Lewis Hamilton was hailed after delivering a “world champion’s performance for an absent world champion” with his victory in an emotional and thrilling Monaco Grand Prix.
Hamilton and his Mercedes team dedicated the Briton’s nerve-jangling win in Monte Carlo to Niki Lauda, their non-executive chairman, who died last Monday.
The Englishman spared Mercedes’ blushes by holding off Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and masterfully getting his car to the chequered flag after his team put him on the wrong rubber.
Hamilton, who vowed to celebrate with a nice meal and glass of wine, will now head to the Canadian Grand Prix a week on Sunday holding a commanding 17-point lead over team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the championship.
Mercedes staff paid tribute to Lauda by wearing red caps. Hamilton also sported a one-off helmet in the Austrian’s honour.
“It was a world champion’s drive for a world champion that isn’t among us anymore,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.
“It couldn’t have been a more dramatic race, so I am relieved it is over.
“Lewis did an incredible job out there. We know the tyre choice was wrong with Lewis – we should’ve taken the (more durable) hard tyre at his stop.
“But these things happen. It was the driver who made the difference and managed the race.”
Hamilton took on the less-durable medium tyre after just 10 laps of Sunday’s 78-lap race. That left him vulnerable to Verstappen in the latter stages.
The Briton was subsequently at odds with his team over the radio – claiming he needed a miracle to win after their pit-stop error.
But after holding on to take his 77th career victory – before celebrating by performing a back-flop into the swimming pool while still dressed in his Mercedes race suit – Hamilton said Lauda’s spirit had guided him over the finishing line.
“I definitely felt like Niki was racing with me,” he said. “That was for you, Niki. Your fighting spirit was right there with me every step of the way. I know he was looking down and taking his hat off to us.
“It was the hardest race I have ever had, it was the biggest challenge I have had. It has been such a hard week, emotionally. I just wanted to do the job and deliver for Niki. When I was driving, I was like, ‘what would Niki do?’
“As a driver my goal is to be respected as Niki was. He was a hero to so many.”
- Press Association