There are some things in life that one doesn’t choose, and Mercedes’ driver Lewis Hamilton certainly didn’t choose to set a new record of 69 pole positions at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, the famed Formula One circuit in Italy on the 70th anniversary of Ferrari.
Hamilton went one better and won Sunday’s race after an unchallenged drive throughout the 53 laps of the 5.793 kilometre circuit, much to the chagrin of the Tifosi.
The front of the grid at the start of the race had unfamiliar faces, with the Williams of the teenager, Lance Stroll, lining up behind Hamilton and then the Force India of Esteban Ocon.
The two had gained two positions after both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo received grid penalties prior to the race start for effecting engine changes.
When the lights went out, Stroll had a slightly better start than Hamilton but the Briton maintained the lead into turn one given that his start was not exactly what one may term as slow or disastrous.
In fact, it was Ocon who was able to pip Stroll into turn one through the outside. Mercedes’ driver Valterri Bottas who started fourth also saw Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen get the better of him soon after the start. In the second lap, Bottas regained his position and began hunting the Force India and the Williams that stood between him and his teammate.
Verstappen made a stellar start, climbing up five positions to eighth by the second lap.
That same lap, Hamilton set the first of a number of fastest laps. Verstappen’s race came a cropper on the next lap when he had contact with the Williams of Felipe Massa, the resultant puncture pushing the teenager to last position after pitting. Meanwhile, Bottas had already made his way up to second behind his teammate by the fourth lap.
Championship leader Sebastian Vettel didn’t take long to overtake his teammate, and by the eighth lap, he had all but snuffed out the hopes of Stroll and Ocon for a podium finish by overtaking the two rookies.
Hamilton and Bottas kept the pace and stretched their lead over the rest of the field. Vettel made his first and only pitstop on the 31st lap, Hamilton following suit a lap later.
On exiting the pitstop, Hamilton was just ahead of Fernando Alonso, the McLaren Honda driver who in actual sense was a whole lap behind the Mercedes driver. It’s a testament of how disappointing the Honda engine has been for the two-time world champion whose race would agonisingly come to an end two laps from the finish.
Ricciardo who started 16th had not pitted by the 35th lap and was running in third position behind the two Silver Arrows. He dived into the pits on the 37th lap, and crucially came out in fifth position, in front of the trio of Ocon, Stroll and Massa.
With the Australian on supersofts, Raikkonen, 2.2 seconds up the road was a sitting duck. Ricciardo bravely overtook Raikkonen and set his sights on Vettel. The German however held onto the final podium position for the 12 laps that Ricciardo chased him.
Hamilton and Bottas finished well clear of the field, with more than half a second separating Vettel from Bottas at the chequered flag. For the first time this year, Hamilton is the championship leader, but with a razor-thin cushion of just three points. He’s also the first to win back-to-back races this season.
One wonders what might have been for Ferrari had the Red Bulls started in second and third position. For his valiant effort, moving up 12 places, Ricciardo went home with the fastest lap title.
The next series of races in Asia are less suited to the outright straight-line pace of the Mercs meaning that the title race is likely to go down to the wire.