Lewis Hamilton resisted intense race-long pressure on Sunday to secure a narrow, dramatic and emotional victory for Mercedes at the Monaco Grand Prix.
The defending five-time world champion and current series leader, who came home less than a second ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, said he survived the Dutchman’s late attacks by “fighting with the spirit of Niki (Lauda)”.
He lifted his red helmet in tribute to the three-time champion and non-executive chairman of Mercedes who died on Monday.
Verstappen, who was involved a pit-lane collision with Valtteri Bottas during the race, was classified fourth after taking a five seconds penalty. This elevated four-time champion Sebastian Vettel to second for Ferrari and lifted the luckless Bottas to third in the second Mercedes.
Both drivers joined Hamilton in donning red ‘Niki’ hats in tribute to Lauda for the podium ceremonies.
“Lewis, it’s James… Incredible drive,” said Mercedes’ strategist James Vowles before team boss Toto Wolff told him: “That was for Niki.”
“That was the hardest race I think I’ve had,” said Hamilton. “I was fighting with the spirit of Niki. He’s been truly an influential person in our team and we miss him.”
Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Pierre Gasly came home fifth ahead of Carlos Sainz of McLaren, Daniil Kvyat and his Toro Rosso teammate Alex Albon.
Daniel Ricciardo, last year’s winner for Red Bull, was ninth for Renault ahead of Romain Grosjean of Haas.
It was Hamilton’s third win in Monaco and the 77th win of his career opening up a clear lead in the title race.
The result extended Mercedes’ run of season-opening wins to six, but brought an end to their sequence of one-two triumphs, buoying up Ferrari despite another mixed weekend that saw local hero Charles Leclerc, who started 15th, retire in the opening stages.