Lewis Hamilton felt his third Formula 1 career victory at the Monaco Grand Prix presented him with “the biggest challenge” he has ever faced.

The five-time world champion fended off Red Bull driver Max Verstappen throughout despite being on less durable tyres compared to his rivals to claim his fourth win of the 2019 season and strengthen his championship lead.

Mercedes said Hamilton had “saved” the team from defeat by completing a mammoth 67-stint on Medium tyres, despite Pirelli’s recommendation that the tyre would only last 50 laps around Monaco.

“I think it was the hardest race I’ve had,” Hamilton said.

“With the tyres, with the strategy, with the circumstances with Max behind, yeah it was the biggest challenge I think I’ve had. But I’m really, really grateful that I was able to pull it off.

“A few years ago I was leading this race by 20 seconds, the Safety Car came out and I pitted, came out third, and your heart just sinks, so I was like: ‘I’m not coming in, whatever the case - I’m just going to drive around with no tyres until they blow up.’

“With sheer will I just kept pushing. I really, really tried my best to stay focused and not crack under pressure, because Max was doing a great job behind on a much better tyre.

“Ultimately it has been such a hard week emotionally for us as a team and me personally, I just really, really wanted to do the job,” he added.

“I really wanted to deliver on the word of Niki, and imagining him taking the hat off in support. When I was driving I was like, ‘what would Niki do?’ so I just kept going.”

Hamilton said he had to pull off one of his “most strategic drives ever” to ensure he could withstand race-long pressure to keep Verstappen at bay.

“I was able to get out of the last corner and pull a bit of a gap,” he explained.

“I was super slow through Turn 1 but Turn 3 my right-side tyres were OK and once you got downforce on they would work but then once I got to Turn 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, I had nothing.

“Moving the brake balance rearwards, engine braking, opening up diffs, trying to get this car turned. I could see him barrelling a lot of speed in.

“Obviously the harder tyre was a lot more resilient. I could see it opened up on his car and I was like, ‘OK, hopefully it’s going to run out of tyres at some stage, as I am, but it didn’t’.

“I kept thinking Turn 6 is probably where he’s going to try to dive up the inside, because I was just waiting to get the car turned. So I was just trying to cover that whole area, tip-toeing and positioning myself so I could get a good exit.

“It was really strategy-wise one of the most strategic drives that I think I have ever had to do in terms of finding that balance around the track to try and keep that gap.

“I’m sure we touched multiple times and I definitely touched the barrier a lot of time throughout the laps but luckily kept the car in one piece.”

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