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BC-CAR--F1-Monaco GP,1st Ld-Writethru

May 26, 2019
AP Sports Writer

MONACO (AP) — Lewis Hamilton won the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday to extend his championship lead over Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton struggled with grip in the latter stages and was under constant pressure from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

But Verstappen had earlier picked up a five-second time penalty. So even though he finished just behind Hamilton, Verstappen was fourth overall behind Bottas in third and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in second.

Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc started 15th, after his team bungled qualifying, and retired after 19 laps.

Leclerc damaged his right rear tire trying a bold overtaking move on Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault, scattering debris over the track and forcing the safety car to come out.

Hamilton extended his lead over Bottas from seven to 17 points.

Earlier, drivers wore red caps for a minute’s silence that was held before the race in memory of three-time F1 champion Niki Lauda , who died on Monday at the age of 70.

As the race neared the end, Verstappen tried one final daring move to overtake Hamilton on Lap 76 of 78 and they bumped tires. They were both set to be investigated by stewards over the incident.

Hamilton dedicated his 77th career win, and third at Monaco, to Lauda.

As he climbed out of the car, Hamilton removed his race helmet and pointed to Lauda’s name on the back.

“I was fighting with the spirit of Niki,” the British driver said. “I was just trying to stay focused and make him proud.”

Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff certainly felt he did just that.

“Lewis, that was a victory for Niki, unbelievable job, congratulations,” Wolff said on team radio.

Hamilton’s ability to hold off Verstappen on degrading tires was impressive, even though it was on one of the most difficult tracks for overtaking and even if he did have the cushion of a five-second cushion on Verstappen, had he got past him.

Hamilton kept complaining about the state of his front left tire, but his team decided against a tire change because Verstappen — even though he was going faster — had little chance to pass on the sinewy 3.3-kilometer (2-mile) track.

“We’re going to lose this race,” a panicky Hamilton said on Lap 56.

Hamilton was losing grip and slipping around, but his team effectively made the right call in overruling him and keeping him on track.

Verstappen was given the penalty by race officials after his unsafe release from the pits earlier in the race.

When Leclerc’s crash sent the safety car out, drivers came into the pits to change tires. But Verstappen’s Red Bull was released too soon and he clipped the side of the Mercedes driven by Bottas as it drove past.

The incident had bumped Verstappen up to second place, Vettel into third, and Bottas down to fourth.

It was the first time in six races that Mercedes has not finished 1-2.

Leclerc made a thrilling start from the back of the field, overtaking the Haas of Romain Grosjean with a brilliant attacking move coming out of the turn at La Rascasse.

But one lap later the driver from Monaco tried the same move on Hulkenberg and it backfired.

The only driver from Monaco to win the race was Louis Chiron in 1931.

Although the 21-year-old Leclerc has time well on his side, he now must wait at least another year.

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