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Hamilton, Verstappen honour Lauda legacy and breathe life into F1

Hamilton, Verstappen honour Lauda legacy and breathe life into F1



Hamilton, Verstappen honour Lauda legacy and breathe life into F1

Hamilton, Verstappen honour Lauda legacy and breathe life into F1

You can't overtake at the Monaco Grand Prix, maybe you don't need to. In a week that Formula 1 lost one of its all-time legends in Niki Lauda, the 2019 season was finally brought to life in Lewis Hamilton's nail-biting triumph.

Mercedes may still be in possession of every race win this season, but the cloud that hung over F1 after our last race in Spain, and grew darker when news of Lauda's passing broke, was blown away in a reminder of so many things that make the sport brilliant.

Sure, we didn't get a whole heap of overtakes, but the ones we did see were pure driving skill and bravery – no DRS cruises on these streets, given that the main straight isn't even straight.

There was ecstasy at the end for Hamilton and Mercedes, but the weekend was painted by so much agony, especially for Charles Leclerc, whose task was mammoth from 15th on the grid after Ferrari's latest comedy of errors eliminated him in Q1.

The home hero was the exponent of the two most eye-catching passes: out-braking Carlos Sainz at the Loews Hairpin on lap one and then barrelling up the inside of Romain Grosjean at La Rascasse with millimetres to spare.

Trying to repeat the trick against Nico Hulkenberg would prove fatal for Leclerc, and he is yet to see a chequered flag in four attempts at a home race in Formula 2 and F1.

While we were robbed of an exciting recovery drive from the Ferrari man, his punctured lap of Monaco which scattered carbon fibre all over the race track, would aid a thriller with the kind of tension usually reserved for the silver screen.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull were typically punchy in their attempts to nudge out Valtteri Bottas in the pits. Verstappen came out in second, but with a five-second time penalty to come, while the Finn was ultimately demoted to fourth as he picked up a puncture.

This moment was crucial on many levels.

Bottas was not tucked in behind Hamilton to allow Mercedes an easy run at a sixth one-two of 2019 (which would have been an all-time record, by the way). Verstappen was given the challenge of passing Hamilton, or facing having a podium taken away from him. And even Sebastian Vettel was in with a chance of victory, whether he would cross the line first or not.

Hamilton and Mercedes later admitted that the drivers' incessant barracking of his team over the radio was more venting than genuine strategy suggestions, but it too gave us the impression of the world champion's fraying nerves inside his cockpit as Verstappen continued to nibble and claw at his rear wing, desperate to find the free air that may have allowed him to pull clear.

Although his front tyres looked like something emerging from under an oven grill, there was enough life in the rears and power from the engine to allow Hamilton to pull off a victory reminiscent in style to his hero Ayrton Senna's in 1992 against a raging Nigel Mansell around the same streets.

It showed all the guts and tenacity that Lauda has brought to the Silver Arrows since 2013 – "giving it arseholes" as the Austrian famously said.

The wind was also put back into F1, which had gone flat in recent weeks as Ferrari lurch from one crisis to another and Mercedes have been out of Red Bull's league.

After the fears that this race could pass by in the kind of soporific manner that came with Daniel Ricciardo's underpowered redemption a year ago, it was energising to see genuine tension and jeopardy at the sharp end of the field once again.

How every race needs a Hamilton-Verstappen battle. The apex performer against the young pretender who will surely replace him one day as F1's leading light.

It's likely the pair will be a few places apart again in Canada next time out, who knows maybe Ferrari will even come to the fore at a track that should suit the SF90.

But for now the adulation remains in the Mercedes garage, which turned an unlikely shade of red to salute their friend and colleague Niki.

We think he might have rather enjoyed that one, as any motorsport fan in their right mind should have.


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Fri 23 Oct

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