By Jerome Pugmire
AP Sports Writer
MONACO — Lewis Hamilton heads into this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix with form and recent history against him as he bids to close the gap on championship leader Nico Rosberg.
Five races into the season, the defending Formula One champion trails Robserg by 43 points and needs to start pressuring his Mercedes teammate.
But Rosberg has won the past three races here, while things have been more problematic for Hamilton — whose only win in Monaco was driving for McLaren in 2008.
“I’m approaching this weekend with only one result in mind,” Hamilton said. “I’ve not had the best run of results in Monaco in recent years, but last year showed I have the pace to do the job.”
Hamilton has clearly not forgotten what happened in 2015. His team’s panicky decision to call him back to the pits after the safety car came out crushed his momentum, handing victory to Rosberg, with Hamilton placing third behind Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel.
The previous year, Rosberg was the source of Hamilton’s irritation as the German driver appeared to deliberately go off track near the end of qualifying — thus prematurely ending the session and denying Hamilton pole position.
Tensions escalated between Hamilton and Rosberg in 2014, so much so that team management intervened, and the friction was still apparent at times last year as Hamilton raced to his second straight title and third overall. He won the title with three races to spare, but has not won since.
Relations between Hamilton and Rosberg had mellowed until two weeks ago, when an extraordinary start to the Spanish GP saw them crash into each other.
“I was gutted after what happened in Spain,” Rosberg said. “I know how hard everybody works to make these amazing cars, so for us to leave them both in the gravel is the worst possible scenario.”
That both drivers failed to finish meant neither directly gained any advantage from the other’s misfortune, which probably prevented another bout of finger-pointing between the fiercely competitive pair who raced karts against each other as teenage friends.
But it has caused serious commotion within Mercedes, with non-executive chairman Nikki Lauda blaming Hamilton for the incident, while head of motorsport Toto Wolff scolded both drivers.
“The team is responsible for giving them the best possible cars and they are responsible for getting the best out of them,” Wolff said. “When we let them down, we apologize and the same goes the other way.”
The lost points in Barcelona played to Red Bull’s advantage as 18-year-old Max Verstappen became the youngest driver to win an F1 race, while veteran Kimi Raikkonen grabbed another podium to sneak past Hamilton and into second place overall behind Rosberg.
“It’s clear that we are under attack from more than one angle,” Wolff said. “We must remain united, remain strong and hit back hard this weekend.”
Pole position is crucial in Monaco, almost as much as it is Spain and Hungary, with overtaking extremely difficult on the tight and twisting street track that weaves around millionaires reclining on their yachts and climbs up past the famed casino.
“I have memories from every corner going right back to my school days,” said Rosberg, who grew up in Monaco. “I’m feeling confident, so bring on the battle.”
Vettel tasted victory in Monaco only once — driving for Red Bull in 2011 — and celebrated by somersaulting into the team swimming pool. Ferrari’s drought stretches way back to Michael Schumacher’s victory in 2001.
Meanwhile, all eyes will be on Verstappen — whose late crash undid Hamilton last year in Monaco — after his winning drive two weeks ago in his debut for Red Bull.
Verstappen’s win is a wake-up call to teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who won three races in his first season with Red Bull in 2014, but has not finished on the podium in 11 races.
“It’s definitely a good motivation,” Ricciardo said.