Lewis Hamilton secured victory in the Italian Grand Prix yesterday as Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg showed another sign of cracking under the strain of this year’s Formula 1 world title fight.
A fortnight after colliding with Hamilton in Belgium, incurring the wrath and a fine from his team, Rosberg blundered midway through the race when leading at Monza.
Hamilton took full advantage, bringing his car home 3.1 seconds ahead of Rosberg to close the gap to 22 points in the drivers’ standings with six races remaining.
Hamilton had conceded ahead of the race he could not afford to lose any more points to Rosberg with races running out.
The Briton could not have made a worse start though. He lacked power off the line, caused by an issue with his car’s race-start mode, and Rosberg comfortably held sway into the opening tight chicane of Variante del Rettifilio.
Hamilton dropped to fourth behind Kevin Magnussen in his McLaren and Felipe Massa for Williams.
Hamilton’s woes at the start followed another problem 15 minutes before the race. With his mechanics working on the car on its grid slot, one of his team dropped a portable brake cooler on the front wing, breaking it slightly and forcing a change.
It was not the beginning he would have envisaged, but on lap five the fightback began as Massa, ahead of him, and Hamilton both passed rookie Magnussen in the space of 15 seconds.
With Rosberg’s lead just over four seconds at the start of lap nine, the German then outbraked himself into Rettifilio.
This forced him down the escape road through the chicane, swerving his way around the polystyrene blocks designed to stop any driver straightlining the turns, losing around 1.7secs in the process. A lap later, Hamilton made his move on Massa into turn one to put Rosberg in his sights. As the duo traded fastest laps at one point, Hamilton was unable to get any closer than 1.2secs prior to the one and only stop – lap 24 for Rosberg, 25 for Hamilton.
At practically half-race distance – 26 of the 53 laps – Rosberg had eked out a cushion of 1.8secs, the duo on their own, with Massa a further 10 seconds adrift.
Hamilton, told by race engineer Pete Bonnington to be patient and hold a gap of two to 2.5 seconds to Rosberg and attack at the end, did not heed the advice.
On lap 27 he took half a second out of Rosberg and then 0.6secs on lap 28, before Rosberg was late on the brakes into Rettifilio at the start of lap 29, and again took the escape road.
This handed the lead to Hamilton, with cameras capturing a smile on the face of Mercedes boss Toto Wolff at that moment.
From that moment Hamilton was never troubled, coasting to the 28th victory of his career and making inroads into Rosberg’s points lead.
Behind them, Massa drove superbly to claim his first podium finish since last year’s Spanish Grand Prix, with Valtteri Bottas fourth ahead of Red Bull duo Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel in fifth and sixth.
It was a terrible race for Ferrari on home turf. Fernando Alonso retired on lap 29 and Kimi Raikkonen finished a lowly ninth, sandwiching McLaren pair Jenson Button and Magnussen.
Ferrari have dropped to fourth in the constructors’ championship behind Williams, with Red Bull second, while Mercedes are fast closing in on the title with a lead of 182 points.
Marussia driver Max Chilton retired for only the second time in 32 races after hitting the kerb on the exit of the second chicane.
This sent him airborne momentarily, with his car landing heavily on the track and winding Chilton before his out-of-control car landed in a gravel trap before burying the nose in a tyre barrier.