Lewis Hamilton re-took the psychological advantage over his team mate this Sunday by winning the Italian Grand Prix. The Briton threw away his Pole position and dropped to 4th at the start, but was handed the lead on lap 28 when Nico Rosberg missed the first chicane, eventually finishing second. The bottom step of the podium was occupied by Felipe Massa, his first of the season and first with Williams.
Nico Rosberg came into this race with a sizable 29-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, after their controversial incident in Belgium a fortnight prior. Rosberg attempted to move behind Hamilton after bailing out of an attempted overtake, but made contact with the rear tyre of the sister Mercedes, which caused a puncture, floor damage, and eventually, Hamilton’s retirement.
Since then the Mercedes bosses have been doing everything in their power to quiet any doubters, conspiracy theorists or trouble makers who may have thought Rosberg did it on purpose. Hamilton has publicly spoken out against ‘fans’ booing Rosberg on the podium, and says it is not good for the sport.
On Saturday it always looked like a Mercedes-dominated Qualifying session, but Williams were in with a shot at Pole too. Rosberg set the earlier pace in Q3, with Massa and Bottas filling in the gaps behind, but no one could out-do Hamilton, who eventually went over 4 tenths quicker than his team mate.
Ferrari failed to shine at their home event on Saturday, with Raikkonen lining up 11th, and Alonso struggling to 7th.
Marcus Ericsson was made to start from the pit lane for ignoring yellow flags in Practice, and Daniil Kvyat recieved a 10-place grid penalty for using more than the allotted number of engines this season.
At the start, Hamilton slipped from Pole to fourth, hampering everyone’s start from the left side of the grid. The biggest losers in this were Ricciardo and Bottas, but their loss was Kevin Magnussen’s gain, the Dane jumping from 5th to 2nd.
As Rosberg romped away down to the Variante Della Roggia, the gap was already massively apparent.
Hamilton’s fightback took a while to get up to speed. First on his agenda was Felipe Massa who had got in to third place in his Williams, but the Brazilian scorched past Kevin Magnussen, meaning Hamilton had to pass the McLaren first. On Lap 5 Massa got the move done on Magnussen, and was immediately out-done by Hamilton too.
Lap 6 saw one of only two DNFs in Max Chilton’s young career; the Briton locking up at the second chicane, and being launched into the gravel by a large piece of kerb. Chilton wasn’t the only one having trouble with chicanes – on Lap 9 Nico Rosberg made his first mistake. He too locked up a tyre and went straight on at the first chicane. It didn’t ruin his race, but it allowed Massa and Hamilton to catch up a little.
Hamilton blasted past Massa on Lap 10 in a move that only he could pull off. He and the Williams went side-by-side towards the first corner, and Hamilton was later on the brakes, going around the outside of the Brazilian and up in to second. The chase for the lead was well and truly on.
Bottas was busy making his way through the pack. He had already dispatched Hulkenberg earlier on, and on lap 15 got the job done on Perez too. One lap later he was at it again, this time pulling a move on Alonso. With the extra power of the Williams’ Mercedes engine, he powered past the Spaniard and up in to 7th.
Button was next, Bottas pulling the same move as on Alonso. His meteoric rise through the pack was improved when Vettel pitted on Lap 19, leaving Magnussen ahead of him. The young Dane had to concede to the overwhelming power of the Williams on Lap 21.
Lap 29 saw the defining moment of the race. Hamilton had the gap down to under a second for the first time, and Rosberg seemingly couldn’t cope with the pressure. He locked up under braking at the first corner, and Hamilton zipped past him in to the lead.
Fans sat at turn 1 were really getting their money’s worth; on the very same lap Fernando Alonso retired due to a water pump failure, pulling over on the grass at Variante Retifilio.
On lap 31, Valtteri Bottas attempted to overtake Kevin Magnussen, but found no room on the outside of turn one. Magnussen veered left slightly, and Bottas had to bounce over the kerbs and get back on the track.
With Hamilton, Rosberg and Massa cemented into their top-three positions, all eyes were on Bottas and Ricciardo, who were busy overtaking once again. Bottas had gotten past Magnussen finally, and when he was offered a chance to pip the reigning world champion Vettel, he took it, seizing fourth.
Ricciardo passed Raikkonen earlier on, and Button was next up. He swept past the McLaren, and almost passed Perez at the same time, but not quite. That overtake was a little more spectacular and occurred on lap 41. Perez and Ricciardo drag-raced towards the second chicane, and at the last possible minute, the Red Bull driver switched to the inside line, pulling the perfect ‘bait-and-switch’ manouvre.
Magnussen out of the way, Vettel was next. Ricciardo used exactly the same move on his team mate and waltzed into 5th place.
The final lap of the race saw perhaps the most hair-raising moment of the weekend, with Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat going straight on at the first corner. The young Russian was just able to get his car under control, steering out of the skid twice to avoid contact with the barriers. His epic reactions avoided a potentially nasty incident and prevented the race being finished under the Safety Car or yellow, although dropped him out of the points.
So it was Hamilton who crossed the line ahead of Rosberg for another Mercedes 1-2. We won’t ever know for sure if he had the pace, determination or opportunity to get past his team mate in an overtaking move, but what is clear is that the Brit has won back the momentum. He’ll be aiming to do exactly the same again in Singapore, which is the next race.
1) L Hamilton, Mercedes AMG
2) N Rosberg, Mercedes AMG
3) F Massa, Williams
4) V Bottas, Williams
5) D Ricciardo, Red Bull
6) S Vettel, Red Bull
7) S Perez, Force India
8) J Button, McLaren
9) K Raikkonen, Ferrari
10) K Magnussen, McLaren (Was 7th, but had a 5-second penalty added for an incident with Bottas)11) D Kvyat, Toro Rosso
12) N Hulkenberg, Force India
13) JE Vergne, Toro Rosso
14) P Maldonado, Lotus
15) A Sutil, Sauber
16) R Grosjean, Lotus
17) K Kobayashi, Caterham
18) J Bianchi, Marussia
19) M Ericsson, Caterham
20) E Gutierrez, Sauber
F Alonso, Ferrari (Water Pump)
M Chilton, Marussia (Spun off)