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Monaco GP 2019

MAY 26, 2019

Race Analysis - What Would Niki Do?

Monaco GP 2019
© Cahier Archive

By Dan Knutson in Monaco

Lewis Hamilton has now won 77 grands prix, and he rates the 78 laps he led to win the Monaco Grand Prix as one of his greatest victories ever. Invoking the spirt of his friend and mentor, the late Nico Lauda, Hamilton withstood the pressure from Max Verstappen and coped with worn tires. Here is how his third Formula 1 win in Monaco happened.


Winning the pole at Monaco is crucial because it is so difficult to pass in the race.


Ironically, only once in the previous four years – in 2018 with Daniel Ricciardo – has the pole sitter in Monaco won the race.


Hamilton barely beat his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in qualifying, so Bottas wound up second.


Next up on the grid were Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari). They would play a crucial role in the race as would Charles Leclerc who lined up 15th in the other Ferrari.


When the red lights went out, Hamilton took the lead. Verstappen nearly got by Bottas but ended up third ahead of Vettel.


With overtaking nearly being impossible in Monaco, it was now a matter of waiting for something to happen.


It happened when the safety car came out on lap 10. Leclerc had worked his way up to 12th when he tagged Nico Hulkenberg while trying to pass him. Leclerc then drove an entire lap on a shredding right rear tire and littered part of the track with rubber and carbon fiber debris.


Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas and Verstappen all “boxed.”


The Red Bull crew sent Verstappen out into the pitlane and into the path of Bottas. The two cars scraped together. Bottas had to pit again because of a puncture.


Officials ruled that Red Bull had given Verstappen an unsafe release from the pit box and gave him a five second time penalty.


Leclerc eventually retired as his car had been damaged by the flaying tire.

“As I said before the race, I had to take a lot of risks, which we did,” he said. “It was fun at the beginning but unfortunately it ended in disaster but that’s the problem with Monaco when you are starting 15th, which is not our real pace position. It was difficult to come back from today.”


After the safety car came in at the end of lap 15, Hamilton, on the medium compound Pirelli tires, led over Verstappen, Vettel and Bottas. The latter three were on the hard tires.


Verstappen needed to pass Hamilton and pull away by at least five seconds. That was the only way he could erase his five second penalty.


But there was no way that Hamilton was going to let Verstappen pass.


Verstappen finished the race second on the track, but dropped to fourth when the penalty was applied.

“It’s a shame to get the penalty but I gave my all to get by Lewis,” he said. “You know when you’re up against Lewis it’s going to be very hard, but I kept pushing him and I tried to force him into a mistake. I made him use his tires a bit more than he wanted which meant I could attack. At one point I could see his tires really dropping off and there were a few corners on the track where he was really slow which meant I could line up a move, but we just couldn’t get close enough. With a few laps to go, I thought I’m going to try it now and see what happens. We touched but luckily nothing came of it.”


So Vettel moved up to second, his best finish of the season.

“Given the circumstances this weekend, which was a tough weekend for us, I think we take second,” he said. “But we also know that the pace probably wasn't good enough this weekend to really put the cars in front under enough pressure, to try and do something.”


“My race was decided in the pits,” Bottas said after finishing second. “We did a double-stacked pit stop under the safety car, Lewis first, then me. Vettel and Verstappen came in as well and when I left the pits, Max was released at the same time and was side-by-side with me. We touched, I hit the wall because there's no space to go and I got a right-front puncture. So I had to do another pit stop the following lap. At that point, I thought I'd be at the end of the field, but I only lost a couple of places, so I guess I was unlucky but lucky at the same time.”


“Today was one of the hardest races of my career, it was so intense. With 20 laps left I thought there was no way I was going to make it to the end. I thought I was going to crash; I was battling so much with the car. There was absolutely nothing left in the tires and it was so tough to keep the car on the track. I thought to myself, 'what would Niki do.’

“I was trying my hardest - giving everything I had. I just tried to stay focused and make no mistakes. I know he was watching me today, but with Niki by my side we managed to do it. I wore his helmet colors today and I didn't want to let him down. He was close to my heart, I really wanted to deliver for him this weekend and I was determined not to crack under the pressure. Today belongs to Niki.”