Another strong weekend for Mercedes team, however, without another double. Monaco was important stage for the team this time. Firstly, of course, it was dedicated to Niki Lauda. Secondly, Mercedes aren’t favorites of Monte-Carlo, so this weekend could be a weak point for them.
What was obvious from the results of free practices. On Thursday in FP1 the closest rival of Mercedes drivers in Monaco Max Verstappen from Red Bull has managed to separate Mercedes duo; then in FP3 Charles Leclerc took the lead and left Valtteri and Lewis behind.
On Saturday Hamilton showed a real quali masterclass, taking the 85th pole position.
Valtteri Bottas was very upset he couldn’t get the pole and explained it that he got into traffic, leaving the boxes, and didn’t manage to warm the tyres. However, there was another important moment – Leclerc. Ferrari made a strategy mistake, due to what Charles didn’t move further. But if the action developed in a different scenario, Charles probably would be able to compete with Lewis.
The race has started for Mercedes drivers with clear start and promised another 1-2 finish. Until the 11th lap. Charles Leclerc, who broke through the peloton, overtook Roman Grosjean, and literally immediately began an attack on Nico Hulkenberg. However, the attempt failed – Monegasque almost crashed into the German and punctured the right rear wheel. The remains of the tyre has damaged the floor of Charles’ car, and fragments were scattered on the track.
The wave of pit stops has started on 11th lap, when Safety Car appeared on the track. Lewis went to the pits first, then Valtteri. Mercedes did brilliant job with two cars again, but the Finn was attacked by Verstappen on pit lane, when the second was leaving the boxes after pit stop too. They touched, and Valtteri hit the wall, due to what got a puncture. Then the team called him for the second stop, and he came back to the track on P4.
"My race was decided in the pits. 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," – Bottas told.
If for Valtteri the race indeed ended at that moment, then for Lewis it was just a beginning. Mercedes chose for Hamilton different strategy: Hamilton one of the top-3 was on Medium tyres. Already on 21st lap the British started to warn the team about his "very bad front tyres". But the team was calm and unwavering. Max Verstappen kept very close to Lewis, which made him very nervous. However, Max got a penalty by 5 seconds for his dangerous acts on pit lane. That’s why the Dutch tried to overtake Hamilton very hard.
It seemed like Lewis and Mercedes were playing a psychological game to confuse the rivals. But on 70th lap Max almost overtook Hamilton. Despite 68 laps on Medium and incredible pressing, Lewis could hold the first place and brought the 26th win for Niki Lauda.
"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 tyres and it was so tough to keep the car on the track," – Hamilton said.
"I thought to myself, 'what would Niki do'. I know he was watching me today, but with Niki by my side we managed to do it. I wore his helmet colours 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."