F1 remembers and celebrates a legend amid a classic Monaco GP
Martin Brundle provides some fond recollections of the late, great Niki Lauda, reviews a "typical yet classic" Monaco Sunday that went to the wire, and poses an Indy 500 vs F1 debate...
Last Updated: 28/05/19 10:09pm
For the second time in six F1 races this season I found myself, along with some very talented people at Sky F1, crafting a tribute to somebody who has passed away that I've known well, and circulated the globe with, for many decades.
In Melbourne it was Charlie Whiting, and in Monaco it was Niki Lauda. Two men who have been part of the fabric and DNA of F1 since the 1970s. Charlie being Niki's chief mechanic at Brabham back then.
There was universal sadness and yet celebration of Niki's life around the race at the weekend. Everybody respected the man, along with his considerable achievements through extreme adversity. A most approachable and special human being despite being one of the most forthright people you'll ever meet.
Our F1 careers overlapped in 1984 and '85. Like Alain Prost, and I imagine Sir Jackie Stewart too, Niki was to an extent a measured driver. Not somebody who you would see all lit up in qualifying, or slicing past you all locked up.
I do remember though in Monza 1985 slicing up the inside of Niki under braking on the opening lap in my Tyrrell-Renault. I was very proud of my progress but as we exited the Parabolica corner onto the long pit straight his McLaren-Tag Turbo powered alongside and at 200mph he looked over directly at me, raised an open hand which I took to mean 'what are you doing, we have a long way to go' and then accelerated away.
Ironically, my car finished eighth and his broke down, but I got the message. That image of him is etched in my mind.
I know it was a movie with journalistic license but 'Rush' really did remind us of the incredible story of Niki and James Hunt, and I always thought it elevated Niki onto another level.
His key role in the achievements of the mighty Mercedes team over the past seasons elevated him yet higher. And I loved the way he turned his cap, which hid to an extent his injuries from 1976, into a standalone sponsorship phenomenon. That rather sums up perfectly the entrepreneurial determined racer that he was, making the most of what life offered him.
And if it wasn't offered, he made it happen.
I enjoyed the tension and intrigue of the Grand Prix at the weekend, a typical yet classic Monaco in many ways. We couldn't help but remember Nigel Mansell all over the back of Ayrton Senna in 1992, and other races such as Daniel Ricciardo defending in an ailing car to win last year.
Lewis Hamilton drove a champion's race, even if it was difficult to feel full sympathy with his constant radio calls decrying his team's choice of fitting medium compound tyres at the one and only safety car-generated pitstop on lap 11.
In fact, at one point I convinced myself he must be trying to dupe the opposition.
I don't easily recall an incident where an engineer's radio call to the driver had to be bleeped due to bad language, but it will surely be Lewis's man Pete Bonnington who finally breaks. He must have the patience and restraint of a Saint not to say 'well that's where we find ourselves, we all make mistakes, you're leading the race, if we pit again you definitely won't win, remember Senna and Ricciardo, and ******* get on with it'.
Lewis did get on with it anyway, and managed major front-tyre issues most valiantly, making sure he was parked in the middle of the track where he was slow, and maximising his speed where he could unleash the car.
It was a masterclass.
Behind him Max Verstappen had a few issues himself, his front tyres weren't perfect and in a frantic pit-stop skirmish he'd forgotten to reset his engine mode. And he was carrying a five-second penalty for an unsafe release, which I think was lucky not to be heavier.
As the safety car was called, Valtteri Bottas had to back up a little because Mercedes had to double stack pit-stop their cars whereas Red Bull and Ferrari only had one car at the front. This meant it was a pure team pit-stop race and Red Bull had to release Max in the melee and tight confines of the 60kph limited zone.
Bottas was to his right and they nearly tangled wheels as they touched. Bottas tagged the wall and got a puncture, but somehow they both made it back on track.
Red Bull expected Max to stay further left apparently in the knowledge that he knew Bottas was there, although that pit lane is hardly conducive to such side-by-side action. Valtteri's car was damaged and his race compromised, a penalty for Max was correct.
This left Verstappen in second place on the road to Hamilton, and frankly we can never get too much of those two battling on track. It was intense.
Max has given up on the 50/50 moves and, judging by the first corner against Bottas, possibly even the 55/45 in his favour in the early stages. It's paying dividends.
But close to the end of the race he launched an attack on Hamilton. It was from a long way back at the harbour chicane, and he was unlikely to win the race carrying that five-second penalty anyway, so it was in reality a territorial claim against the great champion.
Lewis did very well to see it unfolding and opened the steering wheel. They touched sidewall to sidewall, which at this level is more skill than luck, and momentarily ignoring the track they both went on their way to victory for Lewis and a penalised fourth for Max.
I can't begin to imagine the nuclear fallout if Hamilton's tyre had been punctured by a driver carrying a penalty taking a wild lunge and Seb Vettel had won in the Ferrari...
Vettel drove a solid if unspectacular race but splitting the Mercs on the podium was welcome relief for Ferrari I suspect, after Seb had visited the barriers three times in practice and qualy, and a huge misjudgment meant Charles Leclerc didn't clear the bar in the first part of qualifying and started 15th.
Leclerc said that he had no choice but to take some risks, and he did, around the outside of the hairpin and the inside of Rascasse. It was all very bold before bordering on reckless and inevitably one of them went wrong into the side of Nico Hulkenberg. It was all the right idea if it had been a 38-lap race rather than 78 laps.
Carlos Sainz was in fine overtaking form especially at the start, and without damage. There were several great moves, near misses and contact in an engaging race which generates an interesting debate.
The Indianapolis 500 a few hours later was an absolute cracker with high speed skill and bravery along with copious amounts of slipstream overtaking all through the field. Certainly entertaining, but more engaging than the rare but audacious masterstrokes of Monaco?
Let's hope for a bit of both in Montreal in a couple of weeks.
Sky Sports F1 is the home of live and exclusive F1 - find out more here to watch the 2019 season live