Monza, Italy, Sep 4 – Nico Rosberg exploited Lewis Hamilton’s poor start to claim his first Italian Grand Prix at Monza on Sunday and move to within two points of his Mercedes temmate in the world championship.
Rosberg roared into the lead at the first corner when pole-sitter Hamilton became bogged down and pulled away to control the race with calm aplomb and finish 15 seconds clear of the defending three-time champion.
Sebastian Vettel came home third, 5.9 seconds further adrift, ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, to the delight of a ‘scarlet army’ of home fans who swarmed on to the famed track for a memorable podium ceremony.
Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth for Red Bull ahead of Valtteri Bottas of Williams, Dutch teenager Max Verstappen who was seventh in the second Red Bull, Sergio Perez of Force India, retirement-bound Felipe Massa in the second Williams and Nico Hulkenberg in the second Force India.
It was Rosberg’s first Italian win, his seventh of the season and 21st of his career, reviving his championship challenge with seven races remaining.
“It was all down to the start. I had an awesome start and it was all from there,” beamed Rosberg.
It was also the 50th podium finish of Rosberg’s career and prevented Hamilton completing a cherished hat-trick of Italian wins, to equal a feat achieved only once before by Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950’s, and register his 50th career victory.
It was the first time in seven years that the race was not won by the driver starting from pole position. “Good job!” Hamilton grimaced as he shook hands with Rosberg afterwards.
Hamilton, who effectively lost the race in the first 20 metres when the lights went out, now leads the title race with 250 points ahead of Rosberg on 248 and knows, from the look on his face, that he has a battle to stay in front.
“This is the best crowd we get all year,” said Hamilton. “It’s a great day for Mercedes and I am glad to be a part of it, but I don’t know if it’s such a great day for the fans that there wasn’t more of us racing.”
He admitted that his bad start was his own fault, according to Mercedes boss Toto Wolff.
“Lewis came on the radio and said it was his mistake,” he said.
Hamilton added: “Yes, the start was the decider for this race and then I had to climb back and score points.
“I lost a lot of time as Nico went clear ‘easy-and-breezy’ and he did a great job — and I had to try and get back to second.”
Asked if he detected a difference in Rosberg this year and following the European summer break, Hamilton said: “No, not really.”
As the ‘tifosi’ screamed for Vettel and Ferrari, both Mercedes men faced a challenge to charm the vast crowd below when they stood on the podium.
“Thank you everybody,” said Rosberg, who soon broke into Italian and led the crowd in singing The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army.
“I feel a part of me is Italian because I have a lot of friends and grew up with the culture, so it’s special for me,” he explained before moving into it with “Doh, doh, doh…doh” which, to universal amazement, the crowd joined in.
“Unbelievable!” said a beaming Vettel. “This is the best podium in the world. Thank you everyone.
“We (Ferrari) are working very hard, Mercedes do a very good job so you have to say well done and show them respect. I’m sure Ferrari will come back and keep fighting. We will succeed.”
Ricciardo, an Australian of Italian heritage, produced the passing move of the day when he swept past Bottas at the first chicane to seize fifth in the closing laps – and then waved his fist in glee.
“I thought ‘just have a go’ and I was behind Valtteri and even though I was far back I was going to have a go. I knew he would not turn into me and we didn’t touch and it was clear. It was good fun!
“We knew Ferrari had the edge on us so fifth was our objective and we got it….”