Lewis Hamilton extended his lead in the Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship standings over arch rival Sebastian Vettel with a superb drive to victory at the Italian Grand Prix.
The defending World Champion’s path to an admittedly unexpected win was aided in no small part by opening-lap contact with the German and a brilliant rear-gunner performance by Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Ferrari had the been the pacesetters throughout the weekend and after locking out the front row of the grid leave their home race completely deflated. The Italian team hadn’t won its home race since 2010 and being deprived of victory will be a bitter pill to swallow, but on reflection it has to blame its own strategy and a costly mistake by Vettel. It was outgunned, out-raced and out-thought.
Hamilton’s victory hinged on three critical overtaking moves and a ruthless demonstration of team tactics by the Mercedes pit wall.
Vettel was crucially involved in the first, spinning at the Roggia chicane trying to defend against Hamilton on the opening lap, and despite a charging recovery drive to finish fourth the four-time World Champion faces an uphill struggle to clinch a fifth crown. For the fourth time this season, Vettel made a critical error under pressure.
He now lies 30 points adrift of Hamilton in the championship standings – the largest gap between the pair this season – with seven races left to overcome the deficit.
Starting from third on the grid, Hamilton tucked in behind the two Ferraris at the start and kept his nose clean as the pack funneled through the often-fraught Rettifilo chicane. He had superb traction exiting the chicane and caught a tow off Vettel through the Curva Grande, pulling to the outside of the Roggia chicane as Vettel kept to the inside the defend his position.
Hamilton kept room on the inside for Vettel but the Ferrari driver refused to back off, took too much kerb and looped his car into a spin. Just as in Baku (flat-spotting his tyres), France (hitting Bottas) and Germany (crashing out of the lead), a single error would prove costly.
The race was almost immediately brought under the control of the Safety Car so Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso could be safely retrieved from the approach to the Rettifilo chicane. The luckless New Zealander found his Toro Rosso wedged in an ever-closing gap between McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson – the inevitable contact occurred and his Toro Rosso’s front-right suspension was broken.
Räikkönen led the pack behind the Safety Car but miscued a notoriously tricky restart which allowed Hamilton to slipstream the Finn and claim the lead as the race resumed. The 2007 World Champion – whose seat at Ferrari is under threat from its protégé Charles Leclerc – showed plenty of fight and bravely retook the lead at the Roggia chicane. It was an identical move to what Hamilton had put on Vettel, but this time both drivers emerged with their cars intact.
Hamilton kept within two seconds of Räikkönen during the opening stint, harrying the Finn but never drawing close enough to have another challenge for his race lead. The outcome of the race would hinge on pit stop strategy and Räikkönen pitted on Lap 20 to switch from his wearing Supersofts to a new set of Soft tyres.
Hamilton stayed out on track, but Räikkönen denied him the possibility of being able to leapfrog him in the pits with a succession of quick laps on his fresh tyres. Critically, his hard driving would later prove his undoing…
Hamilton peeled into the pits at the end of Lap 28 and rejoined in third place, with teammate Bottas – yet to make his own stop – now in the lead.
By this stage the race had seen two more retirees. Fernando Alonso limped his McLaren back to the pits after nine laps, reporting “the same problem” – presumably that he was still racing for the uncompetitive team. An electrical issue was to blame.
The other retiree was Daniel Ricciardo. Starting from the back of the grid after taking on the ‘Spec C’ Renault power unit upgrade, the Australian was steadily working his way forward before his clutch broke. The smoke pouring from the back of his Red Bull initially prompted fears his new engine – on which the team is pinning its hopes of victory at the next Grand Prix in Singapore – had failed.
With Hamilton on fresher tyres than Räikkönen and needing to close up to the Ferrari driver, Mercedes made a crucial strategy call. It kept Bottas out on track to steadily back his compatriot towards Hamilton. Job done, he pitted on Lap 36 and emerged behind the sole Red Bull of Max Verstappen in fourth place, leaving Hamilton to do battle with Räikkönen.
Räikkönen’s tyres were taking pain, particularly his left rear which takes the greatest strain to the Monza circuit’s high-speed Curva Grande, Lesmo and Parabolica right-handers. Hamilton moved inexorably closer and with eight haps to go he pulled off a perfect pass around the outside of Räikkönen at the Rettifilo chicane. The hearts of the tifosi were broken by a brilliant piece of driving by their nemesis.
Finally, after Mercedes had kept Hamilton out for a long time so he had fresher tyres at the end and had used Valtteri Bottas, who finished third, to hold Räikkönen up on track, the battle for the lead fell to the British driver as he pulled off an inch-perfect pass on the Finn round the outside through the Retifillo chicane with eight laps to go. It was enough to secure victory, albeit once again to the disappointment of the tifosi.
Hamilton went on to claim an ‘against the odds’ victory – a record-equaling fifth of his career at Monza – while Räikkönen was left to wrestle home his Ferrari to second place, with its left-rear tyre blistered down to the canvas.
Bottas followed third-placed Verstappen over the finish line, but the Dutch driver was rightly issued a five-second time penalty that demoted him to fifth behind the recovering Vettel. Verstappen’s driving in a significantly underpowered car verged on desperation, repeatedly chopping across Bottas’ nose as they braked for the Rettifilo. Contact between the pair was inevitable when Bottas finally drew alongside, and the Mercedes driver was lucky not to suffer major damage after being tipped down the escape road.
Romain Grosjean finished ‘best of the rest’ in sixth place for the Haas team, but rival outfit Renault – who would have been overtaken for fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship – swiftly protested the result on the legality of the VF-18’s floor.
The FIA had issued a deadline for this weekend for teams to bring their undertray designs to conformity and Haas hadn’t done so – Grosjean was excluded and Haas immediately indicated its intention to appeal.
That promoted the Force India pairing of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez to sixth and seventh respectively, giving the team another 14 Constructors’ Championship points to the 18 it had earned with its superb showing in Spa-Francorchamps. That result helped the team – which lost all of the 59 points it had earned prior to its re-entry into the series – to leapfrog Scuderia Toro Rosso (30 points) and Sauber (19 points) and move into seventh place in the points’ standings. Technically the team would be ahead of Renault if it had kept its points earned earlier in the year.
Carlos Sainz Jr. finished eighth for Renault, while teammate Nico Hülkenberg was out of the points in a disappointing thirteenth. The Enstone squad has struggled to maintain its early-season form as its focus shifts to its 2019 plans and has failed to get both cars in the points since the French Grand Prix in June.
Speaking of struggling teams, Williams finally returned to the top-ten with Lance Stroll finishing ninth and rookie driver Sergey Sirotkin promoted to tenth to give the Russian his first ever points’ finish. With the Monza circuit masking the cleare deficiencies of its FW41 chassis, the Grove squad finally had something to cheer about in what has been the worst season in its history.
|FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO HEINEKEN D’ITALIA 2018 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (53 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||53||1:16:54.484|
|2.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||53||+ 8.705|
|3.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||53||+ 14.066|
|4.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||53||+ 16.151|
|5.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||53||+ 18.208|
|DSQ.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||53||Undertray|
|6.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||53||+ 57.761|
|7.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||53||+ 58.678|
|8.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||53||+ 1:18.140|
|9.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||52||1 lap behind|
|10.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||52||1 lap behind|
|11.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||52||1 lap behind|
|12.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||52||1 lap behind|
|13.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||52||1 lap behind|
|14.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||52||1 lap behind|
|15.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||52||1 lap behind|
|16.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||52||1 lap behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps|
|DNF.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||23||Clutch|
|DNF.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||9||Electrical|
|DND.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||0||Collision|
|Fastest Lap||Team / Entry||Lap||Time|
|Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||30||1:22.497|
- Max Verstappen – who was provisionally classified 3rd – was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for causing a collision with Valtteri Bottas.
Romain Grosjean – who was provisionally classified 6th – was disqualified for a non-compliant undertray
Images via Formula1.com and Mercedes AMG F1 Team