Italian Grand Prix: Hamilton spoils Ferrari party

Lewis Hamilton spoiled the planned Ferrari party when he triumphed against the odds to win the Italian Grand Prix, as the Reds tripped over themselves in what will go down as an epic race at the sport’s Temple of Speed.

Hamilton survived a first lap incident with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, to hunt down pole starting and early leader Kimi Raikkonen in the other Ferrari.

The veteran Finn fought hard but suffered the price for pitting too early – perhaps fooled by the Mercedes crew lining up for a ‘phantom’ pitstop before he peeled into the pitlane – and simply ran out of rubber as the race progreesed and when it mattered, Ferrari got the strategy call wrong.

Hamilton, in contrast, stayed out longer, delivered crucial fast laps on wasted rubber before his only pit stop and with help from teammate Valtteri Bottas was able to reel in Raikkonen before pouncing for the lead with a bold overtake into Turn 1 on lap 45 of the 53 laps, the Ferrari driver knew the battle was fought and spent the rest of the race nursing his no-grip car to finish second.

It was the Briton’s 68th grand prix victory and with it extended he extended the world championship points lead to 30 from 22 when he arrived in Italy, while matching F1 legend Michael Schumacher’s record five victories at the hallowed venue.

As he alighted the podium to a loud chorus of boos from the disappointed Tifosi, “Today was so difficult. We’ve got a great crowd here and although the negativity is never great, that’s what powered me along. I want to give it up to Ferrari who put up a great challenge and gave us a great fight. I want to thank the guys here and everyone back home; without their belief, it wouldn’t have been possible.”

“There’s been a lot of negativity but there were a lot of British flags out there today. They know who they are. In future, I only want to turn to a negative to a positive. Thanks to Valtteri too. We never give up,” added Hamilton.

From pole position Raikkonen took the lead where he stayed for the first half of the race, after a safety car period to clear debris on the track, Hamilton briefly took the lead after the restart but the Iceman snatched it back.

In retrospect, the Ferrari driver was called in far too early by his crew to change to the soft tyres and soon was in a Mercedes sandwich, Bottas backing the red car into his hard chasing teammate.

When Hamilton made his move Raikkonen made no attempt to defend, his race was run and securing second became the goal which he went on to achieve. It will hurt him that what should have been a famous return to victory was yet another second place.

Speaking on the occasion of his 100the F1 podium celebration, Raikkonen said, “I was quick enough but unfortunately our rear tyres went and it was a losing battle from that point. I tried but it was impossible, far from ideal. We did our best. For sure we tried, the rear tyres gave up before the race ended, at least we can take the second place.”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen crossed the line third after a dogged afternoon spent battling off Bottas, the Mercedes driver stuck behind the ‘widest’ car in the field.

Verstappen pushed Bottas onto the grass verge as they entered Turn 1, forcing the Finn to take avoiding action and prompting the FIA race stewards to penalise the Dutchman, the Mercedes driver thus inherited third while the penalty dropped the Red Bull driver dropped to fifth.

Bottas reflected, “I was really trying to do everything I can to get to the podium. First, my mission was to hold off Kimi, and then I was challenging with Max. There was hard racing, and sometimes it was not as fair as I would hope, so he got a penalty and I am on the podium. As a team, we take this result. We got more points than Ferrari in their home. We hope next time we can be better.”

Vettel’s afternoon was compromised after the first lap incident with Hamilton, the FIA stewards looked at the incident and saw no need to act, as it was quite clear Vettel simply oversteered clumsily into the slow right-hand chicane and spun around, lucky not to tag the Mercedes and cause a shunt.

Credit to the German for recovering and storming through the field to claim fourth and limit the damage as best he could, but after locking out the front row, defeat when they were expected to win at Monza, will hurt at Maranello. This is one of those that will divide fans and opinions…

Best of the Rest was Romain Grosjean in the Haas in sixth after fending off a concerted attack from the Force India pair of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, the drivers in pink seventh and eighth.

Carlos Sainz delivered a solid race to claim ninth place ahead of Lance Stroll who claimed the final point in tenth, Williams enjoying their best weekend of the season with Sergey Sirotkin  in 11th

FIA Blow-By-Blow Report

At the start, pole position man Kimi Räikkonen held his advantage to take the lead through the opening two turns. Behind him, though, Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who started from P2, was being pressured by title rival Lewis Hamilton and there was brief contact in Turn 1.

Hamilton continued to press and launched an attack around the outside of Vettel’s Ferrari into the second chicane. There was minimal room for manoeuvre and the pair collided, with Vettel being sent into a spin.

Hamilton was able to continue in second place ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who had muscled his way past the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas as the start, but Vettel dropped to the back of the field.

At the back of the order there was also a collision at the start between Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley. The New Zealander suffered a blown tyres and he was forced to pull over at the side of the track.

That brought out the safety car and under the caution Vettel pitted for soft tyres.

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo also pitted, taking on supersofts, and the pair were soon making their way through the field, with Ricciardo initially to the fore.

When the Safety Car left the track, Hamilton made the most of the re-start and passed Räikkönen into Turn 1. The Mercedes’ driver’s hold on the lead was brief, however, as Räikkönen fought back in the second chicane and muscled his way back to the front.

In the midfield, Vettel passed Ricciardo at the start of lap nine and by lap 17 he had hauled himself up to ninth place, but he was now 27.3s behind leading team-mate Räikkönen

Räikkönen made his sole stop, for soft tyres, on lap 20. Mercedes feinted a stop on the following lap but with his pace good Hamilton was told to stay out.

Behind them, Ricciardo’s race came to an end on lap 24 when smoke began to pour from the rear of his Red Bull. The Australian quickly pulled over and retired, his latest spec Renault engine appearing to let him down.

Ahead, Hamilton made his stop on lap 28, taking on soft tyres, but he emerged behind Räikkönen. Bottas was yet to pit, however, and as Hamilton rejoined over two seconds behind Räikkönen, Bottas was told to keep his fellow Finn behind him.

Bottas finally made his pit stop at the end of lap 35. He took on soft tyres and emerged some 3.5s behind Verstappen. Räikkönen now led again but with worn tyres that were beginning to cause the Finn problems. Hamilton, just half a second behind the Ferrari driver, was on much fresher rubber and began to exert heavy pressure.

Vettel, meanwhile, was busy making his way back towards the leaders after a second pit stop, for supersoft tyres, and on lap 39 he claimed fifth place. He was now 13.4s behind Bottas with 14 laps to go and lapping much quicker than the Mercedes man who was battling to get past Verstappen.

At the front, Hamilton made the decisive move on lap 45. He tucked in behind the Finn on the pit straight and then darted around the outside of the Finn’s Ferrari into Turn 1 to take a lead he would not relinquish.

Behind Räikkönen, third-placed Verstappen Max was now coming under pressure from Bottas. The Finn went to pass in Turn 1 but Verstappen took a very wide line and there was contact, with Bottas being forced to cut the chicane.

The incident was placed under investigation and Max was subsequently handed a five-second time penalty for causing the collision.

After Hamilton took his 68th career win ahead of Räikkönen, Verstappen crossed the line in third, but with Bottas and Vettel within five seconds of the Dutchman, the Red Bull man was classified in fifth place, from where he started the race.

Romain Grosjean took sixth place for Haas, while Racing Point Force India took their second double points finish in a row, with Esteban Ocon seventh and Sergio Pérez eighth. Ninth place was taken by Renault’s Carlos Sainz and the final point on offer went to Williams’ Lance Stroll.