Lewis Hamilton, wearing a red helmet for the first time in his life, won the Monaco Grand Prix as homage to Niki Lauda – after being saved by a ‘miracle’.
The five-time champion donned the retro-style protection to mark Lauda’s death on Monday, which provided the overlay to the 77th running of the world’s most famous motor race.
Hamilton was hounded, hounded, hounded practically all the way of the 78 laps by the terrier like Red Bull of Max Verstappen. The Brit held the Dutch pursuer off despite struggling for speed on softer tyres that caused multiple palpitations at Mercedes.
Nobody fretted harder than Hamilton, who was attacked by Verstappen with two laps remaining. The young thruster, powering out of the tunnel overcooked it, nudged Hamilton’s wheels but could not make the move stick.
Earlier, Hamilton had told the pit wall: ‘I think I’m in trouble guys – the left front is dead.’ Various later messages of increasing panic told of his problems.
‘We’re going to lose this race Bono (Peter Bonnington, race engineer). I can’t look after these tyres. I can’t keep the car behind.
‘I don’t know what you’re thinking, keeping these tyres on man. You need to hope for a miracle.’
James Vowles, the chief strategist, took the unusual step of coming on to the radio to tell Hamilton what Bonnington had tried to convince him of before, namely: ‘You can do it, Lewis. We trust in you.’ Some 15 hard, worrying, laps remained.
Track position is king here – a treasure beyond price – and the pole position Hamilton took on Saturday set him up perfectly for the emotional victory, even with the wrong tyres. He shuffled around uneasily but Verstappen could find no way through.
It was Hamilton’s third win on these streets, after 2008 and 2016, and it extended his lead at the top of the drivers’ standings to 17 points.
Seriously light rain fell. More was promised but it was not to be.
Although Verstappen was only fractions of a second behind him lap after lap, he was handicapped by a five-second penalty hanging over him for an unsafe release. Had he passed Hamilton he still would not have been awarded the win.
Sebastian Vettel was second for Ferrari once the punishment was meted out, Valtteri Bottas third in the other Mercedes and Verstappen fourth.