Lewis Hamilton has declared the race for the 2016 world title is ‘back on’ after recording a long overdue first victory of the season with a superb drive in a dramatic Monaco Grand Prix at the weekend.
Hamilton has endured a frustratingly stop-start season, plagued by technical problems, but his maiden race win was well worth the wait as he drove 78 near flawless laps against the glamorous backdrop of Monte Carlo.
The Briton had to hold off a strong challenge from the tenacious Daniel Ricciardo, who appeared destined for victory himself until a botched pit-stop by his team allowed Hamilton gain the advantage. Nico Rosberg, Hamilton’s team-mate and the current leader of the world championship, started from second on the grid but was off the pace all afternoon and finished seventh.
That means Hamilton has now cut the deficit to just 24 points, which prompted him to declare afterwards: “The championship is back on!
“I may have had problems in the early races but this win is great for me and I now have my eyes on the championship lead.”
The race initially began in safety car conditions due to persistent rain but that would not prevent an action-packed race, with the drama starting when Rosberg sportingly allowed Hamilton through after orders from Mercedes.
That set up the Hamilton-Ricciardo battle which would feature throughout the race.
With the track drying, Hamilton drove hard on his wet-weather tyres to grant him the opportunity to change straight to his dry-weather slick tyres.
A bold gamble that paid off, even more so as when Ricciardo lost valuable time in the pits which allowed Hamilton to sweep into the lead, a position he would not relinquish.
At the fall of the flag, Hamilton held a narrow advantage over Ricciardo with Sergio Perez capping off a fine weekend, securing third position for the Silverstone Sahara Force India team.
“I am so happy,” Hamilton said. “Winning here in Monaco is so special. All the great drivers have won around this track and I am very happy to have been able to score my second Monaco victory with Mercedes-Benz.”
Rosberg added: “I was disappointed with my race. I just didn’t have the best car today and because of that I struggled.
“I was sorry to have to let Lewis past, but he was faster today and for the team that was the best result. I still lead the title race and I am always looking to the next race.”
Perez was thrilled with his third-position, saying: “This is a great reward for all the team.
“Everyone at Force India works so hard, and to finish third here in Monaco and visit the Royal Box for the podium was great!”
On a good day for the team, Nico Hulkenberg raced his VJM09-Mercedes car to sixth place, pipping Rosberg on the line.
Carlos Sainz Jr. continued his run of form by claiming points for the fourth time this season when crossing the line in eighth for the Bicester Toro Rosso squad.
The Spaniard said: “I have had another good weekend and the team feel we are making good progress. The next race is in Canada, and I think we will have a good car for the Montreal track.”
Daniil Kvyat’s miserable season showed little sign of improving in Monaco after the Russian suffered early race electrical issues with his Toro Rosso, and later collided with the Renault of Kevin Magnussen which ended his race.
Stewards took a dim view of his actions, and have handed him a three grid place drop for the next round of the championship.
He said:”I am disappointed with the decision. I was racing and I didn’t intentionally hit the Renault. I will have to forget this race and look ahead to the next.”
Standings: 1) Rosberg, 106pts; 2) Hamilton, 82; 3) Ricciardo, 66; 4), Raikkonen, 61; 5) Vettel, 60. Next race: Canada, June 12.