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2018 F1

Hamilton stunned the Ferrari crowd with a remarkable victory at Italian GP

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Lewis Hamilton claimed victory at the 2018 Italian Grand Prix at the Monza circuit, edging out pole-sitter and race leader Kimi Raikkonen, who finished second. The Briton has now claimed his fifth win at this Italian circuit equaling Michael Schumacher’s total wins here, and his sixth win this season. The reigning World Champion increased his championship lead by 30 points, at awakened where his title rival spun out on the first lap of the race. Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, who played an effective role in ensuring Hamilton the win, finished third to complete the final podium.

Raikkonen who was leading the race until lap 45, lost his position to Hamilton after an on-track duel where the Briton had more pace with his seven laps fresher tyres to overtake the Finn, in a smooth wheel to wheel duel. The Finn’s second place podium is his ninth podium this season, and the 100th of his career, listing him alongside all time greats such as Alain Prost who had a career total of 106 podiums, Vettel has 107, Hamilton 128 and Michael Schumacher who has the highest total of a 155 podium finishes.

At the start, Monza is one of the few circuits where the pole sitter can be vulnerable to the tow picked up by drivers behind him. Given the unique characteristic of the circuit, Raikkonen bolted ahead trying to defend his lead with Vettel gaining advantage from his tow. Hamilton who was third, got a slipstream from Vettel’s Ferrari, aiding him to attack the second place. While Vettel tried defending Hamilton at the second chicane on lap 1, the German end up making contact with the Briton which resulted in a spin and dropping his Ferrari to the bottom of the grid. A reason Vettel had time to pit to a new front wing and a fresh set of soft tyres, was due to the safety car period that started after his spin.

The Safety Car was a result of the incident between Brendon Hartley, Stoffel Vandoorne and Marcus Ericsson at the start line where the New Zealander got sandwiched between Stoffel Vandoorne and Marcus Ericsson. The contact resulted his front right suspension breaking and ending his race. After clearing the debris of the Toro Rosso, the safety car came in at the end of lap 3. At the restart, Hamilton managed overtaking Raikkonen to snatch the lead by lap 4, but Raikkonen reclaimed the lead on the very same lap. The Finn pit his car early for a fresh set of soft tyres at lap 21, while the Briton was informed to stay out for a few more laps to nullify the advantage out of Raikkonen’s over-cut strategy.

Hamilton did not pit until lap 28 and Raikkonen who had rejoined in fourth place, had to struggle behind Bottas who did the perfect job of a second gunner, forcing the senior Finn to overwork his tyres, while he defended him. When Bottas pit at lap 36, he had helped his team-mate reduce the gap to Raikkonen from five seconds to 1.010 seconds. When Raikkonen took lead, he maintained a gap of a second or lesser with Hamilton until lap 45. The Briton whose tyres were seven laps fresher than the car ahead, managed overtaking a struggling Raikkonen who by then was a sitting duck to the charging Mercedes. The Finn had a fair wheel to wheel duel with the reigning World Champion and eventually succumbed to his superior prowess. Between the two the driver whose tyres were to ware out the most, would have managed losing the lead.

With eight laps left to the race, Hamilton started pulling out a gap, while Raikkonen’s rear left tyre was heavily blistered and risked delamination. At that point Ferrari instructed their driver to stay off the kerbs and nurse the car back in second place which allowed Hamilton pull a seven second lead by the time he crossed the chequered flag. Whether the scarlet team could have aided Raikkonen with a better strategy, amidst the tense situation of their title contender having to surge up the grid from last, is a question the team will have to answer to the Finn. Amidst a cloud of uncertainty hanging over his future at the team, and although he was voted ‘driver of the day’, if there is any track where Raikkonen could have end his winless streak of 100 plus races, it would have been here.

Max Verstappen was initially running third behind Hamilton, but an incident between him and Bottas towards the closing laps of the race incurred a five second time penalty for the Dutchman. A result of the penalty was Bottas finishing third and Sebastian Vettel who was running fifth at that point gaining another place to finish fourth, and Verstappen having to settle for fifth place.

The Dutchman lost two places, after he made contact with the Finn, when the Mercedes driver tried overtaking him. The contact resulted in the Mercedes driver getting nudged off the track. The young Red Bull driver reaction over the penalty on his pit radio was “they are doing a good job of killing the racing”.

Although Vettel pit once to the soft tyres, surging up the grid had overworked his tyres, which meant another pitstop to switch to supersofts for the final stint of the race. The German had dropped to fifth place behind Verstappen and Bottas who were duelling each other, and the penalty was a gift that saved him. At a weekend where the car was strong and the grandstands were thronged with Ferrari support, maybe letting Hamilton pass him on lap 1, and fighting him back towards the end would have helped the German reduce the points lead further. Instead a misjudged defensive ma noeuvre on the opening lap of the race has now cushioned his rival to lead by 30 points.

Haas driver Romain Grosjean finished sixth followed by the Racing Point Force India drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez in seventh and eight placer respectively. Renault driver Carlos Sainz finished ninth and was followed by Williams driver Sergie Sirotkin in tenth place, to complete the final points finishes of the race.

The two other retirements of the race were that of Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo. Alonso’s retirement was due to an engine problem, where his engine misfired during the opening laps of the race, and a few laps later the car switched off and he had to retire it into the pits. Ricciardo on the other hand had a fresh upgrade Renault power engine in his car, however a clutch problem derailed his chances of completing the race. The Australian was given a fresh engine before the race which incurred, when he was unable to match his team-mates performance in the practice sessions.

The current result leads to Hamilton extending his lead in the drivers’ title with a total of 256 points, trailed by Vettel who has a total of 226 points, and Raikkonen in third place with a total of 164 points. In the Constructors’ title, Mercedes lead with a total of 415 points followed by Ferrari who have a total of 390 points.

While the weekend at the ‘temple of speed’ marks the end of the European season in F1, the circus will now fly to Singapore for the next race weekend which spans from the 14th -16 the September, 2018. With 175 more points to fight for in the driver championship battle, and a circuit with unique weather and track conditions, it will be interesting to see who prevails at a race which has a history of guaranteed safety cars and unpredictable outcomes.

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