Hamilton sets his sights on track record of idol Senna

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The Independent Online

"Ayrton [Senna] won here so many times and I've always wanted to," Lewis Hamilton admitted as he celebrated his stunning victory in Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix. The Brazilian was the 23-year-old Englishman's idol when he was just starting out on the road that led him to his meeting with Prince Albert and Princess Caroline in the Principality. "If he could win here, that means the best drivers have been able to win here, so I wanted to be able to do the same."

The great racer, who was killed in the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola in May 1994, owned the Monte Carlo track almost from the moment he started racing on it. He should have won the 1984 race when he made his debut with Toleman, and had actually taken the lead from Alain Prost when the race director flagged off the event because of the treacherously wet conditions. Under the regulations, when that happened the result was backdated a lap, which meant that Prost kept the victory. Senna never forgot that.

In 1987 he won for the first time, for Lotus, and was leading in 1988 when he crashed his McLaren and handed victory to team-mate Prost. He never lost another Monaco race, winning in 1989 through to 1993 to break the long-standing record of five victories amassed by Graham Hill, "Mr Monaco", who had triumphed for BRM in 1963 through to 1965, and again for Lotus in 1968 and '69.

Michael Schumacher's first success there came in 1994 for Benetton, for whom he also won the 1995 race. With victories for Ferrari in 1997, '99 and 2001, he equalled Hill's record, but was fated never to match or beat Senna's record in his remaining five years before retirement.

Now Hamilton may be set to join this elite, on a circuit where even the great Jim Clark never won. He was victorious in Formula Three and GP2 here, and came close to victory in his first race in F1 last year.

He was narrowly beaten by McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso on that occasion after his team called him in to refuel three laps sooner than he expected, thus negating the advantage he had harboured since qualifying. Hamilton was not amused, and in the post-race press conference revealed for the first time publicly the subtlety in his make-up that enabled him to bring the matter to everyone's attention without actually criticising McLaren.

Monaco doesn't just matter to Hamilton, it is everything to him. "This has got to be the highlight of my career and I am sure it will continue to be the highlight for the rest of my life. I remember in the last few laps I was just thinking that Ayrton Senna won here a lot of times and to win here would be amazing.

"Even when I was younger, this was my favourite track. When I experienced it for the first time in 2005 I was like, 'Wow, this is by far the best track'. Obviously I won in 2005 and I knew I could do it then, and in 2006 and was very, very close to it last year." Of all the current crop of drivers, Hamilton is the most likely to challenge the records of Senna, Hill and Schumacher here.

"It would be great but I think that this weekend has shown that anything can happen," he said. "I'm not going to say that next year I'm going to win it. Next year I'm going to aim to come back and win it, but again, anything can happen. And nothing will ever better this victory. I hope this is the start of something very special, yeah."

Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, has apologised to Adrian Sutil for the shunt that ended the German's hopes of fourth place. The Ferrari driver was in fifth when he lost control and hit Sutil's Force India car from behind. "I feel sorry for him, but I could not do anything," the Finn said. "I tried to slow down but there was nowhere to go and nowhere to slow down."

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