From the moment Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes launched off the starting grid at the Autodrome Nazionale Monza yesterday there was never any doubt that he was on a steadfast mission to grasp the winning trophy. Visibly rejuvenated from his summer break and still revelling in the success of his win at Belgium only seven days before, the British racing driver cruised to victory with a faultless drive from start to finish. Even the most minor of mistakes on Lap 19 where he skimmed the edge of the gravel by running slightly wide did nothing to hinder his focus and determination to cross the line in first position. In a dominant race, Hamilton managed to totally eclipse his arch rival Sebastien Vettel on his home turf, much to the anger of the sea of passionate Ferrari fans adorning their red flags who consistently booed the Brit up on the podium. “Some days I am really happy to be the villain”, said Hamilton when interviewed post-race, “I just try to remain respectful and to admire the passion. They seem a little bit more like football fans – the aggressive ones – but it is all in the name of the love for the red car”. It seemed that nothing could dampen the spirits of a supreme Hamilton who is now leading in the championship title for the first time all season by three points.
On a track renowned for high speed and excitement, the day undoubtedly belonged to Mercedes with two consecutive wins from their top driver and a one-two finish for the team with Valtteri Bottas completing the Italian Grand Prix in second place. Even qualifying had gone like a dream when, unmarred by the increasingly wet and damp conditions and a delay of two and a half hours, Hamilton smashed his childhood idol Schumacher’s record by achieving his 69th pole position. Toto Wolff, Chief Principal at Mercedes could not have wished for a better performance from his team and admitted after the race that he was surprised that Ferrari had failed to match their pace. A gracious winner on the day, Hamilton was keen to stress that it is still far too early to make a call on the championship title and was in a mindful mood that there are another seven races yet to come. “It’s an incredibly exciting season, the last two races have been extremely strong for us – we have gone from strength to strength , the way we have come together this second half of the season so far is exceptional”he said. “We did the better job this weekend but it is still close and there is still a long way to go”.
As the twenty cars jostled to find their position on the grid, air force jets flew low overhead leaving a trail of smoke in their wake in the green, white and red colours of the Italian il Tricolore flag. It was a somewhat messy start to the race, perhaps not helped by the fact that nine drivers were penalised with grid penalties which led to some obvious confusion and left race officials unsure of the starting order. Worst hit was McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne who was given a twenty-five place grid penalty after Honda took the decision to change his engine after qualifying. Bouncing off each other like dodgem cars, there were a few noticeable mishaps early on when Williams’ Felipe Massa and Max Verstappen collided on the third lap causing considerable damage to the Dutchman’s Red Bull car leaving him with a front-right puncture and immediately ruining his chances of being a serious contender in the race. Romain Grosjean of Haas and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo also made contact resulting in Grosjean having to pull in to the pits for a new front wing. The two Ferrari cars got dangerously close during the opening stages and were almost wheel to wheel until Vettel managed to seize the advantage and whizz out in front. Lance Stroll, the youngest driver to make the front row in qualifying, was unable to hold on to his second place for long and was abruptly overtaken by Esteban Ocon of Force India as they rounded the first chicane.
Sebastien Vettel’s Italian Grand Prix did not go as he had planned, qualifying on Saturday in a disappointing sixth place just behind his teammate Kimi in fifth as both Ferrari’s struggled to find pace in the wet conditions. Nevertheless, there were high hopes before the race as he cruised around the track in a beautiful vintage Ferrari much to the delight of the adoring Tifosi who were clearly revelling in the fact that they were in Ferrari territory and were keen to give their number one driver an encouraging boost as his team celebrated their 70th anniversary. Although the German driver managed to overtake his teammate early on and finish in a respectable third place, there was a huge gap of 36 seconds between himself and the race winner and a mere four seconds between him and Ricciardo of Red Bull who finished in fourth. Kimi Raikkonen finished in fifth place, convinced that his Ferrari had suffered considerable damage to the rear after a tussle with Bottas early on in the race that sent him momentarily veering of course.
There was no love lost between the Spaniard Fernando Alonso and British racing driver Jolyon Palmer as they clashed yet again at Monza on Sunday. Following on from a similar spat in Belgium only a week ago, Alonso attempted to overtake the Renault driver at the second chicane causing them both to brake hard and veer off the track. Palmer then managed to rejoin the track alongside the Spaniard and promptly passed him on the following corner. A furious and clearly frustrated Alonso has since accused the FIA of shirking their responsibilities and not implementing the correct F1 rules, branding Palmer’s overtaking manoeuvre as illegal. Unfortunately both drivers were unable to complete the race with Palmer having no option but to retire and McLaren making the call to end Alonso’s race with only a further two laps to go to ensure they would not receive a penalty for changing his gearbox ahead of the forthcoming Singapore Grand Prix in less than two weeks time.
Starting on the grid down in 16th position due to a grid penalty, Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull had an outstanding race and displayed some very impressive driving skills and overtaking manoeuvres, particularly the precision move he pulled off to pass Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in to the Rettifilo chicane. His sheer grit and determination was rewarded when he climbed an incredible twelve places to finish in fourth and just narrowly missing out on a podium place, leading him to joke with reporters after the race that perhaps his team should start at the back of the field more often. As he chased down Sebastien Vettel in the closing stages of the race, Ricciardo recorded the fastest lap of the entire race and only just missed smashing the race lap record set back in 2004 by 2.3 seconds.
With Hamilton in his current blistering form and now holding the advantage with a three point lead on the championship title, we now have just under a fortnight’s wait until the historic Singapore Grand Prix where the rollercoaster ride will continue in a spectacular night race under floodlights.