The week leading up to the Monaco Grand Prix begins with the farewell of one of Motorsport's great protagonists. On the morning of Monday, May 20th 2019, news of Niki Lauda's passing is given in a statement from the family on The Sun:
"With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki passed away peacefully with his family on Monday 20.05.2019. His unique accomplishments as an athlete and entrepreneur are and will remain unforgettable, as will his tireless enthusiasm for action, his candor and courage. A role model and role model for all of us, he was a loving and caring husband, a father and grandfather away from the public eye, and he will be missed".
His passing marks a great loss for the automotive world. Lauda can be considered one of the most determined men in the history of the sport. He is a man who has lived more than one world, as if he had lived more than one life, a man who passed through Ferrari and McLaren, two bitter enemies, and then joined Mercedes; wherever he went he brought success and glory. We're talking about a three-time World Champion driver, whose story didn't end with his farewell to the world of racing in 1985, but continued in the background: chief operating officer at Jaguar for two years and then from 2012 non-executive chairman of Mercedes AMG F1. Outside of racing, he also founded and directed two airlines: Lauda Air and Niki.
Lauda was born in Austria in a family of bankers, but it is precisely here that we must pause: this is not the usual daddy's boy driver who has had his way with money. His ideal of a future did not coincide with that of his family. They did not see eye to eye with his interest in cars and speed. He had to do everything on his own, even take out life insurance. His passion was racing, not offices or calculations, he wanted to race and feel the adrenaline, and to do that he had to make a decision, the hardest one sometimes: to follow his dream. He relied on himself to get ahead. He used the money he got from his victories in the minor categories, having used up every penny of his assets. He lived in a micro-apartment and had as his office a closet managed by a friend-manager.
Hers is a story with multiple beginnings, it is not always easy to enter this world, especially because of the high demand for money. Niki is an example of how willpower and talent are often the key. These gifts of his have helped him many times in life, made him a fighter and allowed him to achieve many milestones. The first, the one that started everything, was the fulfillment of the dream of many drivers, the landing in Formula 1 in 1971 driving for March. The rest is history: 171 Grand Prix, 25 victories, 24 pole positions, 3 world titles. Simply one of the best.
One of his great qualities was to find the flaw and minimize it until it disappeared, that's how he won the titles in Ferrari and that's how he led Mercedes to glory. If you were to ask a motorsport enthusiast to describe this great driver, his words would be pragmatic, calculating, punctilious, precise, honest. It's true, on the track he didn't give space to the case, everything was decided, analyzed in the smallest details, able to find every defect of the car, so that he was nicknamed the computer, but Niki would have said differently. In fact, he reveals in an interview that he is totally the opposite, a carpe diem man, a man who takes chances on the fly and it is in these words that you find the two people: Niki the driver and Niki the man.
"I've never made plans in my life, I've always made decisions in the moment. I am for improvisation".
His career began in March and he has come a long way since then. He moves on to B.R.M., Ferrari, Brabham and, finally, McLaren. His glory years began with his Ferrari adventure. He tells how he used to joke with his friend-manager about a hypothetical call from Montezemolo, every day Niki asked if it had arrived, an alternative way to say good morning. Until the fateful call really arrived. The Austrian did not immediately believe his companion, so much so that he waited a whole week before calling back.
In this funny way he began his adventure with Ferrari. He was direct, even too much at times, as Piero Ferrari could confirm, and stubborn. In 1973 at the London airport he discussed his passage to Ferrari for three hours with Montezemolo, a question of money: 32 million lire, but in shillings. So he said. When he arrived in Maranello, he was the only one who spoke English together with Enzo's son, Piero. Nobody will forget the first day he climbed into the Ferrari. It was necessary to start working on the car right away, that's why laps were made at Fiorano. We said he was outspoken, right? A quality he carried with him all his life. In the paddock they feared his words, later in life, when he occupied the position of sports collaborator, the statement of the head of external relations of Ferrari was nice:
"What did Niki tell you? Actually, no, I don't want to know, but know that whatever he says, we deny it".
He never stopped being like that. His words, unfortunately, or fortunately for some, were always true, he said what he thought without problems, simply the pure truth even if it hurt. And so it was also when he put his rear end down on the lacquered red single-seater for the first time.
"This car is shit".
He said it without hesitation, no brakes on his tongue, directly in the face of the son of the great Enzo Ferrari.
"No I can't translate that".
What could poor Piero do? The truth may hurt, but it is a great counselor. Ferrari answered by asking if he had any ideas on how to improve the car, and Niki answered affirmatively: it was possible to gain 0.5 seconds. Therefore Ferrari gave him only one week to succeed. And if he had not succeeded, he would have been fired. In one week the car changed completely, half a second faster, thanks to Lauda's analysis and the work of engineer Mauro Forghieri. How did he manage with only a few laps to understand all the defects of the car? If you asked Niki he would tell us:
"I drive with my ass".
A pilot of other times; today there are engineers, mechanics, specialists, computers, who deal with data, analyze, make calculations. Lauda said he drove the car with his backside, he felt the vibrations, he was in close contact with the asphalt, a bit those phenomena that recognize the production model, life, death and miracles of a car from the sound of the engine in the distance. He won two world championships with Ferrari, he brought splendor back to Maranello after 11 years since the last constructors' title and became world champion for the first time in the same year, 1975. These victories were all thanks to Lauda, he was the key to this great success, it is not by chance that he is still considered one of the best drivers in car tuning.
His contribution to both the 312 B3-74 and the 312T was crucial. A car wlateral radiators, a new weight distribution, in a few words a car refined in every detail was realized. The 312T was able to bring Ferrari back to victory. The T in the name stands for the transverse gearbox that made the car shorter and therefore more manageable. The engine was a 015 type, 12 cylinders at 180 degrees, 3000 cc with 495 hp at 12,200 rpm, it also had great improvements in aerodynamics and suspension and in the end all those little details wanted by Lauda himself, which combined with his skills as a driver made possible the great success of Ferrari. In spite of the great affection and respect that was created, Enzo and Lauda were two very strong characters and the divorce was a matter of time. It was in 1977, after the second world title of the Austrian driver, that the two separated abruptly. Predictable as much as unpredictable. The versions of the two are slightly different, and not by chance each one tells his truth.
"In 1977 Lauda won the title and we were calm for the following season, convinced that we still had a great driver for a great car. One day, however, Lauda phoned us asking for an appointment as soon as possible at my father's offices. We were so far away from the idea of having to change the first driver of our team that Dad was a bit surprised: you'll see that he will ask us to double the salary. After all, he had just won a world championship and was the best driver of his generation. And from the way he said it, an increase in Lauda's salary was even fair in his opinion. But things turned out very differently. Niki entered the room, more abruptly than usual. And without even sitting down, he shot: I have decided that I will not race for you anymore. Just that morning my father had read some rumors in the Corriere della Sera, but he was convinced they were nonsense. In that instant he realized that they were not. There and then he tried to hold him back. He told him to sit down, he was the first to address the question of money, which in a negotiation is never a good way to start: if you have other offers, know that I am willing to settle them quietly. But it was not a question of money. Lauda told us that he had already signed for another team and that he had no intention of coming back. We were stunned. It took Dad a while to recover. But when he came to his senses, he was furious. He could have accepted Lauda's unexpected departure. What he could not accept was the way the Austrian had chosen to end a story that had been glorious. Leaving Maranello, always trying to justify his decision, he said something that would not have brought him luck: we will see in two years time where I will be and where Ferrari will be".
It is not easy to accept the end of a story that brought so much glory and success. Niki seems presumptuous in the words of the Maranello family - it would not be a surprise given his strong character - but he tells it differently. In his story, relations with Ferrari had not been going for a while, he felt isolated and this led him to make his decision.
"1977 was a tough year. First of all, I had to deal with Reutemann and regain leadership of the team. Like a malignant elephant I was harboring resentment over the lack of trust in me; the divorce with Ferrari would have been a relief. At Zandvoort I had already completed thirteen races out of seventeen, I concluded my passage to Brabham with Bernie Ecclestone. The agreement had to remain absolutely secret, otherwise I would have compromised, within Ferrari, my brilliant prospects of becoming World Champion. The Commendatore was still anxious to sign a new contract in advance and I had to find continuous pretexts, made up in the air, to avoid negotiations. I was satisfied to know that my departure would have been a tremendous slap in the face for Enzo Ferrari and I told myself that that blow would have been deserved. Today I see it differently; it was a battle of unequal arms. I was young and strong, I could decide for myself; he, on the other hand, was seventy-eight years old, he had consultants who only aimed at their own interests and he was informed by them second or third-hand. So I took the satisfaction of refusing coldly, without many compliments, without explanations, the most open, most generous offer he had ever made to a pilot, before and after me. I did not intend to stay, that was all. The end. I was happy when I left. In fact, Enzo Ferrari was hard hit and hurled heavy invectives at me. When Enzo Ferrari sent me a telegram for the birth of my son Lukas, I understood that he had changed his attitude towards me, as I had changed mine towards his. After a certain period of time, respect for that giant and for his historical work prevailed over all my other feelings".
With time the respect did not fail from both of them, both for the great man that Enzo was and for the great esteem that people still have for him in this sport, and for what Lauda did and meant for this team. Although there are precedents, these feelings do not disappear easily, so much so that Niki will be called back in '92 by Montezemolo as a sports collaborator and once again he will be the key to Ferrari's rebirth in the Schumacher era. As I have already said: where Lauda moved he brought glory. It is no coincidence that Mercedes wanted him to be there and, as is his wont, he made this adventure another triumph. He was appointed honorary non-executive chairman of the German team in September 2012, of which he also holds a 10% shareholding.
And it is no coincidence that it was he who brought a young Lewis Hamilton into the team, preferring him to Schumacher. Randomness? Absolutely not, Niki had seen us through, as always. A genius in every choice and action, whether on or off the track. Lauda's life is marked by great achievements, but also by a life of sacrifices and struggles against time and death. His name is often associated with moments of glory, but also with tragedy. On August 1, 1976, when he was still racing for Ferrari, he was the victim of a serious accident, which from that moment on conditioned his life until the end.
It was the German Grand Prix, at the Nurburgring, where on the second lap he went off the track and found himself surrounded by flames. The asphalt was still wet due to the rain causing the car to go off the track and immediately catch fire, Lauda loses his helmet after the collision with Brett Lunger, who is not in time to avoid him and hits him full on. The American is the first to rescue him with the help of other colleagues, including Arturo Merzario who throws himself into the fire to pull him out. Also this means Sport. The respect that runs in the blood of every athlete always comes to the surface in these situations. There may be rivalries, conflicts, misunderstandings and antipathies. But respect, that is always present, is at the base of everything.
It is not a show, sport does not come down to this, you do not watch a game, a competition or a race for the simple sake of rejoicing and screaming, you do it to channel the strength to fight and struggle, to have hope. There are many acts of strength that can be seen in sports, the list is endless, among the many I could mention the rugby world cup of '95, which united an entire country divided by apartheid, coming out victorious from an impossible struggle against the undisputed champions. Among these examples I can put Lauda himself, a fighter who clung to life and came out a winner, an example of willpower, his and those who helped him by giving him the chance to fight.
One wonders why run in these situations? Why put one's life at risk? Only pilots can answer these questions. As a lover of the sport I can assume that the answer is: passion. Achieving your dream is such a strong desire that it becomes a reason to live. After this accident Niki Lauda had the strength to come back, he never gave up. He returned to the track 42 days later with bleeding ribs, a scarred face and lungs compromised by inhaled fumes. Nothing stopped him from putting his helmet back on and lowering his visor, not even pain. That's what sports teaches, never give up.
"I didn't want to die, I wanted to keep living. Coming back quickly was part of my strategy to not sit at home and think about why it happened to me".
This strength of his led him to win his last two world titles, but his life didn't stop there, he never left the world of racing and for this we must thank him because he taught us so much. Like so much was taught to him, how to appreciate the life you have and this teaching, then, he was able to pass on to us.
"Think positive and always live up to all experiences, Clay Regazzoni taught me to love life. I learned the taste of life from Clay, and after my accident his teaching was even more valuable. Because if there was a talent of Clay's that was superior to others, it was his positive thinking".
Lauda also has his car to thank if that wasn't his last day. As a matter of fact, his cockpit was protected by a body reinforced with steel tubes, the Ferrari 312T2 was the only single-seater to use one because of the technical superiority that allowed some extra weight. Despite this terrible accident no driver was able to oust Lauda from the lead of the championship and it was like that until the last race. The title of Champion that year went to James Hunt by winning the Japanese Grand Prix, from which Lauda retired only on the second lap due to rain and gave up the Championship, losing it by only one point. Their duel is still legendary in the history of Formula 1. We cannot say what pushed him to withdraw from that race, whether fear or common sense, but the human side prevailed. Forghieri told him they would say the car had a fault.
"No, the decision is mine".
Niki replied. Honest in all circumstances and unpredictable. It was when he returned to racing after only 42 days, when he left Ferrari and when he announced his farewell to racing in 1985, nobody expected it, not even Ecclestone. He was asked several times if he was afraid to get back behind the wheel and he replied:
"Afraid? Yes, but it lasted a few moments. You know, you can't influence the disease, you take note of it and stop. Instead, it's the fear of the disease that unnecessarily alarms you".
He had already made his decision for years now, ever since in the hospital, shortly after the accident, he had heard the doctor's words:
"We can't do anything, the problem is the fumes, the gases that he breathed and that burned him inside. If he wants to live, he has to do it, trying to stay awake and fight".
Lauda had decided to fight and thus overcome fear, he declared that he was not afraid even when he underwent his first two kidney transplants:
"Two kidney transplants, from my brother Florian and my wife Birgit. I believed the doctors, and I came back to life".
To those who asked him if that was the worst day of his life, he replied:
"No, the most tragic one was in May '91, when a plane of my company exploded in flight due to a technical failure caused by design: 233 deaths. The Nürburgring involved only me and Arturo Merzario, who saved my life".
That accident had not put an end to his life, but it had been a launching pad. Racing isn't everything, he had said in an interview that he had come to a conclusion:
"There is a mystery in life, governed however by a higher entity. God is there, he exists. Things happen that have no logic, or explanations. I have found a balance, with my family, with people, with passions".
He got back on his feet several times and moved on. He started a family, made a name for himself outside of sports, but in life you can't always fight, there comes a time when you have to let go. In 2018 he was hospitalized in Vienna because of a virus that forced him to have a lung transplant and in 2019 the further hospitalization in a private clinic in Switzerland for kidney problems, a battle that Niki could not win. Today Niki Lauda is remembered for all he did for the sport. When you think of Formula 1 there are some names that stand out among all, among them we definitely find Niki's, a man before anything else who taught us how to live.
In the paddock there is a different air, Niki's name is on everyone's lips, it is not easy to let a legend like him go. Mercedes cancels all appointments and postpones the meeting with the press, Hamilton does not attend the official conference with this justification:
"He lost a dear friend".
The five-time world champion is replaced by teammate Valtteri Bottas:
"Shocking news, he clearly had great value to me and the whole team. He was a great motivator in the Mercedes family and also for me on a personal level. He had a difficult career, he was a great driver but also a great person, I will never forget the good times we had together. As a team we can draw further strength from it and we will try to bring home good results also out of respect for him".
Lauda was not only the non-executive chairman of the German team, he had become a friend, a brother, he was part of the family, Mercedes has suffered a great loss, a pillar. The whole sport suffers. The entire Mercedes team pays tribute to him through the words of Toto Wolff and in his memory there will be the writing Danke Niki on the nose of the car along with a red star among all the white ones on the engine hood.
"First of all, on behalf of the entire team and the entire Mercedes, I want to send the deepest condolences to Birgit, Niki's children, all his relatives and his dearest friends. Lauda's name will forever be engraved in the history of motorsport. His figure has combined heroism, humanity and honesty, outside and inside the seat of a single-seater. His disappearance will leave an immense void in the Circus. In the night we have not only lost a driver who staged one of the greatest comebacks on track ever, but also a man who brought clarity and sincerity to modern Formula 1. He was a person of common sense, and his words will be missed. Our team has lost a guiding light. Over the past six and a half years, Niki was absolutely loyal to the cause and always brutally honest with all of us. To be able to consider him a member of our team was a privilege. Every time he walked around Brackley and Brixworth, or delivered one of his famous motivational speeches, he brought an energy that no one else will ever be able to replicate. Niki you will be irreplaceable, there will never be anyone like you. It has been an honor to have you as president and a privilege to call you a friend".
A minute's silence is scheduled in Lauda's honor before the race. There are many who remember this great driver. Ferrari, who represented his past, pays tribute to him with a dedication on the single-seater, while Sebastian Vettel wears a commemorative helmet for the Austrian. Like Mercedes, Ferrari also issued a press release for the former World Champion:
"A tireless worker, a computer ante litteram, a precision maniac, who left emotion out of his evaluations and knew how to always focus on what really mattered. But at the same time a man who was able to give in to madness, who dared to go on a journey to hell and back, as he titled his autobiography, who was able to find the strength to get back into his car six weeks after a frightening accident from which he was saved by a miracle. This and much more was Andreas Nikolaus Lauda, known by everyone as Niki, who passed away during the night at the age of 70".
A space is then dedicated to the words of Vice President Piero Ferrari:
"Today is a very sad day for me, who saw Lauda race, but also for all Ferrari and Formula 1 fans. Niki has left us after having suffered so much and this pains me. He won a lot with Ferrari, he did it also with other teams, but he always remained a friend. He was a fantastic driver, a capable entrepreneur and an extraordinary person. I will miss him".
It concludes with the words of Mattia Binotto, current team principal:
"My memory of Lauda goes back to my childhood, when Niki and Regazzoni were winning on tracks all over the world. I was less than ten years old and in my imagination he was a fearless knight. Once in Formula 1, my relationship with Niki has always been one of mutual respect. I believe that thanks to his skill and his undoubted charisma he contributed to making our magnificent sport known and loved around the world. I remember fondly the time when he told me that with my Swiss approach I would be the right person to put order in the very Italian Ferrari... After all, that's what Niki was like, a straightforward and straightforward person with whom you didn't always agree but whom you couldn't help but love".
"Niki was a flagship for Ferrari and Formula 1, he was a driving force for change in the world of racing that he helped to make even more professional, anticipating in his approach to racing the maniacal attention to detail that never before has been the essence of our sport. Formula 1 will miss his direct and straightforward ways, just as it will seem strange to each one of us, after all these years, not to meet him in the paddock anymore".
The moments of glory that Lauda brought to Ferrari seem a distant memory now. The team has to focus hard to turn things around this weekend. Mercedes is leading the championship, Ferrari has yet to win a race and the chances don't seem high, although Binotto's words about the race are not entirely negative:
"Last week's tests in Barcelona and the analyses carried out in Maranello confirm how much this year's tires, which are very different from those of 2018, require different mechanical and aerodynamic characteristics. At Maranello, we are already committed not only to bring further developments as soon as possible, but also to evaluate new interpretations. This is an atypical race where, due to the characteristics of the track and the type of compounds, the cards could also be shuffled. As usual, qualifying will be very important because of the near impossibility to overtake".
Also for Valtteri Bottas it will not be easy to face a race that has never seen him shine:
"I haven't had great races here in the past but I want to change things. Very promising start for us but Monaco is a unique circuit, it has different needs than the car. In the past we have never been the fastest here even if we were on other tracks, but we will obviously try to change things and do well here as well. From a personal point of view I also live here so it is a special race for me and not only for Charles. Clearly we have looked at details to improve on my part and the team's part. We have understood cause of the problem, there was clutch problem, grip control aspects that created a hesitation at the start. We will try to prevent this from happening again".
On the other hand, the one who believes he can triumph is Max Verstappen, who with a bit of cheek admits:
"I think Mercedes is clearly the favorite and I don't think it's possible for us to be as competitive as last year, but we'll find out. I'm confident that we can fight for the podium, but we'll have to find out which step is within our reach. In the past I had problems in this Grand Prix, but now it's a better time: Yes, it's true, I've only raced four Grands Prix here, I hope I can do another twenty and get good results. I'm absolutely not surprised by the power of our engine, because that was the goal they set and they brought the promised results. It's still an ongoing process, they are working very hard and I like working with them, I do it with a big smile on my face even though we both know we have to improve to reach our common goals. Normally this is a very favorable track for us, so we will see".
For Leclerc, this is his first home Grand Prix with Ferrari:
"This is my first home Grand Prix as a Ferrari driver and it will certainly be a special weekend. When I was a kid I used to watch the races on a balcony overlooking Sainte Devote. I've always wanted to race here and to be able to do it in a Ferrari is a dream come true. To do well in Monte Carlo you need everything, from courage to skill, from luck to a competitive car. I hope I can make a good impression in front of my people. I will certainly give my all. Home Grands Prix are always something special, but clearly this time I come here dressed in red and with the opportunity to get a great result. We will push again, even if the low speed corners in Barcelona were not our strong point. But Monte Carlo is normally a quite difficult track, giving a turn to our season will not be easy, but we will give everything. Monaco already in the dry is sometimes a lottery... If it rains, the uncertainty factor will increase. I don't know if the water would help us or not, but it would be exciting. So yes, I would love it! You could reshuffle the cards on the table and I would be pleased because we don't see rain so often here".
With a Ferrari in such difficulty, it becomes inevitable to think back to Barcelona, the track where Maranello's engineers have taken advantage of the tests to try to get to the bottom of the problems suffered in this first part of the world championship:
"We have understood a few things. It probably won't be enough to get to the level of the Mercedes guys, but we think we have gained some time, although maybe not enough. We have to try to understand which is the main problem that afflicts us. But the engineers continue to work non-stop. The internal atmosphere is quite calm. We are working hard, the engineers are studying solutions and pushing the team forward. We're all pushing hard, we want to improve, but I think the most important thing is that there's no lack of serenity in the pit and in the factory. And for now this is not happening".
A mix of emotions for the Monegasque: the excitement of racing at home and the memory of a great champion who has left us.
"The news of his passing was a shock for me and for everyone. Whenever we met in the paddock he was always kind and helpful. He was a great champion and his personality will be missed by our sport".
The Monaco circuit is much loved by the drivers, for Vettel the desire to do well is great especially after the start of the season and, like any other fan of the sport, the German is quite shaken by Lauda's passing that takes away that typical brio of enthusiasm from this historic weekend:
"It's a sad moment. Niki's imprint will remain indelible. Many thought that Niki did not tell the truth, given his frankness and roughness. But he did. Although rough, a gentleman. A passionate man. An icon, a hero. I was fortunate and privileged to speak with him often and have a good relationship with him. He leaves a void that I believe will be difficult to fill. I will miss our chats in the paddock and his undiplomatic way of saying things. A true champion, in life and in sport. However, we're here to race: Monaco is the most iconic race of the season, with the cars driving up and down the narrow streets of the city before squeezing through the fast, dark tunnel and exiting in the harbor area. It's really something unique".
This weekend also marks Kimi Raikkonen's 300th Grand Prix in Formula 1. A record number considering that there are very few drivers who have reached this milestone: from Barrichello (323), Fernando Alonso (312), Michael Schumacher (307) to Jenson Button (306). A certain character, known for his short and concise answers, certainly not a great lover of interviews, so much so that he revealed he had skipped a few using various excuses. Obviously on such a special occasion the questions are many and his answers give name to his nickname: Iceman.
"How did I do it? Driving is the only thing I like about Formula 1...".
And when asked why he doesn't celebrate with a celebratory helmet:
"it's just to protect my head".
How can you blame him? Despite his interactions with the press, it can't be said that Kimi isn't a great asset to Formula 1. He's currently the oldest driver on the grid, as well as the most experienced, he's written a small chapter in the history of the sport and after retiring, he's back to put himself further into the game. With his farewell to Ferrari, he moved to Alfa Romeo Sauber where everything started, a return to his origins. He races out of passion, as a hobby, he does what he does best, so as a good driver his focus is completely on the upcoming race weekend and quite frankly, his 300th race is not at the top of his thoughts.
"Everyone is talking about my 300th race, but I'm more interested in our performance, the test in Barcelona was important to better understand our problems, but honestly I don't know how well our car fits the Monaco road course".
A few days before the Monaco Grand Prix, on May 14th 2019, it was announced that the Dutch Grand Prix, to be run on the traditional Zandvoort Circuit, would return to the world calendar from the 2020 season. This circuit has hosted thirty editions of Grand Prix valid as a test of the World Championship, between 1952 and 1985. Speaking instead of the Monaco race, for this race Pirelli, sole supplier of tires, brings the option of C3 (Hard), C4 (Medium) and C5 (Soft) tires, the softest compounds available. There is only one area where drivers can activate the DRS, located along the pit straight. The detection point, i.e. the point for determining the gap between the drivers, necessary to allow the use of the device, is set after turn 16. Alfa Romeo and Haas switch to the use of Ferrari's evolved power unit, already used by the Maranello team for a few races. Finally, the International Automobile Federation appoints former Formula 1 driver Mika Salo as assistant steward for the race. The Finn has already performed this function in the past, most recently at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
As usual, the first day of free practice is totally dominated by Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton monopolizes the first position for the entire duration of Thursday, demonstrating once again the supremacy of the Silver Arrows. In the morning the Englishman scores a time of 1'12"106, preceding Max Verstappen and his teammate by a few thousandths (0.059 for the former and 0.072 for the latter). Ferrari can only chase with times that see the Monegasque at 0.3 seconds and the German at over 0.7 seconds. Despite not feeling the worst, Mercedes is once again clearly the best car on the grid in both fast lap and race pace, creating a gap behind it.
To further assert his monopoly, Hamilton does his best in the afternoon's free practice, setting a time of 1'11"118. Completing the one-two is Valtteri Bottas with a few thousandths of a gap, while Ferrari shows the first signs of alarm: Vettel is in third position at 0.7 seconds from the world leader and Leclerc is only tenth due to some brake problems. If Ferrari's objective was qualifying, this first day of free practice does not bode well. Another alarm bell also rings in the house of McLaren. In both sessions the drivers do not reach the top ten: in the morning Norris is only fifteenth, while his teammate does not score any performance due to serious problems on his car; in the afternoon the conditions do not improve for the English team.
To surprise are the Renaults, who seem to have found the pace they promised at the beginning of the season. In FP1 Hulkenberg and Ricciardo occupy the sixth and ninth position, but the dream lasts little and in the afternoon they are again at the bottom of the grid. Alfa Romeo doesn't disappoint, as it has both drivers in the top ten both in the morning and in the afternoon, repeating the same result in FP3.
he chronometric relief is slightly lower than that of the corresponding 2018 session: the drivers, in fact, complain about the little grip of the track, largely resurfaced. Verstappen is also the protagonist of a braking mistake at Mirabeau, before being pushed onto the track by the marshals, due to the malfunction of the reverse gear.
Robert Kubica also spun at Casino, but managed to avoid serious damage to his car. During the session the race direction black flags the two Haas cars, as the telemetry malfunction does not allow the team to communicate with the drivers, who are forced to ask for the intervention of the race direction, in order to ask the drivers to go back to the pits for repairs. Carlos Sainz Jr. was only able to complete a few laps, due to a problem with the battery of the hybrid system of the power unit of his single-seater. At the end of the tests, Sebastian Vettel declared discouraged:
"We still haven't reached full confidence in the car, it was a complicated day. It was difficult for us to get the tires in the right window today, maybe we are struggling more than others, but it's not the first time we've seen a situation like this in Friday's free practice. We still have some time for Saturday, we will try to try some things to improve".
And Charles Leclerc is of the same mind, who admits:
"We are seeing that with very little difference you can go to one side or the other of the tire usage window and it showed quite well today. This morning we worked quite well even though there was room for improvement, while in the afternoon it was very difficult to manage the tires. We have to work to be more consistent in putting the tires in the right window. Mercedes is pretty far ahead now, we just have to focus on us, do the best of what we can, then we'll see. The goal is obviously to catch up with them. Front row? It will be difficult but nothing is decided until qualifying is over, we'll still work and hopefully go strong".
On Saturday morning, with the last free practice session, as the atmospheric temperature rises, Ferrari's hopes begin to return. Leclerc is at the top and the pace seems to be the right one to aspire to a good result. The Monegasque on his home roads sets the best time of the session, 1'11"265, behind him Bottas at 0.053 seconds, while Hamilton is two tenths from the top. Although the performance of the German team does not disappoint, there are the first signs of improvement for Ferrari, which means that a good position in qualifying is not to be excluded.
Unfortunately, the reality of the facts brings Ferrari fans back down to earth. During the session Sebastian Vettel hits the wall at Sainte Devote after a blockage, causing serious damage to the front of the car. A fight against time begins for the mechanics, who must be able to repair the car for qualifying. The adversities do not end at Ferrari's and because of Vettel's accident, Leclerc is at risk of being penalized for not respecting the Virtual Safety Car regime. The climb to the first position in qualifying becomes increasingly difficult for the Maranello team.
On the roads of Monaco, securing a good placing is fundamental, of the last eighteen Grands Prix, eleven times the poleman has won. Despite the beauty of this track - made up of nineteen curves, which extends through the streets of the town of Monte Carlo along buildings, the sea and the tunnel, for a continuous up and down - overtaking is a challenge and the safety car is the order of the day. Ferrari is not where it wants to be after the unexpected turn that FP3 took, to achieve the best result in the race they have to give everything in qualifying. Ferrari's Head of Track Engineers, Matteo Togninalli states:
"Timing on this circuit is fundamental: it is impossible to have a free track, there is always traffic. There is no simulator that can replicate the effect of the ups and downs, the turns and the jolting. Let alone the emotions".
On this track Ferrari can boast a fantastic one-two in the now distant 2017 with Sebastian Vettel ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen, a victory that the German took thanks to a pit stop strategy that favored him over the poleman. Iñaki Rueda, head of strategies at Maranello, explained the dynamics of that victory and recalled the uniqueness of this track, where if you want to win you have to play smart:
"Unpredictable: eighteen safety cars in the last twenty years. The pit during the frozen race makes you lose 12 seconds instead of the ordinary 20, which translates into a gain of 8 seconds and several positions on the opponents who returned to the pits with the green flag. Montecarlo is one of the few places where it is advisable to overcut, i.e. to stay on the track as long as possible, postponing the tire change one or two laps after the direct antagonist because the tires need one or two laps to reach temperature. That's why in 2017 Kimi was stopped first: Seb was kept on track until Ricciardo came back to the pits, because we would have run the risk of finding ourselves with two cars behind his Red Bull".
Tales of 2017 though and now, two years later, the situation at Ferrari is quite different. Q1 ends in a totally unexpected way. A Ferrari does not qualify for the next session. The driver in question is Charles Leclerc, the host, totally a passenger of what happened and through no fault of his own. After dominating in the morning's free practice and avoiding a possible penalty, the Monegasque remains the victim of an error by his engineers. Six minutes from the end of Q1, Leclerc's car, sixth on the grid, is brought to the weight and then to the pits, while his teammate, in an attempt to improve, touches the barriers and returns to repair the damage.
Time passes and the Ferrari mechanics are put to the test for the second time during the day, busy on Vettel's car in order to make one last attempt. Unexpectedly, it is not the German's car that doesn't leave the pits, but that of the Monegasque. Vettel, in fact, returns to the track just in time for one last lap, while Leclerc is kept in the pits. Unfortunately, due to a miscalculation or too much trust in the computers, Charles' time, which had secured him the sixth position, is not enough and the young Ferrari driver sees himself deprived of his chance to go to Q2 by the entire grid, which is improving. To exclude him definitively from Q2, as a twist of fate, is just his team mate, who even sets the best time of the session of 1'11"434 making Leclerc climb to sixteenth position. Once out of the car, you can see the disappointment on Charles' face who shakes his head and goes to ask for an explanation, also unable to understand the error of judgment made by the team that cost him the qualification.
"What happened, why didn't they let me back on the track? I don't know honestly. It's a pretty difficult moment. At home, on a track like this in Monaco, we must not allow ourselves to be out in Q1. We can't change this situation anymore and tomorrow will be a very difficult day as well because you can't overtake here. I asked the team are you sure we can do it? I have only one tenth and a half. But I had no answer. Then they told me that I should make it and when there was one minute left I found out that the time was not good for Q2 and it was too late. If I'm more disappointed or angry? More disappointed".
A little later, Ferrari's team principal, Mattia Binotto, would also state:
"It was not a good day for us, we made a mistake that we call Cut of time, which is a delta that we think is the ideal one to get to the next session and that is calculated based on what happens on the track in real time. The various sectors of all the drivers are taken into account, and then a safety margin is calculated that is sufficient to afford risks. What happened today is that this margin was not enough by a very small margin, and there are two reasons for this: the track improvement increased at the end of Q1; our margin did not take into account the fact that our two drivers did not have enough confidence to drive here in Monte Carlo. The lesson learned today is that the margin simply has to be bigger. Ferrari made a mistake that cannot and must not happen, because we are facing a situation where we need to make up points in the championships. And when you need to make up points you also have to take risks, like today, that we wanted to not use an extra set of tires to save them for Q2 and Q3. No doubt it is worse not to enter Q2 than not having the tires for the last attempt of Q3, but these are the tools we have and there are people who are responsible and capable of making decisions. Charles and the team are disappointed, but we are improving and I am sure we will be stronger in the future".
And to the accusations of those who say that in Ferrari they only thought about Vettel, Binotto replies:
"It is not true at all. We have two complete teams, one per driver, and we haven't compromised anything: Charles asked if he should go out, we thought we had some margin, but it didn't happen that way. We were aware that the window was very narrow but the data said we were right. As said we are somehow taking too many risks, it was a misjudgment. Changes? No, I think the right people are already with us, we simply need to improve our tools. Today we can open ourselves up to new opportunities, and we can only learn from that".
Eliminated along with him are the two Racing Points and Williams. With Leclerc out of the picture, the first candidate for pole position seems to be Lewis Hamilton, but with the start of Q2 it's Valterri Bottas and Max Verstappen who contend for the first time, so much so that the two fight to see who can set the new track record taking off the best time one after the other. All the drivers on the grid are on soft tyres and unexpectedly the two Alfa Romeos don't pass the session, in fifteenth and fourteenth position after the fantastic weekend they were having. Excluded from Q3 we also find Grosjean, who did not seem very happy with his team radio.
The Frenchman of Red Bull, in fact, prevented Grosjean from completing his lap by not letting him pass and as a result the Haas driver was only in thirteenth position, while his teammate is safe in fifth. The last two drivers excluded from the third qualifying session are Hulkenberg and Norris. Sebastian Vettel crosses the finish line only in fourth position, 0.6 seconds behind Bottas: it seems that the German doesn't have enough pace to be able to play the pole position and that the fate has already been decided by Mercedes.
The pole position for Sunday's race seems to be disputed between the two Silver Arrow drivers, after Bottas' recovery in the second session. In fact, with the start of the time he scores a new track record of 1'10"252 taking the provisional pole position. Not even Hamilton manages to do better and takes momentarily the second position, at 0.2 seconds. Behind him qualifies Max Verstappen, while Sebastian Vettel is 0.7 seconds behind. The dreams of Ferrari fans go to fade permanently in the final stint, when with a few seconds to go Vettel hits the barriers for a third time in the day, during an attempt to improve himself that only places him fourth:
"I did what I could".
The best times in each sector are set by an extraordinary Lewis Hamilton, who sets a new track record (1'10"166) and takes his 85th pole of his career, while Verstappen and Bottas find themselves in traffic and do not improve, so much so that the latter aborts his lap and returns to the pits. A perfect lap by the Englishman who leaves himself to a shout of joy:
"What are we talking about?"
Only to let a few tears escape before getting out of the car. A weekend full of emotions for Hamilton after all that has happened. This is only his second pole of the season after Australia: therefore, he gets out of the car and throws himself on the gates to greet the public and thank them for their support, a pole that tastes like a victory. A pole that he cannot but dedicate to Niki:
"First of all I have to thank the public here present: it's my home. This is a race that we all dream to win, you try to give 100%, like all the guys in the factory do, they never stop [working], not to mention this great car and the wonderful battle with Valtteri who has been fast all weekend. I was craving this pole which means so much to me, I dug more than ever in myself and I'm happy because I managed to do it after a very heavy week both for the team and on a personal level. I thank the team, we continue to improve weekend after weekend. We have a fantastic package, but we have to understand that we drivers, regardless of the car, have to push to the limit. That limit is like a ball coming at you, it's out of control. You have to react in every moment, and at Rascasse I managed to correct to avoid ending up in the wall and also at the last corner I was losing the car, but I managed to cross the finish line hoping to have that thousandth of advantage to make the difference".
So, finally, the dedication to Niki:
"Giving something extra for Niki's memory is really nice, compared to Thursday the sensations were not even comparable, I'm sure I touched the barriers twice, but that's what's needed here. The pole is for Niki. He would have wanted us to be professionals like we did, he would have done the same and we want to do something special tomorrow".
An extraordinary feat by the five-time World Champion, a lap that himself knows he did perfectly. A time, which has even more value knowing the key role that qualifying has in Monaco. A pole that hides a much greater meaning than it shows.
Behind him, at 0.086 seconds, is the only disappointed Mercedes driver. The chances of making pole were many, but on the streets of Monaco you can never tell with traffic and this time for Bottas it did not go as hoped, thus stopping his series of consecutive poles:
"Congratulations to Lewis and the team, still a one-two. I'm a bit disappointed because after the first lap I thought I could improve, but I found traffic and I couldn't get the tires up to temperature, I thought I could take pole. We have a long race ahead of us and anything can happen tomorrow. The run up to Turn 1 is very short in Monaco, so it's hard to make a difference there, but I'll keep pushing and take advantage of any opportunities that might arise".
For the first time this year we find a Red Bull in third position, a great result for Verstappen who once again proves he's got what it takes. He finishes ahead of two Ferraris and reaches the best possible position, considering that the opponent in question is Mercedes. Moreover, the Dutchman is showing a lot of grit and consistency this season that sees him third in the world standings, so a start ahead of the Ferrari could be a great opportunity to try to increase the gap to fourth position.
"There were a few little glitches. The Q2 lap had been very good. The Q3 one was just as good, except for the first corner where I didn't have the tires in perfect temperature and I left a few precious cents. Then the rest of the lap was on the same level as Q2. The last attempt of Q3 was affected by traffic, so in the end I went back to the pits. Overall, I am happy with how qualifying went, even though Mercedes is still ahead. Obviously we will try our best to catch up as soon as possible. Throughout the weekend we have been missing that 3 tenths margin over the Mercedes. In Q2 I did a good lap but I had warm tires, if you don't warm them up here it makes a difference. In Q3 I made a mistake in the first corner, I lost a lot of time and then I had a bad lap. In Q3 I found traffic on the opening lap, I immediately felt the tires were cold and I decided to abort the attempt because I was already three tenths behind. I think I did a good qualifying, it's the third qualifying I've done here, so it's good to be third. We'll see what I can do in the race, there's not much we can do, we'll need luck but we'll see what happens: I started practice from the third position".
Disaster at Ferrari. The Italian team risked losing both drivers in Q1 due to Vettel's accident. Fortunately, the German managed to secure the fourth position, but it is not enough for the championship fight. That's no less than three mistakes from Ferrari's number one: the first during Free Practice 3, putting the team to the test, and no less than two during qualifying, in both Q1 and Q3. Vettel is realistic about the situation of Ferrari in this championship, since for the first time since the beginning of the season there is not a Ferrari in the top 3 on the grid and once again we are faced with a Mercedes one-two, a devastating monopoly by the German team.
"The situation is what it is, we have to accept it even if we don't like it. I don't feel disappointed or betrayed by the team, they have done a fantastic job after I had betrayed them this morning. At the moment we're not in the condition we want to be in, so it's easy to criticize when you're like this and say you've messed up. When you're at the limit it happens, when you have more margin things come easy, but it's not our current situation, maybe it's the situation that others have, but they have worked hard to get to that point, so it's up to us to work even harder to try to get them back".
Vettel concludes with a recap of the day, hoping for better results for Sunday's race:
"Much of the work had to be done today and we tried to give everything. It was a pity in Q1 (referring to Leclerc, ed), because we were all close and to lose a car for tomorrow is really a pity. I think the track has improved a lot more than we expected, we almost stayed out with both cars. We didn't have the speed. I struggled to get the tires working and find the right feeling with the car. This morning had nothing to do with it, I don't want to direct the blame to anyone other than me. In the afternoon you have to build and find the rhythm, but I've been here before, that's not a problem. As I said we are struggling to get the tires working and we are not finding the feeling we need. The front for example was not working today, sometimes it works. Charles was happy this morning and so was I".
Rounding out the grid are third row Kevin Magnussen and Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian drove a great performance, considering that his teammate was eliminated in Q2, but after all you can't expect anything better from the Honey Badger on the streets of Monaco. It was only the year before that he had dominated the entire race weekend taking home pole, track record and the trophy with the number 1 after a perfect race, a victory that tasted of redemption after the mistake at the pit stop in 2016 that had deprived him of the top step of the podium. Completing the top 10 are Kvyat, Gasly, penalized three positions for creating an impediment to Grosjean in Q2, Sainz and Albon. Outside the points zone are Hulkenberg, Norris, Grosjean, Raikkonen, Leclerc (advanced one position due to the penalty given to Giovinazzi for impeding Hulkenberg's launch lap in Q1), Perez, Stroll, Giovinazzi, Russell and Kubica.
On Sunday, May 26th 2019, a minute of silence accompanies the drivers on the grid before the Monegasque anthem. A minute to remember the legend that was Niki Lauda. In honor of the Austrian driver, the drivers wear his iconic red cap and his name is on many of the cars on the grid, including the Mercedes that has colored the Halo red. But all emotions and distractions must be let go because as the lights go out there is no room for mistakes.
At the start Leclerc has an excellent start and immediately gains a position. For the Monegasque it is a comeback race to make up for the mistake made by the team. It's all or nothing, he also stated:
"I have to take risks".
Started from the fifteenth position, at the second lap he is already attacking the English rookie Lando Norris and without making him say it twice, at Lowes, the tightest and slowest curve of the championship, he slips inside and overtakes the McLaren driver to then throw himself in the chase of Grosjean. He tries to overtake at every point and then passes him on the inside at the Rascasse accompanied by some insults from the Frenchman and by the screams of the public. Now twelfth, the Monegasque driver has Nico Hulkenberg ahead of him. Eight laps and already three positions.
He tries again an overtaking in the same point, but he doesn't have the luck he had with the Frenchman. He hits the barriers and spins losing positions. The blow against the guardrail causes a puncture to the right rear tire and within a few meters the wheel is completely destroyed and a thousand pieces are scattered on the track. Reaching the pit, Leclerc sees all the cars in front of him, as well as his hopes of victory. He re-enters the race in the top four, lapped on lap 10, while his teammate fights for second place. The amount of debris left on the track by the Monaco driver forces the race direction to bring out the Safety Car.
Hamilton, after a perfect start, takes advantage of the situation and goes back for the tire change, followed by Bottas, Verstappen and Vettel who battle it out. The drivers don't give each other a break even in the pit lane and an unsafe release by Verstappen ends up with him pushing Bottas against the wall; Vettel, not far away, is a spectator and sees an opportunity in their defeat. The German has a point. In fact, Bottas is called back to the pits the next lap to check for possible damage to the car and in doing so he gives a position to the Ferrari driver, now third. Leclerc's race is going completely the opposite of his teammate's. After rejoining the race, he desperately declares in a team radio that he has damage to the car. He feels that something is wrong with the front end. In fact there is no more aerodynamic load. A race that was supposed to be a dream for the Monegasque driver turns into a waking nightmare.
The Safety Car comes back at the end of the fourteenth lap and with the restart of the race there can only be other particular situations. In the third sector, in an attempt to overtake, Giovinazzi catches Kubica making him spin in the middle of the track. A traffic jam is created and among the blocked drivers there are Hulkenberg, Giovinazzi, Russell and obviously Charles Leclerc. Things can only get worse for the Monegasque. After a minute, passed as if it was an eternity, Leclerc manages to pass, but finds himself second to last, more than a minute from the lead with a damaged car. On lap 18, for the third year in a row, he was forced to retire in his home Grand Prix.
"Tough weekend, and then here at home. I gave it my all, knowing that I would have to come up with something and take risks to recover from the fifteenth position I was starting from. A place where I shouldn't have been, the result is a consequence of qualifying, but there was no changing that now. There are many lessons to learn, first of all from qualifying for sure, and then also in the race other things. Yes, I had a lot of fun at the beginning, there were some risks to take, unfortunately it didn't work out. Maybe I could have waited a little longer but at that moment I saw the space to try and I gave it a go: that was it. For sure I think the result is a consequence of yesterday, we shouldn't have started in fifteenth position, there is still some anger and frustration but now the weekend is over, now we have to focus on the next race with the team united".
A weekend to forget for the Ferrari driver. Starting with the mistake the team made in qualifying, for which he also received a public apology from Ferrari's CEO in an exclusive press conference:
"We apologize, sincerely. This type of incident must not in any way replicate itself in the future. These are things that can happen, but on the condition that they never happen again. It was a mistake on the part of the team and the important thing is that we have understood how it could happen. Now we have to forget about it, move forward and do everything we can to get closer to Mercedes".
Until his own mistake in the race. On this occasion no apology comes from Camilleri, but a rebuke concealed by compliments, many compliments for the Ferrari star:
"Some nice overtaking, in the last one maybe he exaggerated a bit. But the attitude was right. He has shown that he never gives up, he will grow up".
While Leclerc resigns himself to his fate, the race proceeds. Five second penalties are given to Verstappen for the incident with Bottas in the pits and ten seconds to Giovinazzi for the incident with Kubica. All this means only one thing: Vettel is virtually second, a Ferrari is on the podium. In the meantime, at the thirtieth lap Carlos Sainz Jr. stops as well, moving up to eighth position. One lap later it's Daniil Kvjat's turn. At the thirty-eighth lap Lance Stroll, eleventh, goes long at Loews: he tries to take advantage of it Kimi Räikkönen, but he doesn't find the right space. Two laps later the Canadian of Racing Point makes his pit stop, as well as Alexander Albon. Grosjean was fifth, still using the soft tires he had at the start.
On lap 46 Kimi Räikkönen stops, having created a row of different cars behind him. Four laps later there is a stop for Grosjean. At the head of the race Verstappen doesn't give up, and the hunt for Lewis Hamilton begins. Objective: first place. An exhausting race for the Englishman, but also his best of the season. He is the only one of the first four to have mounted the Medium tires and the graining starts to create problems about ten laps later. His rivals behind him are getting closer and closer, they are all within two seconds of each other. The penta World Champion starts to complain, but is reassured by his engineers:
"Verstappen is also having wheel problems like you".
Still, the Dutchman is getting closer and closer and Hamilton can clearly see him in the mirrors. On lap 56, Lewis can't take it anymore, but he can't go back in, not here in Monaco where overtaking is impossible. He has to hold on until the end.
"We're going to lose this race, Bono. I can't handle these tires anymore, they're dead".
Exclaims Lewis, who hears himself replying:
"Okay Lewis, think about it, if we can keep the same pace as the cars in front and you can still keep Max behind...".
But Hamilton doesn't even let him finish:
"I can't keep the car behind. Bono...can't you see that? I don't know what you were hoping for when you put these wheels on me, you have to pray for a miracle".
Verstappen is now attached and every lap he tries to overtake, without succeeding. The Dutchman does everything he can to pass, he knows he has five seconds to spare and taking the lead and then pulling away is the only way to avoid losing the second position. The Dutchman tries one last time during the seventy-fifth lap, but this time it goes wrong. In the heat of the overtaking he crashes into Hamilton's Mercedes at the chicane, forcing him to go long and losing the advantage he had created.
Lewis can finally breathe, now that Verstappen is no longer breathing down his neck, and wins the Monaco Grand Prix. With all the coolness left in his body he faces the last curves and crosses the finish line in first position. A race of suffering for the five-time World Champion, who started on pole and led the race for the entire duration of the Grand Prix: with worn tires and constant attacks by the Red Bull driver, Hamilton resisted until he pushed him to make a mistake. This is a victory that is worth much more than others. Back to the pits Hamilton does not speak: everyone congratulates him through the radio, even Toto, dedicating the victory to Niki, but Hamilton remains silent. He savors the moment, points to his helmet with the Austrian's name on it and greets the public. He gets out of the car and finally lets out a cry of joy.
"This is for Niki. I fought with his spirit".
The British driver was very close to the three-time World Champion, he was coy all weekend and then gave everything on the track: first the pole and then the victory. He took all the emotions he was feeling and turned them into energy to win. To raise the trophy in honor of Niki Lauda.
"It was probably the hardest race I've ever done. I really struggled with Niki's spirit. He was a huge influence on our team and helped us get to where we are. I know he would take his hat off to us today too. He's looking down on us. I tried to stay focused to make him proud. That's been my goal all week. I had lifeless tires. remembered 2007 when McLaren left me out for a ridiculous amount of time. The weather was good luckily and then here is a great crowd that warms my heart. I wouldn't even have re-entered because I remember that a few years ago I was in the lead, then they let me back in and I lost the race, so I learned on my own skin that sometimes you don't need to re-enter even if the Safety Car comes out. The car was not cornering, I think it was the wrong tire. If you look at my bottom is damaged, also because we touched at the end of the chicane with Max who jumped a little late, I saw him at the last moment, he touched me with the front wing but luckily it went well. You cannot understand how much understeer I had".
Nevertheless, Hamilton says nothing against his team, guilty of wrong strategy:
"The team has done an outstanding job in these seven races, I am proud to be part of this team and proud to shine the silver star and I hope I can continue to do so".
Toto Wolff describes it with one word - superb - and admits the team's mistake:
"We knew the tire choice was wrong. In hindsight, we should have fitted the Hard tire. But we rarely make strategic mistakes, or at least mistakes like this one. In the end, the difference is made by the driver who wins the race. We made the wrong strategy, but Lewis drove like a great champion for another great champion. This win would have definitely pleased Niki. It means a lot and it couldn't have been a more dramatic race. Now we have a couple of days that will be difficult, considering Niki's funeral in Vienna, but then we will leave for Canada".
This was followed by the classic Champagne shower and a swim in the pool to end the day on a high note.
For the first time since the beginning of the season, to occupy the second step of the podium is not a Mercedes, but a red car. Ferrari finally breaks the succession of Mercedes one-two, a great satisfaction after a weekend to be archived. For Vettel it was an uphill weekend: from the mistake in FP3, to the qualification, up to the second step of the podium. A difficult race for him as well, but he can finally enjoy the celebrations:
"This was a difficult race to handle. Anything can always happen here and in fact something happened today. We thought we had a good stop but Max's was incredible. I saw him wheel to wheel in the pit with Valtteri and I thought there was an opportunity for me. We took the opportunity to the disadvantage of Valtteri. Then we kept the position trying to stay in Max's range by putting pressure. Then I started to suffer a bit with the rear tires, although I don't think we had graining. Max and Lewis struggled more with the tires than we did but still, the situation was complicated. This result is great for me and for the team but we know that there is a lot of work to do. Today we have to congratulate the winners and Lewis. Niki would be happy, she has been an icon. My thoughts are with him and his family".
Due to the penalty Verstappen climbs to fourth position, so in third place Valtteri Bottas rises. The Finnish driver is very disappointed and with this result he sees the lead of the championship receding a bit more, with now 17 points behind Hamilton.
"It was a disappointing weekend. The speed was there, the pace too, but everything was decided by the details, and from this point of view we missed something. The contact with Verstappen? Simple, I came out of the pits and he didn't leave me any space. That's why I punctured and then had to make another stop. At least, with the Hard tires I had a better feeling than with the Medium tires".
Instead, the Ferrari team principal, Mattia Binotto, is satisfied and talking about Sebastian Vette's race he admits:
"I think starting fourth and finishing second is a good result on a track like Monaco, where we know how difficult it is to overtake. I think Seb kept a good pace throughout the race and managed the tires well, even at the pit stop. Not trivial and obvious. This time it wasn't us who made the mistake. For Sebastian it is an important result that allows him to maintain the ranking. The championship is very long and we have to face one race after the other".
On Charles Leclerc's race, Ferrari's team principal has nothing to reproach the young Monegasque:
"He made a strong start, he knew he had to make a comeback and I think his race was already compromised by yesterday's qualifying. When you are aggressive you risk in some way. The last overtake was too much in that moment, but I think the attitude was the right one. For Charles it's definitely a disappointment, but he comes out as a driver who has done well from his point of view. Today he showed that he never gives up, the next races will be new and we will try".
But we must not find alibis, as today's good result cannot erase yesterday's very serious mistakes, nor the lack of pace compared to the Mercedes.
"We will also develop our car to the best of our ability in the coming weeks. I don't know when we will be able to arrive with an improved package in this sense. In Maranello we are working on it, we will see the results from both tunnel and simulations and try to make the best plan for the season. Every race is different, to say that we will be the favorites in Canada is a mistake, whoever is favored is ahead, so they - Mercedes - are still the favorites on the Canadian track. We will do our best and we will play it".
Following Gasly, Sainz, both Toro Rosso in points with Kvyat and Albon, Grosjean, Ricciardo, Norris, Magnussen, Perez, Hulkenberg, Russell, Stroll, Raikkonen, Kubica and Giovinazzi. Both Alfa Romeos at the bottom of the grid, after a whole weekend keeping the other drivers company in the top ten. Pierre Gasly declared at the end of the race:
"It was a really positive day and we can be very happy with fifth position after starting from eighth place on a track where it is difficult to recover. We had a good strategy and a really great car. I enjoyed driving such a fast car on a track like this and being able to push so hard at the end and do some really fast laps finishing within ten seconds of the leader. I'm really happy and now we need to keep working so that we can deliver similar performances in the coming weekends".
With this weekend behind us, it's time to say goodbye to Niki Lauda and close a chapter of this great sport. On Wednesday, May 29, 2019, a crowd of thousands gathers outside St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna to celebrate the funeral of a great man. Over the course of the morning, the funeral chamber is set up for a public tribute. Thousands of people show up despite the rain to honor the life of this champion, a man who was an example for many, a symbol of strength and hope. In this gothic atmosphere, family members and close friends gather in the Duomo to say goodbye to Lauda.
Among them are the former head of Formula 1 Bernie Ecclestone, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Prince Albert of Monaco with his wife, the actor Daniel Brühl, Alain Prost and Gerhard Berger, who moved as they carried the coffin to the hearse waiting in the square, the Mercedes team with Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Toto Wolff, and the President of the Republic of Austria Alexander Van der Bellen, who has the honor to deliver an oration for Lauda, calling him an example for Austria. Also present were former drivers David Coulthard and Nico Rosberg, Alexander Wurz, Marc Webber, Jacky Ickx, FIA President Jean Todt, former Ferrari CEO Luca Cordero di Montezemolo and Flavio Briatore. Also present is the Schumacher family, which has a wreath laid on the casket with a touching message:
"Once we will meet again. Your Schumis".
The coffin, adorned with a laurel wreath with Niki's red helmet on it, is carried inside the cathedral for the last farewell accompanied by a choir playing the gospel notes Amazing Grace, Imagine by John Lennon and Fast car by Tracy Chapman. The former Formula 1 champion had expressed his last wish to be buried wearing the Ferrari suit, with which he won his two titles in 1975 and 1977: a wish granted. With this image the relatives and closest friends bid him farewell during the private mass.
A fighter until the end, who perhaps left us too soon, but who left so much behind him and for this he will always be remembered. Toto Wolff declares that in his memory the red star on the hood of the W10 will remain forever. A wish that Niki can run alongside this team until the end. But now we have to get up and move on, as Niki taught us.
"From my personal experience I can say that winning is important, but from defeats I have always learned more for the future".