Hamilton fights back: Italian Grand Prix review

By on Monday, September 8, 2014
Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Every race is important in the context of the world championship, but losing more points to Nico Rosberg was an unthinkable proposition for Lewis Hamilton. So when his start procedure went wrong due to a fault with the button, he must have wondered what he’d needed to do to have a clean weekend.

In the highly technical world of Formula 1, Hamilton pondered how to deal with the issue and in the end decided the best thing to do was to ‘floor it’, as if driving a clapped out banger around a supermarket car park. The strategy worked as he limited the damage and emerged from the Rettifilo chicane in fourth place.

Rosberg immediately took advantage of Hamilton’s issue to move into the lead, while Kevin Magnussen surged into second, with Felipe Massa in third, as Valtteri Bottas tumbled down to 10th place.

Magnussen held second until both Massa and Hamilton passed him on lap five, while the Mercedes driver pounced on his Williams rival with a well-judged move at the Rettifilo on lap 10.

From there it was always going to be a battle for supremacy between the Mercedes duo, but crucially the gap for Hamilton to close down was already halved due to Rosberg’s error at the Rettifilo on the previous lap. The German locked his tyres and immediately opted to, legally, take to the run-off and chicane his way around the bollards. A four second advantage over Hamilton was now 2.2.

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Hamilton continued the high speed game of cat and mouse across the course of the first stint, with the gap dropping to 2.1s, 1.9s, 1.6s, 1.4s across successive laps, until the margin between them stabilised at that mark.

Rosberg was first in, followed by Hamilton a lap later, and the earlier stop had given Rosberg a 1.8s lead. The advice given to Hamilton was to manage the car in order to attack at the end, but Hamilton had other ideas.

Hamilton cut the gap to 1.3s, before slicing into Rosberg’s advantage by the tune of six-tenths of a second. It was set up for a battle royale between the two dominant cars and title rivals, until the leading Mercedes again locked up into the Rettifilo and had to take to the run-off. Hamilton slipped into the lead untroubled and rapidly hammered out a four second advantage while Rosberg recuperated.

“Yeah, Lewis was quick, coming from behind, I needed to up my pace and as a result I made some mistakes, so it was very bad and it lost me the lead in the end,” said Rosberg.

Hamilton maintained his four second advantage across the final stint to claim his sixth win of the year, but he distanced himself from claims that he had ignored team orders.

“The engineer said we should stay back but knowing from experience I knew that wasn’t the way forward so I chose another route,” he said. “The car felt good, closest that I had been at that point, during the previous stint I knew when I was behind Nico on old tyres it was hard to stay with him, so I knew the best chance would be at the start of the stint so I took it.”

This was not Hamilton ignoring orders, but driving with intuition rather than simply heeding advice from people on the pit wall. For that he should be applauded, rather than chastised.

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Once Hamilton was through on Massa, the Brazilian had a lonely run to third place, but considering some of his misfortune this year that was fine by the Williams driver and he collected his first, and long overdue, podium of the season.

“It’s a great day for us, great race, great start, also the pace was very good, not enough to fight the Mercedes but we had very good pace, team did a perfect job, really happy to be on the podium, we missed a bit during the season so it’s special to be on the podium there in front of amazing people,” he enthused.

Fourth place eventually went to Bottas, but he had to work hard for it.

After a poor start he clawed his way back up to fourth place, but Williams stopped him later than his rivals and he had to pass them again, although with the pace of the FW36 he did so with consummate ease.

Daniel Ricciardo slipped down to 12th on the opening lap but stayed out of trouble and hung onto the main group before stopping late. This gave him a tyre advantage, and allied to some wonderful moves he was able to leap back up into contention. The highlight of his race was a late pass on team-mate Sebastian Vettel, to whom he sold a dummy on the approach to the Roggia chicane.

Vettel had been enjoying a strong race but his late loss of time was due to Red Bull opting to stop him early and this aggressive approach paid dividends in that he beat the McLarens, but it also meant he lost out to Ricciardo.

It was nonetheless a strong performance from the reigning world champion team, whose fifth and sixth place finish came at a circuit where Mercedes cars dominated.

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Vettel hung on for sixth at the end, ahead of Magnussen, although the Dane was penalised five seconds for forcing Bottas off track as they diced. That meant that Sergio Pérez inherited seventh, with the Mexican coming out on top of a superb battle with former team-mate Jenson Button. The duo ran side by side for almost half a lap until Pérez prevailed.

Kimi Räikkönen had a quiet race in ninth place to salvage some pride for Ferrari, who enjoyed a fairly miserable home event. Practice pace was evidently deceitful, while Fernando Alonso’s valiant attempt at leading the charge ended when his engine expired.

Magnussen ended up in 10th, while Daniil Kvyat recovered superbly to race from 21st to 11th and did a phenomenal job to save his car when a brake disc shattered on the final lap.

Nico Hülkenberg was a lowly 12th after Force India discovered damage which affected the car’s performance, although his race was compromised by starting on Primes as this meant he couldn’t keep pace with the group ahead and fell out of DRS range.

Jean-Éric Vergne struggled with the handling of his Toro Rosso across the weekend and was an anonymous 13th, while Pastor Maldonado actually enhanced his reputation by dealing well with a difficult set of circumstances as he drove maturely to 14th place.

Adrian Sutil was 15th in the recalcitrant Sauber, while Romain Grosjean had a poor start and fell back on Primes on his way to 16th. Kamui Kobayashi returned to the Caterham cockpit and edged out Jules Bianchi for 17th, while Marcus Ericsson was 19th after Esteban Gutiérrez was demoted 20 seconds following a baffling swerve on Grosjean towards the end of the race. The only other retirement was Max Chilton, who was so excited to have overtaken Grosjean that he crashed.

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Hamilton’s sixth win of the year – incidentally the most he’s claimed in one season – means he moves to within 22 points of Rosberg ahead of one of the most physically and mentally demanding races of the year in Singapore. But a philosophical Hamilton was staying in the present.

“Even I’ve gone through difficult times here – 2007 probably, when I was racing against Fernando and obviously we were racing with Kimi and the Ferraris but I’ve really felt a real growth of the support that I’ve had here over the years” he said.

“It’s such a beautiful nation. When you come here, the weather’s always good, the track’s incredible and there’s nowhere you go and you see the whole straight, which is one of the longest straights in the whole season, completely full of fans, mostly with red caps and flags but they really create the atmosphere. In terms of me, I came here to do a job and I did it so I’m happy with that.”

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