Lewis Hamilton revelled in his role as pantomime villain of the Italian Grand Prix after he crushed rival Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari’s home race to take charge of the title battle for the first time this year.
Hamilton, who has been in mesmerising form since the sport’s summer break, followed his victory at last week’s race in Belgium with a dominant display here at Monza to move three points clear of Vettel.
The passionate Tifosi jeered Hamilton as he collected his winner’s trophy, with Vettel an eye-watering half a minute down the road in third, while Valtteri Bottas crossed the line in second to complete a one-two finish for Mercedes.
But Hamilton, the first man to win consecutive races this year, was not fazed by the boos from the Ferrari faithful. He even claimed he drowned out their disdain by recalling the lyrics of a song he had written.
“I had a real nice song playing in my head so the boos kind of went over my head,” Hamilton, 32, said. “It was one of my own, so you won’t know it.
“It is to be expected in Italy and over the last 10 years it has been common to have the boos if a Ferrari driver is not on the top step of the podium.
“Inevitably you are going to be the enemy and the villain here if you are the one stopping the Ferraris. But some days I am happy to be the villain.
“I just tried to remain respectful. I admire their passion, and they feel like football fans here – the aggressive ones – but it is all in the name of love for the red car.”
The Italian supporters, a record-breaking 93,000 of them, descended on this famous circuit in hope, rather than expectation, of Vettel upsetting the odds.
But for the German – who has led the title race ever since he won the curtain raiser in Melbourne six months ago – it was an exercise in damage limitation after a poor display in rain-hit qualifying left him sixth on the grid.
Vettel first picked off his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, before Lance Stroll, 18, and 20-year-old Frenchman Esteban Ocon became his next victims.
But he failed to make a dent on either Mercedes car and would finish 36 seconds behind his rival.
With only seven rounds remaining, Hamilton’s huge victory felt like a significant turning point in this year’s championship battle. Indeed 17 points have swung in Hamilton’s favour since the summer shutdown, while he has won three of the last four races – a run which started at July’s British Grand Prix.
“Silverstone was an empowering weekend, and from then it has sparked a forest fire within me and hopefully that has reflected in my driving,” added Hamilton.
“Whilst I feel like I always drive with my heart – my heart is really the engine, the power and the force behind what I do – my mind is like the rudder.”
Hamilton, who turned in a wet-weather masterclass to surpass Michael Schumacher’s all-time pole position record on Saturday, held off the chasing pack on the long run down to turn one and from there never looked back.
Aside from the Englishman’s heroics, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was the day’s other impressive performer after he finished fourth despite starting down in 16th following penalties for engine and gearbox changes.
But there was more misery for McLaren after both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne retired with technical glitches, while Britain’s Jolyon Palmer also failed to make the chequered flag.