By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician
Niki Lauda was a two-time Monaco Grand Prix winner for Ferrari.
Long after hanging up his helmet, Lauda enjoyed renewed success in the past half-decade as a non-executive director at Mercedes.
It was therefore fitting that Sunday’s race in Monte-Carlo ended with two Mercedes and a Ferrari on the podium, and the winning driver – whom Lauda had helped lure to Mercedes at the end of 2012 – surpassed Lauda’s total to take a third Monaco victory, while both he and the second-placed driver wore two different iterations of Lauda’s title-winning helmet designs.
That was for you, Niki. Your fighting spirit was right there with me every step of the way. I know you are looking down and taking your hat off to us. I miss you, we truly miss you and I hope we did you proud today, legend. pic.twitter.com/gwNJvFzY8C— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) May 26, 2019
There was no escaping the shadow cast by the absence of a racing legend in the Principality this weekend, but Lewis Hamilton made it a successful weekend for a team in mourning, claiming what was surprisingly his first-ever win from pole position in a Monaco GP, despite having done it on 47 previous occasions.
Hamilton led a race from start-to-finish for the 17th time in his career, only two short of Ayrton Senna’s all-time record. Moreover, he has led start-to-finish in consecutive races for the first time, having also taken a lights-to-flag win in Spain.
It means he’s now led 144 consecutive laps, the longest run of his career and – perhaps surprisingly – the longest by any driver in the hybrid era. The last streak of greater duration was when Sebastian Vettel led 205 in a row while winning the Japanese, Korean and Indian GPs in 2012.
Hamilton is now also the all-time leader in pole positions with a single team. Saturday saw his 59th pole for Mercedes, surpassing the long-held record by Michael Schumacher, who claimed 58 for Ferrari between 1996 and 2006. Schumacher, coincidentally, was the driver that Hamilton replaced in the Mercedes team at the start of 2013.
For the second year running, the winner in Monaco was fighting something of a rearguard action in a less-than-ideal situation. Whereas last year’s victor Daniel Ricciardo had to overcome an MGU-K failure, Hamilton’s victory this season was in spite of having to make a set of medium compound tyres last for most of the race, while his chief rivals used the more durable hard compound.
What made this race different to all others so far in 2019 was that the closest rival to the winning Mercedes was not another Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas was forced into a precautionary second pitstop after contact with Max Verstappen while leaving the first one.
This meant Mercedes’ record-setting run of five straight 1-2 finishes to start a season finally ended – although their 1-2 in qualifying on Saturday meant they became the second team just this year to equal the F1 record for the most front row lockouts, which amazingly is now split four ways.
McLaren scored their 62nd lockout at Interlagos in 2012. Williams then joined them at Austria in 2014, and Ferrari reached their 62nd in Bahrain earlier this year, before Mercedes became the next members of the 62 Club in Monaco. It is likely that the Scuderia and Mercedes will be battling to take the record outright from Montreal onwards.
Bottas’ second pitstop left Verstappen ideally placed to mount a challenge for victory, as the Dutchman spent 68 laps right behind Hamilton, trying to find a way past in an effort to lead Honda’s first laps in Monaco since Ayrton Senna famously held off Nigel Mansell to win in 1992.
Despite a desperate lunge in the dying laps – which sent Hamilton across the chicane rather than around it – Verstappen’s efforts were all for nothing, as not only did he not get past, but a five-second penalty for the unsafe pit release demoted him off the podium altogether.
Had he succeeded in passing Hamilton, pulling out the five seconds necessary to be the declared the winner certainly seemed within reach. Fourth may have been Verstappen’s best-ever Monaco GP result, but it felt like scant reward.
Verstappen’s misfortune was Vettel’s delight, as the German therefore inherited second after playing not much more than a watching brief for most of the afternoon. It speaks volumes about Ferrari’s poor season that this was their first top-two finish of 2019, and in a year of puzzling strategy decisions by the Scuderia, none were more open to question than their mishandling of Charles Leclerc’s qualifying strategy.
Support this week-end has been unreal. After yesterday, it was always going to be very difficult. But I tried, I gave it all, the end was not the one I had wished, but our day will come.— Charles Leclerc (@Charles_Leclerc) May 26, 2019
: @jcpieri pic.twitter.com/4Joxsc3LRv
Having entered the weekend with high hopes of being the first Monegasque driver to win the Monaco Grand Prix since Louis Chiron in 1931, Leclerc topped final practice and seemed set to challenge for pole, only for Ferrari to bafflingly leave him in the garage toward the end of Q1 as his name slid closer and closer to elimination. With supreme irony, it was teammate Vettel who ultimately knocked him out.
Leclerc attempted to make the best of a 15th place starting position – one position lower than he managed for Sauber last season – but the odds were never in his favour considering nobody has finished on the podium from outside the top ten in a dry Monaco GP since the 1970s.
He would ultimately be the only retirement of the day (the second year running in which only one car failed to finish in Monte-Carlo), a consequence of a self-inflicted puncture from tapping the barrier.
The demise of Leclerc ended a unique run in the first five races of 2019, as the top five positions has been divided between the same five drivers on each occasion. The beneficiary was Pierre Gasly, for whom fifth place was his best for Red Bull so far, with the fastest lap bonus thrown in for good measure.
Carlos Sainz has driven for three Formula 1 teams in his career, but while his colours have changed, his Monaco GP form has remained a constant. The Spaniard has scored in all five starts in Monte-Carlo, and his sixth place on Sunday was his best result since joining McLaren, who are now 13 points clear of the rest of the pack in their efforts to claim fourth in the Constructors’ Championship.
This brought cheer to a McLaren team unexpectedly relegated to the role of spectators for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, after Fernando Alonso’s shock failure to qualify.
Seventh-placed Daniil Kvyat finally cracked a jinx that seems to have followed him throughout his two stints as a driver at Toro Rosso. The Russian made his 57th start for the team in Monaco this weekend, only one short of Jean-Eric Vergne’s team record, and yet astonishingly – and despite 13 previous point-scoring finishes for the team – Sunday was Kvyat’s first top-eight result for the team that gave him his F1 debut in 2014.
His was not the only good news in the Toro Rosso camp this weekend. Teammate Alexander Albon not only reached Q3 for the first time in his career, but by finishing one place behind Kvyat he ensured the team had both cars in the top eight for the first time since the 2015 US Grand Prix.
Furthermore, it meant that four Honda-powered cars scored points in the same race for the first time since the 1987 British Grand Prix, the race in which the Japanese manufacturer took a 1-2-3-4 finish for the only time in their F1 history (Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet were 1-2 for Williams, Ayrton Senna and Satoru Nakajima were 3-4 for Lotus).
Last year’s winner Daniel Ricciardo left Red Bull at the same time as they switched to Honda power, and the Australian has continued with the same Renault power units he has raced throughout the hybrid era.
Perhaps inevitably, Sunday was his first Monaco finish outside the top five since the end of the V8 era back in 2013, but ninth place did at least net some points for only the second time all year. His move to the Renault team has not paid dividends so far – they sit eighth in the Constructors’ Championship, having been fourth at the same stage 12 months ago.
Romain Grosjean took the final point in this race, but in unusual circumstances. Another driver to receive a five-second penalty on Sunday, Grosjean had originally finished ninth on the road, but after the penalty was applied he dropped behind Ricciardo by just 0.140s!
Montreal is next, and Lewis Hamilton will not only arrive with a 14-point championship lead, but he will be attempting to win there for a seventh time in his career, more than at any other circuit in his F1 career. The odds of a sixth world title are shortening by the week.