Hamilton romps to championship lead in Monza
Lewis Hamilton has dominated the Italian Grand Prix to put himself three points ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the drivers championship standings for the first time this year.
Mercedes spanked Ferrari on the Scuderia’s home turf, maximising its longstanding power unit advantage over the Italian team on the calendar’s most power-sensitive circuit to win the race by an embarrassing 36 seconds.
Hamilton’s wins in Italy and last week in Belgium are the season’s first back-to-back victories, and Bottas’s second-place classification makes the Italian Grand Prix Mercedes’s third one-two finish of 2017.
The Italian fans knew their team had been soundly beaten, and they made sure Hamilton knew their displeasure during the podium celebrations — but the Briton gave it straight back to the crowd.
“Mercedes power is definitely better than Ferrari power!” he said. “I love it here in Italy and I love the passion of the fans. This energy is like nowhere else we really get to see.”
Valtteri Bottas, who started fourth on the grid, took just four laps to move up to second to act as Hamilton’s rear gunner, but his services were never required, such was the car’s advantage.
“I just needed to keep my head down and get the places step by step,” the Finn said. “The car was so strong today.
“It was amazing how quick we were. It was a pure joy to drive. A perfect result for us as a team.”
Bottas’s deficit to the championship lead remains 41 points — though the gap is now to his teammate rather than to Vettel — leaving him precariously placed in Mercedes’s internal discussions about its timing in choosing a driver to back for the title fight.
Vettel could do nothing more than bring the car home in the final podium place after scything past teammate Räikkönen, then Williams’s Lance Stroll and Force India’s Esteban Ocon, in eight laps.
The German was unable to live with the Mercedes duo, losing around one second per lap to the pair in the opening stint.
The final 36-second margin flattered Ferrari’s lack of power, with Mercedes admitting it had both its drivers turn down their power units for preservation.
Vettel, however, revealed on team radio on the cool-down lap that he too cruised to the finish after picking up unspecified damage to the car, making any attempt at fighting back futile in any case.
“It took a while before I could really trust the car, but we made some progress,” said a dispirited Vettel. “We didn’t have the pace of the leading two drivers today.”
But the outgoing championship leader also referenced the car’s strong showing at the similarly power-sensitive Spa-Francorchamps last weekend, where Ferrari was able to pressure Mercedes until the final lap of the race.
“Even if this race has been difficult, I know we have a very strong car and we will have a very strong end to the season,” he told the fans from the podium.
The next grand prix is in Singapore, a technical street circuit, which should heavily favour Ferrari’s car, giving the German reason to be optimistic.
Daniel Ricciardo was driver of the day after a stunning drive from sixteenth on the grid to fourth place.
The Red Bull Racing driver ran a long 38-lap stint on the soft tyre and pitted from fourth, losing one place to Kimi Räikkönen on his out lap.
It took him just three laps to pass the Finn with his newer tyres, though he did it with the move of the race — an absurdly late-braking move into the first chicane — and his rapid pace gave him and the team hope of closing down Vettel’s slowing Ferrari ahead.
It was a bridge too far even for the Australian, however, who could reduce the 11-second gap to just four seconds by the end of the 53-lap race.
Kimi Räikkönen trailed home 19 seconds behind Ricciardo to claim fifth for the second Ferrari, but the Finn complained of balance problems throughout the race.
Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll, who started the race a scarcely believable third and second respectively, finished a competitive sixth and seventh.
Ocon jumped Stroll at the first turn, the Canadian notably delicate on the brakes for his first front-row start, and was unable to retake the position thereafter, thanks in part to an unusually slow pit stop.
Felipe Massa came close to stealing seventh from his teammate on the final lap, the pair running nose-to-tail into Parabolica, but was unable to execute a pass, particularly with Sergio Perez in the second Force India sizing up the pair for a double pass in the event of a clash.
Max Verstappen claimed the final point in tenth after stopping twice in what was a one-stop grand prix.
The Dutchman clashed with Felipe Massa at the first chicane on lap three and picked up a puncture, forcing him to make his first stop for a new set of tyres and a front wing, and made his second stop on lap 29.
He dropped to P18 and, with the help of retirements from both McLaren drivers and Jolyon Palmer, picked his way past five midfield cars to give his difficult afternoon some meaning.