Ferrari were overwhelming favourites for victory in front of their loyal fans, the Tifosi, at Monza as they locked out the front row. But Lewis Hamilton had other ideas, taking advantage of a spin from Sebastian Vettel after a brilliant pass on his title rival, before hunting down Kimi Raikkonen to take a shock victory in a thrilling Italian Grand Prix.
On Saturday, Vettel said Raikkonen would be allowed to win the Italian Grand Prix from pole position and for much of the race, it looked like that would be the case. The Finn’s chances were boosted when Vettel defended too hard from Hamilton into the second chicane on Lap 1.
Hamilton was on the outside and Vettel opted to try and hang on alongside. The result was contact, with Vettel’s Ferrari spun round to drop him to the back of the field. Hamilton, meanwhile, was unscathed and set about chasing down Raikkonen.
Raikkonen pitted first, with Hamilton going eight laps longer. With fresher tyres, and the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, who had yet to stop, backing Raikkonen up at the front, Hamilton closed onto the Ferrari’s gearbox. Bottas then pitted, giving Raikkonen clear air, but his tyres were in trouble.
Hamilton bided his time and then pounced to snatch the lead with eight laps to go, before pulling away to take a brilliant victory against the run of form. It was Mercedes’ fifth successive win at Monza with Hamilton the first driver to win from below the front row since Rubens Barrichello from fifth in 2009.
Raikkonen nursed his car home to second, clinching his 100th podium, with Verstappen crossing the line third before a five-second time penalty dropped him behind Bottas and Vettel in the final classification.
Vettel leaves Monza 30 points adrift of championship leader Hamilton on a weekend where he would have expected to slice the deficit to at least 10. However, there are still seven races and a maximum of 175 points left on the table.
Raikkonen bolted across the track to defend the lead at the start, with Vettel tucking into his tow and then attempting a pass around the outside into the first chicane before bailing out.
On the approach to the Roggia chicane, Hamilton picked up a slipstream from Vettel and dived to the outside. Vettel was baulked by Raikkonen, allowing Hamilton to move alongside the Ferrari. The Mercedes driver got his nose in front as they entered the corner, but Vettel stayed side by side with the silver car. They touched, with Vettel spinning and dropping to the back of the field.
Meanwhile, the Safety Car was called into action, with debris on the start-finish straight after Brendon Hartley found his Toro Rosso sandwiched between Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson at the start. The contact broke the New Zealander’s front-right suspension, forcing him out immediately.
Vettel used the neutralisation to pit for a new front wing and swap his supersoft tyres for softs, opening the opportunity for him to complete the race on that set of tyres.
At the restart on Lap 4, Hamilton got a lovely tow down the main straight and glided by Raikkonen to take the lead before the first chicane. But the Finn regrouped and retook the lead around the outside into the Roggia chicane – much to the delight of the Tifosi that packed out Monza.
However, Hamilton didn’t let the Ferrari driver scamper away, the Briton keeping the pressure on until the Scuderia called Raikkonen in to pit at the end of lap 20. It was a super slick stop and he was sent back out on a set of supersofts and into clear air.
Mercedes opted not to respond, with Hamilton staying out for another eight laps before pitting. On the face of it, that looked to be the wrong call, as he rejoined 5.2s behind Raikkonen. But Raikkonen was baulked by Bottas, who had inherited the lead by virtue of not having pitted.
Hamilton set about reeling Raikkonen in, slicing at least a second per lap out of the gap until he was right on the Finn’s gearbox with 20 laps to go. Mercedes told Hamilton that “this race will be won on lost on tyres, you need to look after yours. It looks like Kimi is killing his”. They were referring to a blister that had appeared on Raikkonen’s rears, with the Finn struggling with vibrations.
Bottas eventually pitted at the end of lap 36, leaving Raikkonen and Hamilton to battle for the lead. The Finn rejoined in fourth, just 3.2s behind Verstappen but with tyres that were 10 laps fresher and began the chase for the final podium position.
Back up front, Hamilton hustled Raikkonen, with the Finn increasingly struggling with his tyres. Eventually, he could hold on no more, with Hamilton diving around the outside of the first chicane to take the lead on Lap 45, to the disappointment of the Ferrari fan-packed grandstands.
Ferrari then told Raikkonen to take care of his tyres and “bring the car home”, with the Finn fading and allowing Hamilton to move well clear. Further back, Verstappen and Bottas made contact at Turn 1, with Verstappen given a five-second time penalty for the incident.
Bottas couldn’t find a way past, but he inherited the final podium position courtesy of Verstappen’s penalty. Vettel completed a strong recovery drive to take fourth ahead of Romain Grosjean in the Haas, who took his fourth successive points finish.
The Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished seventh and eighth, while Renault’s Carlos Sainz and Williams’ Lance Stroll completed the top 10. Along with the luckless Hartley, the other retirements were Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo, who both lost power from the respective McLaren and Red Bull machines.
From the high-speed expanses of Monza, we head to the tight confines of the Singapore streets in two weeks’ time. This is prime Red Bull territory, but will their agility be enough to overhaul the Mercedes and Ferrari powerhouses? Find out on September 16.