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Despite Ferrari being presented with their best opportunity for their first home win since 2010, Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton outfoxed the Scuderia to take what had seemed an unlikely victory at the Italian Grand Prix.
With championship challengers Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel tangling on the opening lap into the second chicane after Ferrari had successfully defended their 1-2 positions into Turn 1, Kimi Raikkonen was Ferrari’s sole hope for victory.
However, Raikkonen pushed hard at the start of his second stint and the Ferrari later struggled on the soft tyres. Hamilton ran an offset strategy and had fresher tyres to capitalise and deny what would’ve been the Finn’s first win since the 2013 Australian Grand Prix.
Mercedes also used Valtteri Bottas to help Hamilton’s challenge, which would have compromised his race result were it not for the fact that Max Verstappen was penalised by the stewards and that gave Bottas the podium.
Although they were much more competitive than at Monza last year, this defeat will be very hard to take for Ferrari and they’ll need to bounce back strongly with a win in Singapore. They have the fastest car and they aren’t putting Hamilton to the sword with it.
“I think it [Ferrari’s pace] was quick enough,” said Raikkonen after the race, “but unfortunately the rear tyres went, so it was a losing battle from that point. It was impossible at the end.
“It was far from ideal, but this is what we got today and we did our maximum.”
Hamilton’s win, along with only a fourth place finish for Vettel, means the Briton extends his championship lead to thirty points heading to a circuit which has traditionally favoured Ferrari, Singapore.
Valtteri Bottas took the final place on the podium following a post-race time penalty for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, which dropped him below Vettel to fifth.
Romain Grosjean finished in sixth ahead of the two Racing Point Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez.
With the front four getting relatively even launches from the grid, the main challenge came from Vettel on Raikkonen into the first corner.
The Finn held the inside line into turn one, putting Vettel under pressure from Hamilton, and the championship contenders made light contact mid-way through the first chicane.
With Hamilton getting a major slipstream into the second chicane, he launched an attack on the Ferrari driver, taking the outside of turn four, giving him the inside of turn five.
Vettel fought back, but a tangle sent the Ferrari spinning around and to the back of the field.
This promoted Verstappen up to third, who had already passed Bottas on the opening lap.
The safety car was deployed for the luckless Brendon Hartley, who was bumped into by other cars at the start and he was out of the race before turn one.
Vettel used this opportunity to pit for a new front wing and soft tyres, prompting questions about whether or not he could make it to the end of the race on a very long tyre stint.
With Raikkonen failing to break away from Hamilton, the Briton gained a mighty slipstream on the run into the first corner, and swept around the outside of the first turn to take an unexpected lead of the race.
Undeterred, Raikkonen fought back into the second chicane and replicated the move on the outside of turn four to regain the race lead.
Over the next few laps, Hamilton managed to keep very close to the Ferrari, leaving a gap no bigger than 1.5 seconds to the leader.
Third-placed Verstappen managed to break out of the one-second DRS window over Bottas and surprisingly keep the Mercedes car at arms length.
Vettel, meanwhile, was on a recovery mission, and by lap twenty had climbed up to seventh place, passing the likes of Pierre Gasly, Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Raikkonen was the first of the two front-runners to pit and, anticipating an immediate reply from Mercedes, pushed to avoid an ‘overcut’ from Hamilton.
However, Hamilton stayed out for several more laps and only pit when Raikkonen began to approach the second Mercedes of Bottas, who was yet to pit.
With Raikkonen also wearing his tyres quicker than expected, the initial five-second gap between himself and Hamilton closed down at around one second per lap, and soon the trio of Bottas, Raikkonen and Hamilton were separated by less than 1.5 seconds.
Potentially boosting Hamilton’s championship hopes further, Vettel was forced into a second pit stop which dropped him down to tenth place.
Hamilton was unable to make any further inroads towards Raikkonen, so Mercedes finally brought Bottas in on lap 36 to allow him to resume his fight for the podium with Max Verstappen.
He gradually reeled in the Red Bull, and an overtake looked a certainty, but the pair tangled when Verstappen didn’t leave enough room for Bottas under braking for turn one, sending the Mercedes across the chicane. The incident earned Verstappen a five second time penalty.
Hamilton rarely went outside of the DRS zone, and finally worked an opportunity on lap forty-six, when the Briton out-braked Raikkonen around the outside of turn one, completing the move on the inside of turn two, deflating the tifosi.
Further back, Verstappen was back under attack from Bottas but, instead of letting him go and trying to maintain a gap to fifth-placed Vettel, continued to defend third place on the track, saying to his team: “I know I’m losing time to Vettel, but I really don’t care.”
At the front, Raikkonen’s heavily worn tyres prevented any fightback from the Finn, who was now simply battling to maintain some tyre life, which allowed Hamilton to take the victory and deal a hammer blow to Ferrari’s championship ambitions.
Safe in the knowledge that third place was his, Bottas didn’t try too hard to overtake Verstappen on-track, whilst the Dutchman’s five-second penalty demoted him to fifth, below Vettel.
Romain Grosjean took sixth for Haas ahead of another impressive double-points finish for Force India, with Ocon beating Perez, who started towards the back of the grid. The result moves the team up to eighth in the constructors’ championship. Renault’s Sainz took ninth ahead of Williams’ Lance Stroll, who took the team’s first point since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
ITALIAN GRAND PRIX, Race
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 56 Laps
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 8.705s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 14.066s
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 16.151s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 18.208s
6 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 56.320s
7 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 57.761s
8 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 58.678s
9 Carlos Sainz Renault 78.140s
10 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 1 Lap
11 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 1 Lap
12 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 1 Lap
13 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1 Lap
14 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1 Lap
15 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda 1 Lap
16 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1 Lap
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 1 Lap
18 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault DNF
19 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault DNF
20 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda DNF
By:Luke Murphy and James Allen
All images: Motorsport Images
Who do you think is the driver of the day at the Italian Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
First posted here:James Allen on F1 – The official James Allen website on F1
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