Lewis Hamilton drew level with Michael Schumacher as the most successful driver in history at the Italian Grand Prix, after winning a sensational race at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza.
Hamilton had to work for a fifth career victory at Monza, chasing down, passing and then fending off the challenge of Scuderia Ferrari man, and polesitter, Kimi Räikkönen. The Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport driver was involved in a contentious incident with championship rival Sebastian Vettel at Turn 4 on the first lap, which ended in contact and Vettel spinning to the back of the field.
The Brit attempted to pass the Ferrari on the outside of the Variante della Roggia and was adjudged not to have been at fault for Vettel’s demise, the stewards deeming it a “racing incident”, much to the disdain of the passionate Italian crowd.
The result moves Hamilton 30 points ahead of Vettel, who finished fourth following a spirited comeback drive, with seven rounds of the 2018 championship remaining.
“That was one tough race, but a really enjoyable one – I’m very, very happy,” said an exuberant Hamilton. “This afternoon has shaken off to be one of the best.
“It’s so close between Ferrari and us, this race was really down to who makes the least mistakes and who looks after their tyres the best.”
Effective race leader Räikkönen fell into Mercedes’ trap by attacking Valtteri Bottas before the Finn’s pitstop, damaging the soft compound tyres he was taking to the end and allowing Hamilton to close up on the Ferrari’s rear wing. Immediately after the pair’s sole stops, Hamilton stood around five seconds behind Räikkönen, but utilised the tactics to good effect.
“Valtteri did a great job extending his stint which enabled me to close up to Kimi,” said Hamilton, in praise of his team-mate. “It was really great team work today, a great pit stop, great communication with the team.
“Once I had closed the gap to Kimi on my second stint, I could see that his tyres were blistering, so I started to take care of my tyres and made sure that I didn’t blister mine.
“When Valtteri then came in for his pit stop it was a bit harder to keep up with Kimi, but I knew that my tyres were in better shape. I had to push as hard as I could to close the gap, particularly through the Lesmos and Ascari.”
Hamilton forced his way past with a move at the first chicane on lap 45 before pulling away to win eight seconds, as Räikkönen was forced into nursing his tyres with the freedom of facing no threat behind him.
Talking about the first lap collision with Vettel, Hamilton admitted that he was “surprised” that Vettel chose to go the inside to attack his team-mate, leaving a gap on the outside that he pounced on.
“It was an intense first lap, we all got off to similar starts,” he explained.
“When we went into Turn 4, I was a bit surprised that Sebastian chose the inside and did not go for the outside. That was my opportunity and I had to make sure that I was far enough alongside him.
“We touched for a brief moment and my car was slightly damaged afterwards, but fortunately I was able to continue and keep up with Kimi.”
Vettel continued after changing his front wing in the immediate aftermath, but reported the feeling of more damage later in the race.
Hamilton called his victory “a real privilege” and hopes that Mercedes can extend their 25 point gap to Ferrari in an ever-changing Constructors’ Championship picture.
“This track is really just incredible, it’s such a phenomenal circuit to drive with all it’s high-speed corners and the fact that you can follow through the corners and the chicanes make it one of the best tracks in the world.
“It’s always a real privilege to win in Italy. But we need to keep our heads down, work hard and make sure that we put up a good fight in Singapore.”