2014 Italian GP: Lewis Hamilton wins from Nico Rosberg to cut title deficit
Englishman back within 22 points of the summit; Ricciardo stars with comeback drive; Alonso suffers first mechanical failure in 81 races.
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 07/09/14 5:39pm
Lewis Hamilton has closed the gap to Nico Rosberg in the World Championship by leading home a Mercedes one-two in the Italian GP.
Defying an awful start, which saw him plunge from pole position to fourth at the first corner, Hamilton responded by producing a storming drive to charge back to the front before pressurising Rosberg into the pivotal race-costing mistake that saw the German, previously lauded for his mental strength, miss the chicane and hand the lead over to his title rival.
If Hamilton's victory over Rosberg - loudly booed, for a successive race weekend, on the Monza podium - was ultimately a matter of superior pace and its destabilising effect, it also owed a substantial debt to the racing instinct that courses through the Englishman's veins. Advised by his race engineer to slow to two seconds behind Rosberg after the first round of pit-stops, Hamilton's immediate response was to set the fastest lap of the race and close within half a second of his team-mate. For Lewis, speed is always the best strategy of all.
It was all too much for Rosberg, who appeared uncomfortable on and off the track all weekend, who promptly locked up and slithered up the escape road. Hamilton never looked back, building up a comfortable three-second margin of victory to close within 22 points of the title summit. Once again, it's game on in the World Championship.
"I wanted to apply pressure," explained a relieved Hamilton to Sky Sports F1. "I knew that if I got to the end l wouldn’t be able to so I just wanted to apply the pressure when the tyres were good. I wasn’t ignoring my team, I have a great engineer and I wanted him to give me advice, but I knew I had the pace and wanted to utilise it."
Had either Mercedes driver cast a backward glance they would have seen Felipe Massa drive a lonely, incident-free race to finish in third place - the Brazilian's first podium finish of the year - on the day it was confirmed he would be staying on with the resurgent Williams outfit for 2015 alongside Valtteri Bottas. The Finn was fourth, but Bottas' race was an altogether more dramatic affair after falling as low as 11th on the opening lap.
Bogged down by a faulty Race Start system on his W05, Hamilton's getaway was equally tardy, with the pole-sitting Mercedes a waddling duck off the line and instantly overtaken by Rosberg, Massa and the McLaren of Kevin Magnussen. Suddenly, Hamilton's equilibrium - serene all weekend - was broken as he launched an expletive-led outburst over his team radio, but what followed was a masterclass as Magnussen and then, in a beautifully-judged move through the inside of the Rettifilo chicane, Massa were swiftly dispatched.
By the first round of pit-stops, Rosberg's lead had been trimmed from as much as five seconds to less than two, and if the shame of his mistake was that it deprived the Monza crowd of a wheel-to-wheel battle for victory between the two Silver Arrows then Mercedes' relief at the avoidance of further controversy was palpable. But might there have been more to Rosberg's mistake than met the eye? Social media was immediately awash with suggestions that the 'error' had been officially prescribed as part of the championship leader's post-Spa punishment. "The guys were racing each other all afternoon," retorted Paddy Lowe, the Mercedes technical boss, as the team gave the conspiracy theorists short shrift.
Not that the race was short of controversy or wheel-to-wheel action with Magnussen harshly penalised for, in the view of the stewards, forcing Bottas off the track as the Finn surged through the field, and former McLaren team-mates Sergio Perez and Jenson Button repeatedly exploring the outer limits of the circuit as they squabbled over the dregs of the top ten. "It was great racing, I enjoyed it and it was a lot of fun," said Button afterwards. "I've got a lot of respect for him."
Respect must be the least of World Champion Sebastian Vettel's opinion of Daniel Ricciardo after the young Australian once again enjoyed his measure, plunging past Button and Perez before sweeping around his illustrious Red Bull team-mate for fifth place with less than ten laps remaining.
By that stage, Hamilton's victory was all but secured. In a race that lasted less than an hour and twenty minutes, he did it the hard way. Who knows, the same might well be said in three months' time in a review of the World Championship itself.