Lewis Hamilton has delivered another dominant display to claim a lights-to-flag victory at Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.
The Englishman won by almost half a minute from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, but his victory was temporarily over allegations that his starting set of tyres were not fully up to the minimum pressure stipulated by the FIA and Pirelli.
The shortfall – just 0.3psi – created far more drama than the race itself, which was a largely processional display at the front of the field, but in the end commonsense prevailed and he was allowed to keep his win.
The reigning champion’s lead in points standings now extended to a whopping 53 points, with his chief title rival and teammate Nico Rosberg retiring from third place with an engine failure late in the race.
It capped off a disastrous weekend for Rosberg, who suffered from a rare sequence of technical issues in his F1W06. Both drivers came to Monza armed with an upgraded power unit package and had dominated the weekend, only for the German’s engine to develop a problem ahead of qualifying. The team reverted to the engine he’d used at the preceding Grand Prix in Belgium, but it was sine five races old in its mileage and ultimately gave up the ghost with a few laps to run.
At the same time, Hamilton – who was some twenty seconds clear in the lead – was inexplicably given desperate pit-to-car radio instructions to push and build a gap to Vettel, despite seemingly not being under threat and with the driver himself not reporting any car problems.
It was a bizarre situation, as logic would have been for Hamilton to be told to cruise to the chequered flag lest he encounter any last-minute dramas himself.
It turned out that the team had been given a summons to appear for a Stewards’ hearing post-race to answer charges that they had under-pressurised the tyre set he’d started the race on. Fearing that a breach could result in a post-race time penalty, Mercedes instructed its star driver to push and build as big a gap as possible to try and offset it.
Hamilton was none the wiser during his post-race celebrations, although paddock sentiment was split between whether he should be disqualified or have the results stand. In the end, the FIA ruled that its own Technical Directive – issued in the lead-up to the weekend after a few tyre failures at the previous race in Belgium – was not clearly-worded enough and that it would be unfair to penalise the team.
It temporarily took the gloss of Hamilton’s achievement, after the Englishman had handed yet another driving lesson to the rest of the field.
He made a clean start as the lights went out to slot into the lead ahead of Vettel, while the sister Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen threw away a challenge by almost stalling as he race got underway.
The Finn managed to avoid getting rear-ended by the drivers behind him and got going at the rear of the field. A succession of rapid passes ensured he was up to fourteenth by the end of the opening lap, but any hopes of a podium finish were gone at that point. That he managed to finish an eventual fifth spoke volumes for his aggression over the rest of the race, but it was an opportunity missed.
Whether he could have actually challenged Hamilton was a moot point, as second-placed Vettel had no answers and steadily fell back to finish a lonely second.
The main focus of the race was who would claim the final step of the podium. Rosberg made his fourth poor getaway in as many races – although he did have to dodge Räikkönen’s stationary Ferrari at the start – and fell to sixth behind the two Williams’ and Sergio Pérez’s Force India by the end of the opening lap.
He quickly dispensed with the Mexican but the balance of his first stint was spent bottled up behind Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas until Mercedes made the decision to pit early on Lap 18 and try to undercut the Williams Mercedes’ when they pitted.
Williams reacted on the next lap by calling in Massa, but Rosberg had delivered a scorching out-lap to ensure Massa would emerge behind him; Bottas cycled through the pits a lap later and rejoined in an effective fifth behind the pair of them.
Up in front, Hamilton had stretched his lead to 15 seconds by the time he and Vettel pitted on Lap 26 and 25 respectively.
Now free of the two Williams’, Rosberg set about trying to close down on Vettel, but would have a hard task doing it on a set of tyres that were some eight laps older than his compatriot. After a brief challenge, he resigned himself to finishing third, only for his engine to fail on Lap 51.
That gifted third place to Massa, who spent the remaining laps vigorously defending the position from his teammate in an exciting duel to the finish line. The pair crossed the line nose-to-tail, with Räikkönen twenty seconds further adrift in fifth, having passed the Force Indias of Pérez and Nico Hülkenberg late in the race.
Hülkenberg – battling with a very loose rear end on his car – only just managed to hold off a chain of cars comprising the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, who split by the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson.
That trio had promising showings in the race, with Ricciardo and Kvyat both putting in flawless drives to recover from starting at the rear of the grid thanks to a succession of engine change penalties.
The Toro Rosso duo of Carlos Sainz Jr and Max Verstappen followed in eleventh and twelfth, ahead of the sister Sauber of Felipe Nasr which had to pit on the first lap after contact at the first corner.
Despite suffering poor straight line speed, both McLarens featured heavily in the midfield battles in the opening laps and pit stop cycles. Jenson Button drove determinedly to finish fourteenth and looked on course for a close fight for the position with teammate Fernando Alonso until the Spaniard retired in the final laps with a predictable loss of power in his Honda engine.
The Manor-Marussia pair of Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi were the last of the finishers in fifteenth and sixteenth, two laps adrift.
The weekend was a disaster for Lotus, which saw its hopes of challenging for a possible podium finish evaporate at the first turn. As they’d done at Silverstone, both Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado would be out before the end of the first lap, with the pair coming off worse in the tight run through the first chicane.
|Formula 1 Gran Premio D’Italia 2015 – Final Classification (53 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W06 Hybrid||53||1:18:00.688|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||53||+ 25.042|
|3.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||53||+ 47.635|
|4.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||53||+ 47.996|
|5.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||53||+ 1:08.860|
|6.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08B||53||+ 1:12.783|
|7.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08B||52||1 lap behind|
|8.||Daniel Ricciardo||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||52||1 lap behind|
|9.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||52||1 lap behind|
|10.||Daniil Kvyat||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||52||1 lap behind|
|11.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||52||1 lap behind|
|12.||Max Verstappen||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||52||1 lap behind|
|13.||Felipe Nasr||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||52||1 lap behind|
|14.||Jenson Button||McLaren Honda MP4-30||52||1 lap behind|
|15.||Will Stevens||Manor Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03B||51||2 laps behind|
|16.||Roberto Merhi||Manor Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03B||51||2 laps behind|
|17.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W06 Hybrid||50||Engine|
|18.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren Honda MP4-30||47||Power loss|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||1||Suspension|
|DNF.||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||1||Collision|
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team and Sutton Motorsport Images