Monaco Grand Prix: Hamilton holds off Verstappen in stalemate

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton won the 66th running of the Monaco Grand Prix, Round 6 of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, on the streets of Monte-Carlo.

The reigning Formula 1 World Champion was made to work hard all afternoon as he was chased hard by Max Verstappen in the Red Bull. But the Dutchman was never in it to win it after he was handed a five-second penalty for an unsafe release during his pitstop.

Verstappen’s penalty demoted him to fourth while promoting Sebastian Vettel to second and Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas to third, the latter hampered by the unsafe release of the #33 Red Bull.

Wearing a bright red helmet in honour of the late F1 great Niki Lauda, Hamilton had to fend off a feisty Verstappen with softer tyres in very sore state by the time the flag waved to end the race.

He was made to work with everything he had by Verstappen who was on the harder white band tyres which lasted longer on the day. It was tense as Hamilton complained about the tyre choice, needing counselling from his race engineers to keep him on point.

In the end, the Briton did a top-notch job nursing the tyres to the end, never putting a wheel wrong despite the incessant pressure from behind but, as Monaco tends to be, this was a tense stalemate despite a late race lunge by Verstappen which forced the pair to cut the harbour chicane with no consequence.

After savouring his 77th Grand Prix victory, Hamilton said, “That was definitely the hardest race I’ve had but nonetheless I really was fighting with the spirit of Niki – he’s been such an influence in our team and I know he will be looking down and taking his hat off. I was trying to stay focused and make him proud that it’s been the goal all week and we truly miss him.

“I’ve not driven on empty tyres since 2009 when McLaren left me out in Shanghai for such a long time. It’s great crowds here and I hope it wasn’t boring.”

“It was intense I was never going to come in, I learnt the hard way, I wasn’t going to come in whether I crashed or finished. Ultimately it was the wrong tyre, if you look at my back tyre we touched at the chicane but the team has done an incredible job and I’m so proud to be a part of it and I hope I can continue to do well.”

“It was close, it was a late dive by Max, luckily I saw him last minute, I think his front wing was beside my rear wheel, I was scared that I had no tyres left,” added the championship leader.

Verstappen asked all the questions, throughout the race while Hamilton had all the answers despite the duress and his third win of the season.

The Dutchman reflected on his race, “It was shame to have a penalty but I gave it my all today to get by Lewis. I knew he had softer tyres he was taking it easy after the pitstop so I was pushing him and started attacking him all the time, but out of the tunnel you can’t get close enough.”

“I tried to put the pressure on. In the whole race I was following closely in the dirty air is not easy. I had a fun race and would’ve liked to have a podium,” added the Red Bull driver.

Vettel was gifted third by Bottas’ misfortune and later found himself in second thanks to Verstappen’s penalty. The German kept the Red Bull in his sights but never had a proper stab suggesting the Ferrari was maxed out and lacked firepower to make an impact.

It was a fortuitous second place, but much-needed confidence booster for the Reds in the wake of a torrid and disappointing weekend at the Principality for them.

Vettel said afterwards, “A tough race to manage, at Monaco, something always happens, Max must’ve had an incredible stop. I saw them [Verstappen and Bottas] touching in the pit lane.

“I thought there was a good chance we could capitalise on Valtteri’s puncture, which was a shame for him, and we tried to stay in range. I wanted to put some more pressure on, but I just struggled with my tyres, not as badly as Lewis and Max’s, but mine were just not getting hot.

“It was a bit tricky but a great result and we have a lot of work to do – we are not quick enough compared to these guys. Niki would be happy today, he will always be around, we will definitely miss him. He’s an icon in the past and in the future, my thoughts are with his family,” added the Ferrari driver.

Bottas looked set for second place but a Mercedes sixth one-two did not happen as Verstappen’s unsafe release forced the team to pit the Finn for a puncture suffered in the altercation while leaving the pits.

The Mercedes driver summed up, “It’s obviously disappointing for me, I think the speed was there and I was feeling good in the car. It was small margins yesterday and that made today difficult. Max got me in the pitlane and left me with no room and then I was stuck behind, it was like a Sunday drive.”

The early pitstops were triggered when local hero Charles Leclerc was charging through the field but got it wrong when trying to slip past the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg, the move failed and the #16 Ferrari suffered a puncture.

Frustrated Leclerc – showing shades of Gilles Villeneuve – raced to the pits with a splattering rear tyre shredding carbon fibre and debris as it wrecked the floor and right- hand rear of the red car. This prompted the safety car and not long the team parked the car.

The Ferrari driver lamented,  “It was difficult and it was as I said before the race, I had to take a lot of risks but unfortunately it ended in disaster but that’s Monaco when you start 15th which isn’t our real pace position.”

Pierre Gasly in the other Red Bull had a lonely race to fifth, his gap to sixth allowed the team to give him a shot at the fastest lap point which he bagged with a late effort.

Carlos Sainz gave a solid performance, to finish sixth and best of the Renault powered brigade. He was followed by Toro Rosso duo Daniil Kvyat and Alex Albon, in seventh and eighth respectively making it four Honda-powered cars in the top eight.

Daniel Ricciardo flew the flag for Renault to take ninth place, on a weekend in which he outshone his teammate Nico Hulkenberg who was only good for 14th. The Aussie looked good for Best of the Rest but a strategy error cost them more points.

While most pitted when the safety car came out after the Leclerc incident, Romain Grosjean stayed out and did a mega 50-lap first stint with the soft tyres to claim a point for Haas.

FIA Blow-By-Blow Report

Early in the race Hamilton pitted for medium tyres during a Safety Car period sparked by local hero Leclerc shedding debris across the track following a puncture. With the cars directly behind targeting a long stint until the end of the race having taken on hard tyres, Hamilton was left to nurse his yellow-banded Pirellis until the end.

And despite relentless pressure from Verstappen, who was seeking to negate a time penalty for an unsafe release by passing the Briton, Hamilton managed to keep the tyres alive until the flag to take his 77thcareer win.

When the lights went out for the start, polesitter Hamilton got away well and held his advantage over fello front-rwo started Bottas, third-placed Verstappen and Vettel.

Further back Leclerc, starting in 15th, was on a march. The local hero quickly climbed to P13 and then began to chase down Grosjean. Going into Rascasse, the Haas left a small gap and Leclerc pouned, slipping down the inside of the Haas to steal the place.

Having succeeded once, the Monegasque driver decided to try the same passing manoeuvre on Hulkenberg. This time, though, the gap was too tight and Leclerc clipped the barrier with his rear right wheel.

He carried, passing the pit entry as he did so, but it became clear that he’s sustained a puncture. With the whole track to navigate before he could pit, his tyre quickly began to disintegrate. He pitted, taking on medium tyres, but with debris all over the track the Safety Car was deployed. With severe damage to the floor of his car, Leclerc would retire after 16 laps.

During the SC period Mercedes opted to pit. The champion team stacked their drivers and both took on mediums, with Hamilton first in. The delay to Bottas provided Max with an opportunity and he managed to get fitted with new hard tyres more swiftly than the Finn. It meant they met in the pit lan as they went to rejoin and there was contact.

Verstappen exited the pit lane ahead of Bottas in P2 but the incident was placed under investigation by the stewards. Bottas sustained a puncture in the coming together and pitted again at the end of the following lap for hard tyres. He dropped to P4 behind Vettel.

At the end of lap 22, the stewards returned a verdict on the incident and the Dutch driver was given a five-second time penalty. Looking for the most effective way of negating the penalty, Verstappen then began to apply pressure on Hamilton, who was now trying to nurse his medium tyres to the flag.

By lap 30 Verstappen was 0.5s behind the Mercedes driver and forcing the champion to stress his tyres more than he would have wished. But as he applied the pressure Verstappen too also began to work his tyres harder than he might have liked and by half distance he was experiencing some graining to his front-right tyre and could find no way past Hamilton.

Verstappen was now running out time. Behind him Vettel and Bottas were closing up and the Dutchman’s hopes of claiming a podium position began to fade as Bottas got well within the five seconds Verstappen would lose at the flag.

The only possibility of holding on to a podium place rested in getting past Hamilton. Versatappen tried to make the move two laps from home. He braked late into the Nouvelle Chicane, trying to get down the inside of Hamilton’s Mercedes. Max locked up, however, and pushed the leader across the chicane.

They both kept going but Hamilton was able to keep the chasing pack at bay over the final two laps and crossed the line to take his 77thcareer win.

He was followed by Max, but with the five-second penalty immediately applied, he dropped to fourth behind Vettel and Bottas.

Gasly followed to take an excellent fifth place, with the Frenchman also taking his second fastest lap point of the season following a late ‘free’ pit stop for soft tyres.

Behind Gasly, Sainz took sixth place for McLaren, while Toro Rosso enjoyed a profitable day with Kvyat seventh and Albon eighth, ahead of Ricciardo. The final point on offer was claimed by Grosjean.