Momentum is a funny thing in Formula One. Whoever has it seems to get more and whoever chases it is always left searching. For Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, it has ebbed and flowed all season. For Hamilton, momentum has evaded him since May; but the tide swung back the way of the Brit in Monza on Sunday as he stormed to his sixth victory of the year as team-mate Rosberg cracked under pressure.
From the start, the victory seemed far from likely for Hamilton. A first pole position since May, he made a terrible getaway with a lack of revs off the line. He dropped to fourth place almost immediately as Rosberg made the early jump to lead from a fast starting Kevin Magnussen. The Dane in the Mclaren made a lightning getaway from 5th to slot into second into turn one. He would not last long at the front though as the Williams of Felipe Massa and the recovering Hamilton closed in and made swift work. Magnussen was impressive throughout the race, running in a credible 4th place before slipping down to 7th on the road; and latterly 10th through a five second penalty.
Rosberg meanwhile looked to streak away at the front, initially building a 1.4 second lead over the chasing pack. He would have wanted Magnussen to hold up Massa and Hamilton for longer but it wasn’t to be. Before he knew it, Hamilton had now found a way past Massa into second place by brilliantly running round the outside of the first chicane, and was now chasing down the leader.
Several other runners made bad starts, not least crowd favourite Fernando Alonso; slipping to 10th from 7th on the grid. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas made an even worse start, bogging down from 3rd place to 11th by the end of the first lap. The Finn would be instrumental in providing the race’s entertainment as he fought beautifully through the field to finish 4th at the flag. Bottas, showing that he is a future World Champion battled his way back through a series of fabulous overtaking manoeuvres and utilising the Mercedes horsepower advantage down the long straights.
Similarly, Daniel Ricciardo had to fight his way through the pack as well. Having started from 9th place, he ran wide at the chicane on lap one; dropping several positions outside the top ten. His recovery would be spectacular from then on. Pitting much later than team-mate Sebastian Vettel, he ran with fresher tyres and used them with aplomb. Late braking dive bombs on Jenson Button’s Mclaren and side by side action with Vettel were particular highlights in an eventful race for the Australian. He would finish 5th in the end after swooping past Vettel late on.
Rosberg was still leading – despite going straight on at the first chicane on lap 11 – but was falling into the clutches of Hamilton hand over fist. The #44 chasing Mercedes set fastest lap after fastest lap and it seemed only a matter of time before the two Siler Arrows’ were glued to each other once more. And they were in no time. Hamilton shaved chunks of time every lap but was canny in his attack timing. Knowing an overtake was improbable before the pit stops, he backed off and tried his luck by staying out a lap longer than the German. He would rejoin behind Rosberg but maintained the gap and continued to close. And after half distance was reached, the gap was reduced even further with Hamilton now looking even more menacing in attack. Lap 29 and the two leaders approached turn one seemingly inches apart. Rosberg once again locked his tyres and went straight on at the chicane. Hamilton gifted an opportunity, zipped past and took the lead; to the crowd’s delight. Hamilton immediately extended his lead, one which he kept until the end.
A promising Friday for Ferrari on home soil turned sour on raceday. Lacking pace throughout, Kimi Raikkonen would be the only finisher for the Prancing Horse in 9th (elevated from 10th on the road). Team-mate Fernando Alonso made a slow start but was able to battle back to 7th before the first round of stops. He led a chasing trio with Sergio Pérez and Valtteri Bottas. And they were catching those in front as Magnussen was holding up Vettel and Button. With the pit stops done and dusted, Vettel jumped Magnussen, while Pérez leapfrogged both Button and Alonso. Double World Champion Alonso was still dragging his Ferrari round and looked set to salvage something for the home fans when he suffered an ERS failure at turn one on lap 30; retiring on the spot, his first mechanical retirement since 2009.
Out in front, Hamilton was looking imperious in the lead, extending the gap to four seconds over Rosberg. Behind, action was omnipresent; Bottas, after having dropped behind Pérez after his pit stop was back on the move. He dived past the Mexican into turn one, while Magnussen defended admirably from the Williams the next lap. Side by side into turn one, Magnussen took his normal line only for Bottas to be pushed over the sleeping policeman. The Mclaren would receive a five second stop-go penalty to be served post race for his misdemeanour, relegating the Dane to 10th.
Battle also resumed between former team-mates Button and Pérez; and an incredible battle it was. In equal Mercedes machinery, the pair went side by side out of the first corner and after several attempts, Button managed to get past the Mexican. Pérez was having none of it however, and fought back immediately; going round the outside of the second chicane was pushed off and bounced over the speed bumps. Pérez took the place but Button latched onto the Force India round the outside of the first Lesmo and after being separated by mere inches, Pérez held on.
With Ricciardo’s comeback complete, he made the move on the squabbling pair in front, firstly brilliantly out-braking Button into the chicane and then nabbing Pérez the following lap by selling a sumptuous dummy. This allowed Button and Pérez to get back to business and the Brit took the place under braking on lap 43. Pérez, not knowing when he’s beaten responded once more and in true Nascar bumping style, clung on to the back of the Mclaren for dear life, forcing Button to out-brake himself; Pérez sweeping back to take 7th for good now.
The surprise of the race strategy wise was that of Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat. A long stint enabled the Russian to run as high as 4th before his only stop on lap 32. The youngster was lining up an attack on Raikkonen for a chance at a points finish but for a brake failure on the approach to turn one; just about saving several slides but hobbled across the line in 11th.
Hamilton’s lead over Rosberg had extended to four and half seconds while Massa quietly consolidated his third place. Bottas had found a way past Vettel who was struggling on older tyres and was up to fourth. Vettel would then be a sitting duck to team-mate Ricciardo in the closing stages. Ricciardo chased down the German and as with his move on Pérez, went one way then another to take the place under braking for the second chicane.
But up at the front it was Lewis Hamilton who took the victory; his sixth of the year and first since Silverstone. Rosberg finished second ahead of Felipe Massa, who took his first podium for Williams. Following a storming recovery drive, Bottas finished fourth ahead of Ricciardo and Vettel, while further back Pérez held off Button and Raikkonen. Magnussen with his penalty finished 10th.
An unenviable note goes out to Max Chilton, who retired from the race on lap following an acrobatic leap over the turn two speed bumps; his first ever retirement in Formula One while Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg failed to score points for the first time in 2014.
The victory reduces Rosberg’s lead in the championship by seven points and now heads Hamilton by just 22 points. With six races remaining, plus double points in the season closer in Abu Dhabi, the title fight is far from over.