting with the spirit of Niki. Niki’s been such an influential person in our team, helping to get us where we are. So I know he’ll be looking down and know he’d take his hat off today. I was trying to stay focused and trying to make him proud. That’s been the goal all week and we’re going to try to continue that through the year. We truly miss him.” – Lewis Hamilton
Formula 1 heads over the Atlantic for the first time this year, as we prepare for the Canadian Grand Prix on June 7-9. Taking place at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, the track on the Ile Notre-Dame is a Lewis Hamilton favourite, with the five-time champ having a full six wins to his name around there. The drivers all love racing in Canada – and we’re sure you’ll love it too. See you then!