Lewis Hamilton held back Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel to win the Monaco Grand Prix, where Mercedes’ run of one-twos came to an end.
Starting from pole, Hamilton led the whole way but had to manage a softer tire compound than the cars behind him for 68 laps after an early safety car period. Regularly complaining over team radio that he thought he wouldn’t make it to the end, Hamilton faced constant pressure from Verstappen – with Vettel close behind – but knew it would be almost impossible for the Red Bull to pass as long as he didn’t make an error.
Hamilton defended on Lap 70 into the hairpin under pressure from Verstappen; the Mercedes some three seconds off the ultimate pace being shown by Pierre Gasly in the closing stages. Verstappen made an even more serious attempt with three laps remaining, lunging down the inside into the Nouvelle Chicane out of the tunnel, with Hamilton closing the door late and light tire-on-tire contact resulting in both missing the chicane but continuing without damage.
The slow pace was bad news for Verstappen, who was given a five-second time penalty early on for an unsafe release that enabled him to jump Valtteri Bottas in the pits. That demoted him to fourth place behind Vettel in second and Bottas in third.
Gasly made a second stop for soft tires with 16 laps remaining to get the fastest lap, and duly did so as he cruised back toward the leading quartet, crossing the line 4.4s behind Verstappen after his time penalty.
Carlos Sainz finished sixth after a strong strategic call from McLaren, while Toro Rosso could boast the same in securing seventh and eighth with Daniil Kvyat and Alexander Albon respectively. There was late drama for the final points too, as Daniel Ricciardo produced an excellent final lap to pip Romain Grosjean for ninth by 0.1s; Grosjean receiving a five-second time penalty for crossing the line at the pit exit after his pit stop.
There was plenty of action in the opening few laps as Charles Leclerc looked to make his way through from 15th on the grid. Already up to 14th place on the opening lap courtesy of a poor start by Kimi Raikkonen, Leclerc dispatched Lando Norris at the hairpin on lap two and then twice had a look down the inside of Grosjean at Rascasse.
On the third attempt – on lap seven – Leclerc made the move stick, diving down the inside to catch the Haas driver unawares. But Rascasse has proven a difficult place to make a clean pass all weekend in various categories, and Leclerc was brought undone one lap later when he tried the same move on Nico Hulkenberg and hit the inside barrier with his right rear tire, picking up a puncture.
Leclerc limped round for a full lap with his right-rear tire flailing, causing significant damage to the rear of his car and leaving debris all over the track. After Leclerc made it back to the pits – as did Hulkenberg with his own puncture – the safety car was deployed.
Ricciardo and Magnussen were running fifth and sixth at the time and took the chance to swap from soft tires to mediums, but Ricciardo had been so slow in the opening stages – losing 12 seconds to fourth place in the first five laps alone – that Red Bull, McLaren and Toro Rosso all stayed out, promoting Gasly, Sainz, Kvyat and Albon.
When racing resumed, those four quickly pulled away from Norris in 10th and built up a buffer that allowed them all to pit and rejoin in the points, while Grosjean pulled off a similar strategy.
The top four had all pit for new tires, but Hamilton was the only one to go for mediums. Bottas, Verstappen and Vettel all opted for hards, with Bottas trying to hold back the two behind him so he wouldn’t lose time double-stacking behind his teammate. Verstappen still was able to emerge marginally ahead, but made contact with Bottas in the pit lane and was handed a five-second time penalty for an unsafe release.
The contact gave Bottas a suspected puncture, so Mercedes pitted the Finn again for another set of hard tires on the next lap, dropping him to fourth behind Vettel.
The top four all circulated within a second of each other for the majority of the next 68 laps, with Hamilton – running a Niki Lauda tribute helmet – holding on for an emotional victory.
Only Leclerc retired, but Williams deserves a mention as George Russell finished 15th ahead of Lance Stroll, Raikkonen, Robert Kubica and Antonio Giovinazzi. The latter two had contact on the race restart after the safety car when Giovinazzi tried a move at Rascasse that tapped Kubica – running 15th at the time – into a spin, an error that earned the Italian a 10s time penalty.