By Alan Baldwin
MONACO (Reuters) - Monaco Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton thanked Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg on Sunday after the German followed team orders and let him pass, even though it damaged his own championship chances.
"I said thank you for being a gentleman," the triple champion told reporters.
Rosberg had started on the front row, next to Red Bull's polesitter Daniel Ricciardo, in wet conditions with Hamilton third on the grid.
The safety car led the field for the first seven laps but it then became clear, with Ricciardo pulling away, that Rosberg was struggling to get his tyres up to temperature and Hamilton was faster.
"It was clear that not reversing the situation between Nico and Lewis would definitely lose us the race," said Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff.
"We waited for quite a while, gave him more laps, for the tyre to come in but it didn't. And then finally we decided to call it because the pace was just so much slower. It proved to be the right decision."
Wolff paid tribute to Rosberg, winner of the previous three races in the principality, for giving up the position and understanding what was at stake.
The German, who won the first four races of the season and had led by 39 points before Sunday, had his advantage over Hamilton slashed to 24 -- less than a race win -- with 15 grands prix remaining.
He said it had been a very difficult afternoon, with the tyres cold due to the rain.
"At the time it was pretty simple because it's a rule that we've had since many, many years now," Rosberg added.
"It was pretty damn obvious at the time that I'm not going to be able to fight for a win with that pace.
"They gave me a warning, 'try and up the pace', and I wasn't able to. The next step is 'let Lewis by' and I think the final result made it worthwhile for the team because Lewis wouldn't have won otherwise."
Monaco, with its tight and twisty layout, is hard enough to overtake on without the additional problem of spray and poor visibility.
Although conditions improved during the race, Ricciardo would likely have disappeared into the distance without Rosberg's action.
"Very painful, that's clear, but easy to decide to do that," said Rosberg.
"I'm not thinking about the championship. Today I'm disappointed because I wanted to win Monaco. I wanted to win my home race, it's the most exciting race of the year and that's what I was out there to do."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)