Ferrari locked out the front row on their home ground at Monza, but another mistake by Sebastian Vettel, tyre wear problems for Kimi Raikkonen and a brilliant drive by Lewis Hamilton and team effort from Mercedes saw the Briton extend his world championship lead to 30 points against all expectations as he garnered his 68th victory.
“Formation all the way home, just to show our Italian colleagues,” said Hamilton’s race engineer Pete Bonington, as Valtteri Bottas finished third behind Raikkonen on a day when the discombobulated Tifosi’s cheers turned to bad-tempered boos and whistles at the result.
The win came into focus for Hamilton as early as the first lap, Raikkonen kept his advantage from pole position, with Vettel second, but as the German went wide going into the second chicane, seeking the inside line on his own team-mate, Hamilton came down on the right-hand side and went round the outside of Vettel. The Mercedes was ahead when the Ferrari touched his left sidepod with his right front wheel, and the Ferrari snapped into a spin and dropped to the back of the field.
“Getting past Seb was a massive turning point,” Hamilton admitted. “At the second chicane the big surprise was that he chose the inside not the outside of Kimi. That was my opportunity, so I stuck it down the side of Kimi and made sure that there was enough space between us.
“Seb and I only touched for a brief moment and I was able to continue. It was definitely a key moment getting past him, which was the immediate goal. Definitely it took a lot of pressure off me from behind, and meant I could focus on Kimi.”
Over his radio, Vettel declaimed. “That was silly, where did he want to go?”
Clearly Hamilton wanted to go in front of him. “It was a racing move, pretty much the same move that Kimi later did to me. It was a racing manoeuvre, which is what we are supposed to do. I left him room, and I was still on the track. I think that was a comment made in the heat of the moment, so I don’t read too much into it.”
Later, Vettel added: "Lewis saw a little bit around the outside but he didn't leave me any space. I had no chance but to run into him and make contact.”
He was angry, yet, curiously, lucky; a collision on the startline between Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso and Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren triggered a brief safety car period which enabled Vettel to pit for a new front wing and to switch from supersoft to soft tyres, without losing too much time.
Hamilton, meanwhile, snatched the lead from Raikkonen as they went into the first chicane after the restart on lap four, only to have the Ferrari driver outpower him down to the second and go around the outside to reclaim the advantage.
“I was trying to figure out how aggressive Kimi could be, because my race was with Seb, not him,” Hamilton said. “When Kimi came round the outside it was all about how much risk I was prepared to take, and I thought I’d save it for another opportunity. He drove incredibly fairly and I respect him very much and enjoyed racing with him.”
Thereafter the battle was between the two, as Hamilton pushed hard and kept the Finn honest. Ferrari pitted their man first, on the 20th lap, but Hamilton set fastest laps as he continued for another eight laps. But somehow what had been a one-second deficit to Raikkonen had become 5.2s when he resumed.
Bottas had inherited the lead when Hamilton stopped, and the Finn did sterling work for his team by keeping Raikkonen contained as Hamilton slashed the deficit. It was a second again when Bottas finally pitted on the 36th lap, but by then Raikkonen’s rear tyres were past their best and it was only a matter of time before Hamilton, on his fresher rubber, hunted him down.
The coup de grace was set up as they completed the 44th lap. Going down to the first chicane Hamilton tucked right in behind the Ferrari then ducked out to the left and pulled off the most critical move of his race with surgical precision.
After that it was plain sailing, as he stretched his lead from 1.7s to 8.7s when he took the chequered flag nine laps later.
“I definitely did not expect to win, I had no idea where we would stand in this race,” he admitted. “My plan was to stay within a second and a half and I expected that to be a serious uphill battle. You never know, sometimes they pull away like the last race, but this time I could close up. I saw Kimi’s tyres blistering and made sure I looked after mine. He was under pressure trying to get past Valtteri, and when Valtteri went into the pits it was a bit harder, but my tyres were in better shape and I could push harder through the Lesmo and Ascari corners. It was a fun and enjoyable race.”
Raikkonen was told to stay off the kerbs and just to bring his car home, and at one stage was going so gently that 11th placed Sergey Sirotkin unlapped himself before the finish. Nevertheless, he took an honourable second place, and the 100th podium of his long career.
Bottas spent all race locked in battle with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who had already been informed by race director Charlie Whiting, via his team, that in running wide in the first chicane and staying ahead of Bottas on the 39th lap, he had already used up his joker. He was told to keep things clean, but on the 43rd lap Bottas came down the outside of him into the same corner and as the Red Bull twitched slightly under braking there was contact which flicked the Mercedes sideways and lost Bottas time as he had to take to the escape road.
The race stewards gave Verstappen a five-second time penalty, which would prove the good news for Vettel.
He had fought back up to fourth place, but dropped back to 10th when he switched them on the 29th lap for another set of supersofts. Then he set about another charge up the field, and was nibbling away at Bottas and Verstappen as they battled.
When he was informed of his penalty, Verstappen angrily asked what it was for, then derided the stewards (who included former F1 racer and Indianapolis 500 winner Danny Sullivan). “They are killing racing. I know I’m losing time to Vettel, but I really don’t care.”
In the end, Verstappen kept hold of third place on the road after a great drive, but his penalty dropped him not just behind Bottas but also behind Vettel. If nothing else, that helped the disgruntled German with his damage limitation, and meant that the respective points scores are 256 points to 226. It could have been worse.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies