Hamilton: I felt like Lauda was racing with me in Monaco

Lewis Hamilton's helmet was designed as a tribute to Formula 1 legend Niki Lauda, who passed away last week. Michael Regan/Getty Images

MONTE CARLO, Monaco -- Lewis Hamilton felt like he was carrying the spirit of Niki Lauda with him during his race to victory at the Monaco Grand Prix, which he has called one of the most challenging of his storied Formula One career.

Despite a 60-lap debate with his team over the radio about his strategy, Hamilton held off Max Verstappen's relentless pursuit for his third win at the Principality. It ended a week which had started with the news of the death of Lauda, a three-time world champion and Mercedes' non-executive chairman.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff believed the Austrian would have approved of Hamilton's performance.

"I think it was a world champion's drive for a world champion that is not with us anymore," Wolff said. "He would've loved it. Because it was down to the driver in fending off another great driver behind.

"A battle among champions like we've seen in the past in Monaco between Senna and Mansell and Prost and all these great names."

Hamilton was quick to pay tribute to Lauda after the win, the 77th of his career.

"That was probably the hardest race I've had," he said. "I really was fighting with the spirit of Niki.

"Niki's been such an influential person in our team, helping to get us where we are. So I know he'll be looking down and know he'd take his hat off today. I was trying to stay focused and trying to make him proud."

Hamilton spoke earlier in the weekend about the importance of Lauda to his own career, as it was the Austrian who first contacted him mid-way through 2012 about moving to Mercedes from McLaren for the following season, which he eventually did. The Englishman raced in a replica of Lauda's 1984 helmet on Sunday and said it felt like a fitting tribute.

"I definitely feel like he was with me racing today. I mean, naturally I wore his helmet. I had a helmet made, last minute, a big thank you to the guys at Bell Racing getting that done for me. I don't think I've ever worn anyone else's helmet design."

Hamilton sounded like he was struggling to keep his composure at various points during the race as he went back and forth with the Mercedes pit-wall over a decision it made early in the race. At his first pit-stop, made earlier than planned due to the intervention of a Safety Car, his team fitted the medium tyre compound to his car rather than the more durable hard option.

For most of the race the Englishman was convinced he would not make the finish, with memories of the 2015 pit-stop which cost him victory at that year's race in Monaco fresh in his memory.

"I was never going to come in," Hamilton said. "A few years ago I was in the lead and I came in for a pit stop and I learned the hard way -- I lost the race here.

"So I wasn't going to come in -- I was either going to crash or finish. Honestly, I was driving around on nothing. You could see how much understeer I had -- the car wasn't turning .Ultimately [the medium compound] was the wrong tyre.

"It was so intense -- it was probably the most intense race I've ever had. I'm not mad at that, honestly that's how racing should be. It's just difficult when you're out there on your own for so long and there's nothing Bono [Peter Bonnington, Hamilton's race engineer] or anyone else can say or do to help -- it's all down to me to bring it home for the team and for Niki. So the pressure just felt immense."