Lewis Hamilton recovered from a poor start to win his second Italian Grand Prix in stunning style today.
The 2008 world champion led a Mercedes 1-2, with championship leader – and rival – Nico Rosberg ending the day as runner-up.
Felipe Massa made it an all Mercedes-powered podium when he took 3rd in his Williams F1 machine.
For Hamilton however, it was all about the chase. An error with the race start mode of his W05 machine dropped the Briton to 4th off the line, as he explains: “The launch sequence didn’t engage properly for the formation lap and then again for the start. I tried to pull away as fast as possible; basically I just floored it and hoped for the best!” He continued, “There was a different sequence of lights that were on [the steering wheel] that weren’t on ever before. The RPM was all over the place and fortunately I managed to not lose too many places.”
It was inevitable that he would though. With Hamilton momentarily stricken, Rosberg sailed through into an early lead followed by Kevin Magnussen (McLaren) and Massa (Williams). Admittedly, the error did not immediately correct itself, with Hamilton briefly settling into a pace in the mid-1’30s, before the Mercedes began to fully come alive again.
Raising his pace – and the pressure – both Massa and Hamilton were able to pick off the less nimble McLaren of Magnussen on lap five before Hamilton dispatched Massa four tours later.
Now in 2nd, the 29-year-old began to zero in on his target. The fight was on. “When I closed up to Nico, I didn’t want to hold back as the car felt good.” He added: “I knew from experience that the only chance would be at the start of the stint when the tyres were fresh so I went for it.”
Having lost four seconds behind the Williams and McLaren, Hamilton pulled just under three seconds out of Rosberg’s advantage by the time his German rival stopped for the harder compound Pirelli tyres on lap 25.
Rosberg retook the front of the order when Hamilton stopped on the following lap; however the Englishman continued to press for the lead. “I was pushing to overtake him. That meant it opens up the doors for everything,” noted Hamilton.
It worked. For all intents and purposes, Rosberg appeared to crack under the intense scrutiny from behind. Having already made a mistake by running off at the Retifilo chicane on lap nine, Rosberg did it again on lap 29, only this time Hamilton was close enough to slip into the lead.
To his credit, Rosberg held his hands up for the error. “Lewis was quick, coming in from behind. I needed to up my pace and then as a result just went into the mistake. That was very bad and lost me the lead in the end.”
Thereafter Hamilton never looked back, as he extended the gap to the 2nd placed man to over four-and-a-half seconds as the race entered its final third. In taking the chequered flag, Hamilton secured his sixth victory of the season, cutting the gap to Rosberg to just 22 points. “I’m really pleased with the win, it’s feels like I have some momentum back as we go into the final races.”
Meanwhile Rosberg conceded the race, knowing that – on this occasion – Hamilton simply had the upper hand. “Lewis was quicker this weekend, so he deserved the win. That for sure is very disappointing for me.” Continuing, the championship leader added, “I need to see the positive things from today. Second place is still good and I lost only seven points to Lewis, so this could have been much worse…”
For Felipe Mass, the race could not have gone much better as he secured his first podium finish since last year’s Spanish Grand Prix. Slotting into 3rd for a time at the start, the Brazilian lost nearly four seconds to the lead, before pulling past Magnussen in the opening half dozen tours. “I had a good start and passed Magnussen at just the right time.”
Once in clear air, Massa claimed nearly two seconds out of the gap to Rosberg, but holding the resurgent Hamilton at bay was always going to be a struggle. From the moment the Silver Arrow crept into Massa’s mirror, the Brazilian knew a tough time was ahead. “I had to work hard to establish that position, sadly the Mercedes were still a bit quick, so we did the best we could.”
As soon as the position was lost to Hamilton, Massa settled into a solid pace that solidified his place between the Mercedes and Magnussen, the latter of whom was in the midst of a six-way battle for 4th.
With the McLaren man preoccupied, Massa built a thirteen second gap to the Dane, before the Woking-based team pulled Magnussen in for his one and only stop after twenty-one laps.
Massa pitted for new hard Pirelli’s two laps later and emerged into a small pool of clear air, which quickly soon cleared as strategies played out around the Williams man, bring Massa back into a podium position. “I think a one-stop was the strategy for everybody. The tyres worked pretty well. It was really pretty much OK to one-stop, at least for us.”
It marks a remarkable turn for the man who was revealed to be staying with the Didcot team for 2015.
Bottas, in the other Williams, endured a shocking opening lap that dropped the Finn to 11th. Amidst the collection, Bottas began to move up the order taking both Force India’s and both Ferrari’s prior to his stop on the 24th lap.
Thereafter Bottas had to work hard again, taking Sergio Perez, Magnussen (and in stellar wheel-to-wheel fight), and Sebastian Vettel, which promoted the hard working Finn into 4th place.
“Once the tyres were up to temperature I had a lot of work to do. It was good fun to overtake so many people and we had some good pace as well,” as Bottas revealed.
It would prove to be a critical run for Bottas as it lifted him to 4th in the Drivers’ Championship ahead of Fernando Alonso, while Williams also jumped Ferrari in the Constructor’s Championship.
Daniel Ricciardo made the best of a long first stint to finish 5th. The Australian made an error with his starting procedure, dropping him to 12th; however Ricciardo stayed out until lap 26. “I saw the cars in front of me pit and the pace was still good enough, so seeing that we didn’t have great pace when we were out of position then we thought we would try something different.”
Despite the long running stint, Ricciardo still pushed his way through a gaggle of cars, including Nico Hulkenberg, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Perez, Magnussen and Vettel along the way. “I was more comfortable with the prime tyre and was able to do some good moves, which kept me smiling,” beamed the Red Bull man.
Vettel held 6th, but following an aggressive strategy, the German lost nearly ten seconds on Ricciardo in the closing tours as his Pirelli’s began to age rapidly. The reigning world champion made a fantastic start, but was clearly suffering for power along Monza’s lengthy straights; however the desire to pull the German out of traffic forced the Red Bull squad to pull Vettel in at the one-third point in the event.
Magnussen was originally next across the finishing line; however the McLaren youngster was found guilty to have not given Bottas enough room and forcing him off track on lap 31, as the Finn charged up the order. With his stop already completed, Magnussen was hit with a five-second post-race penalty, which dropped the McLaren racer to 10th overall, promoting Perez, Button and Raikkonen to 7th, 8th and the respectively.
Perez assumed another points score for the Force India team; however it was quite clear that of the Mercedes-powered team’s, the Silverstone-based squad were struggling the most. With Hulkenberg well out of contention for points, it was left to the Mexican to rescue scores for the team, as they continue their battle with McLaren in the Constructors’ Championship.
Both Button and Raikkonen followed Perez over the line – indeed such was the close racing in the group, Magnussen’s penalty was multiplied more than would normally be the case. Although Button accepted the result, it is less than likely that Ferrari will be as pleased with a mere 9th at their home race.
The high speed nature of the circuit began to take its toll late on, with the Force India’s blowing clouds of black smoke from their brake ducts in the latter stages of the vent; however it was Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat who suffered the biggest scare when a failing brake pitched him into a frightening off at the Retifilo.
Behind the Russian, Hulkenberg (12th) and Jean-Eric Vergne (13th) were the last of those on the lead lap, while Pastor Maldonado (14th) led the Lotus charge, albeit a lap down. Adrian Sutil assumed another lowly 15th for Sauber ahead of Romain Grosjean in the other Lotus.
In the distance, Kamui Kobayashi took 16th for Caterham, some 13s up on his Marussia rival Jules Bianchi (17th). Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) and Marcus Ericsson (Caterham) rounded out the finishers, although both were lapped twice; however Gutierrez was later penalised 20s for clashing with Grosjean with two laps remaining, dropping the Mexican behind Ericsson in the classifications.
Alonso was running on the outskirts of the top ten when the ERS failed on his Ferrari on lap 28 – which was a far better effort than Max Chilton, who pummelled his Marussia by sending into the Roggia barrier on the fifth lap.
With the European season over, Hamilton now heads to Singapore with a swing in his step, both it would be ill-advised to assume that there will be another Mercedes sweep at one of the toughest street circuit on the calendar.