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Graham Read
Formula 1 Correspondent
10:03 AM 28th May 2019

Hamilton Extends His Championship Lead In Monaco

Lewis Hamilton claimed his third victory in Monaco
Lewis Hamilton claimed his third victory in Monaco
First held back in 1929, the Monaco Grand Prix was part of the new Formula 1 world championship which began in 1950 and this iconic race has been ever present on the calendar from 1955 onwards. Last weekend the F1 circus descended again on the tiny Principality and it was Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton who became a three time winner around the streets of his longtime adopted home.

Sebastian Vettel was one of the drivers wearing a special helmet paying tribute to the recently deceased Niki Lauda
Sebastian Vettel was one of the drivers wearing a special helmet paying tribute to the recently deceased Niki Lauda
The build-up to this year’s event was sadly overshadowed by the death on 20 May of the Austrian Formula 1 legend Niki Lauda, aged 70, following lung transplant surgery eight months ago and a series of subsequent illnesses. Lauda won three world championships (two for Ferrari followed by a further one for McLaren), but is often best remembered for his horrendous fiery accident at the Nürburgring back in 1976, after which he bravely returned to racing just six weeks later. He later became the non-executive Chairman for the Mercedes F1 team from 2012 onwards.

The Formula 1 world paid its respects to Lauda in Monaco in various ways, with a minute’s silence before the race, special red Niki caps a common sight and Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel one of those choosing to wear a special helmet, based on Lauda’s last one for the Scuderia. As the German multiple champion explained, “Maybe it’s nice to take him for some final laps around Monaco”.

Unlike at every other Grand Prix where the opening two free practice sessions are held on the Friday, in Monaco they are always scheduled to occur on the Thursday and it was Hamilton who topped the timesheets when the 20 cars first took to the challenging circuit, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen the best of the rest.

Young Dutch charger Max Verstappen had to settle for fourth position after his five second penalty
Young Dutch charger Max Verstappen had to settle for fourth position after his five second penalty
The ensuing second practice period was dominated by the silver cars of the German team based in Brackley as Hamilton outpaced Valtteri Bottas in the other Mercedes by a mere 0.081 seconds. Vettel proved to be third quickest, but was over three quarters of a second adrift - a massive gap in F1 terms. His young Monegasque team-mate Charles Leclerc could only manage to post the tenth best time as he struggled with the set-up of his red Ferrari, whilst a water leak kept Verstappen in his pit garage for much of the session.

Come Saturday afternoon’s final practice Leclerc fared far better, setting the fastest time, whereas Vettel crashed his Ferrari at the opening Ste Devote corner, ending his participation in proceedings and causing a Virtual Safety Car period.

Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari speeds by as fans watch from closer than at any other Grand Prix
Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari speeds by as fans watch from closer than at any other Grand Prix
There was high drama too in the subsequent qualifying hour as Vettel hit the barriers again in the opening stint, this time at the Swimming Pool, and was in serious danger of being eliminated early before recovering to go quickest of all. In contrast, Leclerc caused the shock of qualifying by being only 16th fastest and very unexpectedly dropping out at the first hurdle, his Ferrari team deciding not to send him back on track for a last attempt to survive.

As qualifying drew to a close it looked like Bottas was going to outpace his Mercedes team-mate to pole position, but Hamilton produced an excellent final effort to claim the best starting position for himself, with Verstappen and Vettel occupying the second row for the race where grid positions are more important than anywhere else.

Grand Prix day in Monaco always has a special atmosphere, which intensified as the build-up to the main event progressed. When the red lights went out at the start of the race it was poleman Hamilton who sprinted into an immediate lead ahead of Bottas, Verstappen and Vettel.

A flying Red Bull meets high fashion on the streets of Monaco
A flying Red Bull meets high fashion on the streets of Monaco
The charging Leclerc caught everyone’s attention on lap nine though, as, desperate to improve on his lowly grid position, he made contact with Nico Hülkenberg’s Renault at the final Anthony Nogues corner and suffered damage which soon led to a shredded right rear tyre. This called for an immediate premature pitstop, but the Ferrari driver was forced to retire nine tours later. A sad end to a difficult weekend for the rising star.

The debris from Leclerc’s car had forced a safety car period to clear the track and this prompted all the leading drivers to pit. As Verstappen accelerated away his pit garage his Red Bull collided with Bottas’ Mercedes as he snatched second place, but this unsafe release was to lead to a five second penalty for the Dutch driver, to be applied at the end of the Grand Prix.

After Bottas had pitted for a second time just two laps later the race became a four way battle for victory between Hamilton, Verstappen, Vettel and the Finnish driver. As light rain fell intermittently the championship leading Hamilton became increasingly concerned about the condition of his worn tyres, telling his team over the radio “I’m in big trouble. The front left tyre’s dead”.

However, the five time champion resisted constant pressure from the pursuing Verstappen for 65 laps without pitting for fresh rubber, helped by the fact that it is so difficult to be overtaken in Monaco if you position your car correctly and don’t make a mistake.

Hamilton survived a late scare on the penultimate lap when he and his Dutch rival had a minor coming-together at the Nouvelle Chicane, but he remained ahead to claim the win. Although Verstappen reached the chequered flag in second place, his time penalty dropped him to fourth, leaving Vettel and Bottas to complete the podium trio. The extra point for the fastest race lap was earned by Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly.

They certainly know how to celebrate and party after the Grand Prix in Monaco, but, once all the excitement had subsided, it was time for everyone to pack up and head homewards to prepare for the transatlantic journey to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in just two weeks’ time.

Will Hamilton increase his championship lead again in Canada or will Vettel’s Ferrari fightback continue? We’ll find out shortly.

2019 Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1hr43m28.437s
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +2.602s
3 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +3.162s
4 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +5.537s
5 Pierre Gasly (Red Bull) +9.946s
6 Carlos Sainz (McLaren) +53.454s
7 Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) +54.574s
8 Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso) +55.200s
9 Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) +1m0.894s
10 Romain Grosjean (Haas) +1m1.034s
11 Lando Norris (McLaren) 1m6.801s
12 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
13 Sergio Perez (Racing Point) Lapped
14 NIco Hülkenberg (Renault) Lapped
15 George Russell (Williams) Lapped
16 Lance Stroll (Racing Point) Lapped
17 Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo) Lapped
18 Robert Kubica (Williams) Lapped
19 Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) Lapped
20 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) Retired

2019 Formula 1 Drivers Championship (after 6 rounds of 21)

1 Lewis Hamilton 137
2 Valtteri Bottas 120
3 Sebastian Vettel 82

2019 Formula 1 Constructors Championship (after 6 rounds of 21)

1 Mercedes 257
2 Ferrari 139
3 Red Bull 110