Valiant Iceman Melts at Monza as Hammer-time Prevails
Any doubts about why Hamilton is the best driver on the grid were answered from the onset of Lap 45 with there being just 8 more to go. He truly kept his cool under pressure.
But the vanquished Kimi Raikkonen answered criticism levelled against him for his indifference in few recent races. The Iceman delivered a fantastic racing performance from the very start.
Finally and perhaps sadly, why Vettel may not actually be able to stop Hamilton's charge in the battle for 2018 ascendency was answered when the German spun out, having contacted Hamilton's Merc inside the opening lap (at the 2nd chicane) itself. This, effectively, compromised his Monza challenge and limited Raikkonen's strategy with no back-up driver. Seb made his way through the pack but there was never a duel with Hamilton to look forward to.
But let us not retract from Raikkonen, who now earned his 100th podium and Lewis Hamilton, now a five-time winner at Italy. They provided a dynamic tussle.
Under bright skies with the concern of rains having subsided, Raikkonen defended brilliantly in the opening few seconds. Vettel, who'd all but passed Kimi, collided with Hamilton after locking up under-braking. He had dived to the inside of Hamilton, but the Briton held his position well.
After Vettel was left at the back of the track, giving company to Daniel Ricciardo, who started nineteenth, there were gains for both Bottas and Verstappen.
As the safety car was brought in, thanks to the debris splintered across what had hitherto been a spotless asphalt of Monza, racing continued minus overtaking for three laps.
Then, the first major turning point of the race came in the form of Hamilton going down the inside of Raikkonen, on the extended main straight to catch the lead. Kimi, had to now fightback.
And proving just why he's worth the money he is paid, he did give a good fight. The Iceman did muster the speed and skill to claw back into first, right before the middle sector, a lap later. With Raikkonen resuming his charge from track position, there began an interesting duel between Bottas & Verstappen. The latter dived into third after Vettel's fiasco. The two would battle vehemently as the race seemed edging toward Raikkonen at the front. Meanwhile, as Hamilton tried his best to close the eight-tenths of a gap to Raikkonen on Lap 15, there were interesting moves taking place at further back in the grid.
Gasly would hold out from Ricciardo before ultimately yielding eleventh. Vettel was fighting with a rather aggressive pack of Ericsson, Magnussen and others. He soon broke into the top ten. Alonso meanwhile had to retire after another difficult engine issue.
A few laps later, but before half-way stage, Raikkonen, in a bid to make the undercut dived for fresh rubber. The tyres would eventually play a part in ceding the place to eventual winner, Hamilton.
But as Kimi emerged third, but ahead of Grosjean, he had some catching up to do. Right up front Hamilton, who was now the new leader was setting imperiously fast lap times, without the need to dive into the pits.
Bottas was ahead of Kimi, who was told on the radio to get his act together, else it would've all been over for the Red cars. Vettel's race already over from the opening lap incident.
But when Hamilton pitted just shortly after, even though Raikkonen emerged ahead, there was Bottas right at the front. Put as an obstacle in the way.
This, strategically seemed perfectly orchestrated by the Silver Arrows. The move, that of sandwiching Kimi by both Mercs, with Bottas intentionally slowing down meant third-placed Hamilton was in play.
Then, post lap 27, right at the exit of the Parabolica, Raikkonen nearly slid but quickly regained the track and tried harder. But with Bottas pitting, there was change in the leadership position at the front again. Now it would be a clear two-way battle between the icy-cool Raikkonen trying his best not to cede his place to Hamilton, catching up fast. But Kimi would open the gap again to over 1 second
From the onset of laps 30-35, the repetitions and quality of fastest laps were shared between the phlegmatic Finn and the man responsible for 'Hammertime'.
Meanwhile, right after the retirements of Ricciardo at the back, Vettel fought well enough to jump into eighth by lap 35 to keep everyone hooked into the proceedings.
Racing continued with the two leading drivers still exchanging blows.
Finally on Lap 45, Monza was turned on its head
Executing a feisty move, Hamilton dived into the inside of Kimi's Ferrari to take the lead, who by then was enduring blistering in his tyres. From thereon, Kimi could only play catch up.
Meanwhile, Bottas, who pitted earlier was dragged into a collision with Verstappen at the chicane in the closing stages. This eventually stifled the Dutch's race, the Red Bull falling behind Bottas and Vettel, who'd done well to grab a fourth in damage limitation.
Some Big Gains In The End
In the end, Hamilton, had brilliantly passed Raikkonen and held on well enough to cross the checkered flag with a large margin
While Monza produced a titanic duel of sorts, Raikkonen, also managed to grab his hundredth podium & ultimately became the lone warrior for Ferrari. While the Scuderia fans may not have found a lot of thrill to have seen Vettel miss out on a certain opportunity to score, it was not right to boo Hamilton. Kimi emerged the sentimental hero, salvaging a fighting finish in the end.
That said, there were also big gains for the two "Racing Point Force Indias" with both Ocon and Peres finishing inside the top ten, going seventh and eighth, respectively.