An emotional Lewis Hamilton surged to pole position at Monaco before dedicating the feat to Niki Lauda, the motor racing legend he credited with changing his life.
After an unexceptional hour’s work on track, Hamilton ransacked his talents as the seconds ticked down to produce the decisive final flying lap – the quickest ever around these mean streets – and condemn his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas to second place by 0.086sec.
The Briton hollered over the radio, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ He then got out of his car, which carried the inscription ‘Niki, we miss you’ on a specially designed red halo, and threw himself at the catch fence to share his rapture with the fans congregated at Rascasse.
Lewis Hamilton could not contain his delight after snatching pole position for the Monaco GP
The world champion raced towards the small crowd across the track to celebrate his position
Spectators looked on as Hamilton jumped on the catch fencing to greet them at Monte Carlo
In the press conference moments later he was his most loquacious free-talking self, the cares of a troubled week having fallen away.
He had chosen to miss media duties on Wednesday, saying that to have taken part would have stirred feelings he was not ready to share. But now he was willing for the first time to join the eulogies to Lauda, the triple world champion and Mercedes’ non-executive chairman who died on Monday, eight months after lung transplant surgery. Hamilton called the Austrian his partner in crime.
‘This means so much to me,’ he said after taking his second pole here, four years after his first. ‘I had to dig deeper than ever. The lap was beautiful. I feel amazing and super-grateful.
Hamilton gives the thumbs up trackside as third-placed Max Verstappen (right) looks on
Sir Jackie Stewart presented Hamilton with his pole position trophy – a Pirelli tryre
Hamilton will start in front of team-mate Valtteri Bottas (left) and Verstappen for Sunday’s race
MONACO GP QUALIFYING TIMES
1 Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 1:10.166
2 Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 1:10.252
3 Verstappen (Hol) Red Bull 1:10.641
4 Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:10.947
5 Gasly (Fra) Red Bull 1:11.041
6 Magnussen (Den) Haas 1:11.109
7 Ricciardo (Aus) Renault 1:11.218
8 Kvyat (Rus) Toro Rosso 1:11.271
9 Sainz (Spa) McLaren 1:11.417
10 Albon (Tha) Toro Rosso 1:11.653
11 Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault 1:11.670
12 Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:11.724
13 Grosjean (Fra) Haas 1:12.027
14 Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo 1:12.115
15 Giovinazzi (Ita) Alfa Romeo 1:12.185
16 Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:12.149
17 Perez (Mex) Racing Point 1:12.233
18 Stroll (Can) Racing Point 1:12.846
19 Russell (Gbr) Williams 1:13.477
20 Kubica (Pol) Williams 1:13.751
‘We have had a lot of success over the years, but I cannot remember anything that means as much as this.
‘We have had a cloud over us and been trying to lift each other up and deliver for Niki. We all love him, and miss him, and it is hard to think we will never see him again and have another conversation with him. He will live long in all our memories.
‘Today was as close as I could get to that perfect lap round here.
‘We are professionals so you get in and do what you love doing. Niki would say give it a***holes. He says that all the time.
Hamilton left it until his final run to snatch pole position by less than a tenth of a second
‘That is what I try to do every time I get in the car. We wanted to do him proud and so far we have done that. It is great and we will try to pull out something special for tomorrow.
‘I was really in touch with him a lot through this past eight months. We would be sending videos back and forth to each other.
‘Some days he looked good and was really perky and saying he would be at a race. And then there were other days when you could see he had lost a lot of weight, so it was tough from afar. I was very fortunate I got to see him.’
Hamilton’s career pivoted on his move from McLaren to Mercedes in 2013, the last four of his world titles coming at his second team, and it was Lauda who played an important part in convincing him to make the jump.
Charles Leclerc was a shock exit from Q1 after Ferrari decided not to perform a final run
It left a frustrated Leclerc, at his home race, watching his exit from inside the Ferrari garage
Sebastian Vettel endured a scrappy session, squeezing through Q1 before lining up fourth
– Mercedes’ front row lock-out was their 62nd in the sport, tying them with Ferrari, McLaren and Williams
– Lewis Hamilton’s 59th pole position for Mercedes is the most by one driver for a single team, beating Michael Schumacher’s overall total for Ferrari
‘I was down by the pool where I live here in Monaco, and I remember getting a call form Niki in 2012,’ recalled Hamilton. ‘We had never really spoken before then, but he said to me you should come to Mercedes.
‘Over the years he has been my partner in crime, involved in negotiations, pushing for improvements on the car. He was such a racer. He would be back at the factory giving them a***holes.
‘He was a part of the process of changing my life. If he hadn’t made that call, I would be a one-time world champion and probably with 21 wins. Now I sit here as a five-time world champion and I owe him a lot.’
Verstappen goes around the station hairpin on his way to a highly credible third for Red Bull
Boats close to the circuit watch all the qualifying action as Verstappen goes through Tabac
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who is in rich form, was third quickest in qualifying. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who was fourth, pranged his car at Sainte Devote in practice and grazed the barriers again in qualifying, betraying his lack of confidence.
Ferrari’s other driver, Charles Leclerc, fell victim to a mistake that would have been hilarious had it not been so embarrassing: he was in the garage when he was bumped out of Q1 by Vettel, of all people, on a late run. He fell to 16th.
Prior to missing the cut, he had asked his team if they were certain he was safe and did not need to go out again. They said they thought so. Doh.
Leclerc was furious as his fate was sealed, shaking his head. He walked out of the garage still bubbling and made the long trek back to the paddock, his cap pulled on gruffly.
After all the pre-season hopes, Ferrari are now to Formula One proficiency what Mrs May was to EU negotiations. ‘I need some explanations,’ said Leclerc.