I was fighting with the spirit of Lauda - Hamilton wins his 'hardest race'

In the first race since Niki Lauda's death, Lewis Hamilton said he raced with the spirit of the three-time Formula One champion.

Lewis Hamilton with a helmet in tribute to Niki Lauda at the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday.   -  Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton said he channelled Formula One legend Niki Lauda as he dug deep to win what be branded "the hardest race" of his career at the Monaco Grand Prix.

Three-time world champion Lauda, who convinced Hamilton to join Mercedes in 2012, passed away on Monday and tributes were paid to him across the grid in the principality.

The drivers gathered around a replica of one of the Austrian's helmets and wore caps inscribed with "Niki" during a minute's silence prior to lights out, while Mercedes adopted a red halo for the race.

Hamilton led from the off but had to negotiate 67 laps on the medium compound as Max Verstappen, who was on hard tyres, pushed him all the way to the end.

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"That was definitely the hardest race I've had but nonetheless I really was fighting with the spirit of Niki. Niki's been such an influence in our team helping us get where we are and I know he will be looking down and taking his hat off," said Hamilton.

"I was trying to stay focused and make him proud, that's been the goal all week, and we truly miss him.

"I've not driven on empty tyres since Shanghai in 2007 when McLaren left me out for a ridiculous time."

Hamilton persistently made his struggles with the deteriorating tyres known over team radio but insisted he was never going to pit, having paid the price for doing so from the lead in Monaco in 2015.

"I was never going to come in. A few years ago, I was in the lead and then I came in for a pit stop and so I learnt the hard way, I lost the race here. I wasn't going to come in, I was going to either crash or finish," he said.

"Ultimately it was the wrong tyre…but the team has done an incredible job and what we've achieved in the first six races is remarkable. I'm so proud to be a part of it and I hope I can continue to do well."

Verstappen attempted to get past Hamilton at the chicane with three laps remaining and the pair made contact, with the stewards taking no action over the incident after the Briton took the chequered flag.

"It was close, it was a late dive, luckily I saw him last minute, I think his front wing was beside my rear wheel so he wasn't fully past. It was a light touch and we moved on," added Hamilton.

Verstappen was second across the line but ended up placing fourth due to a five-second time penalty for making contact with Valtteri Bottas, who took third behind Sebastian Vettel, in the pit lane.

-I gave it my all to pass Hamilton, says Verstappen -

Verstappen was unable to overtake Hamilton to boost his chances of winning the Monaco Grand Prix but was certain he could not have done more.

The Dutchman received a five-second time penalty for making contact with Bottas in the pits and was consequently demoted to fourth despite following Hamilton to the chequered flag.

Verstappen also touched five-time champion Hamilton at the chicane when he attempted to dive down the inside with three laps remaining – an incident that went unpunished – and was confident he did all he could.

"It is of course a shame to have a penalty, but I gave it my all to try to get by Lewis," said Verstappen.

"I knew he was on softer tyres and was taking it very easy once we did the stops, so I started to push him and he had to then increase his pace.

"At one point he went through his tyres, so I could really start to attack him. But out of the tunnel you can't really get close enough out of the corner to have a good go at it.

"I just tried to put the pressure on. The whole race, following that closely in the dirty air through the high-speed corners is not easy around here.

"I had a fun race, I'd have liked to have finished on the podium but if we look at the pace we were strong."

Verstappen's penalty meant Sebastian Vettel and Bottas, who had to pit after the collision with the Red Bull driver due to a puncture and rim damage, were promoted to second and third respectively.

It was the first time this season Mercedes failed to seal a one-two and Bottas was frustrated with how things panned out for him.

"It's obviously a disappointing weekend for me, I think the speed was there and I was feeling good in the car," said Bottas.

"It was small margins yesterday and that made today difficult. We had to stop at the same time with Lewis so we lost a bit of time in the pit stop, so Max got me in the pit lane and left me with no room.

"I got a puncture from that and then I was stuck behind, it was a bit of a Sunday drive in the end."

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