By Neil Leverett
- Lewis Hamilton recorded second win on the bounce in Monza, Italy
- Brit leads Drivers Championship for first time in 2017, after Sebastian Vettel finishes third in Italian GP
- Three points separate the duo with seven races to go
MONZA, ITALY – Lewis Hamilton took the lead in the Drivers’ Championship for the first time in Italy, as Sebastian Vettel finished in third place on the podium, but what else did we learn in Monza?
Hamilton still rules in the wet
If last weekend at Spa was a win of sheer defiance in Belgium, Lewis Hamilton’s victory at Monza was a relative drive in the Milanese countryside and an ominous sign for rival Sebastian Vettel. After a chaotic and delayed qualifying, which eventually concluded shortly before 6pm local time in Northern Italy – following Romain Grosjean’s crash – the Briton rose to the top once more.
On a wet track and amidst treacherous conditions, Hamilton was over a second quicker than nearest driver Max Verstappen, as Vettel himself toiled.
Lance Stroll and Sebastian Ocon forming a lop-sided front row, after both Red Bull drivers Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo had grid penalties imposed.
For Hamilton, Saturday’s conditions may have favoured the Mercedes Benz engine, however his qualifying performance will go down as one of the most complete this season.
Briton will go down as Great
If qualifying in pole in hazardous conditions merited applause, his record-breaking feat to finish at the head of the pack once more will see Hamilton go down as a great in the sport.
Taking his 69th pole this weekend, the 32 year-old overtook Michael Schumacher for most pole positions won and is now higher than both the German and the late Ayrton Senna.
Hamilton has more than double the closest success of any other Briton also, with Nigel Mansell’s 32 poles coming the closest.
As a three-time World champion already, there can be no doubting the Brit’s pedigree and now as a record-holder in the sport his position as a legend in the sport long after he has gone, has been cemented.
Vettel has work cut out
Whilst Hamilton continues to be lauded, the task now for Vettel to win his fifth world crown, has become that more steep in gradient.
The Mercedes driver’s almost flag-to-flag dominance this weekend, has put down an ominous marker for the Ferrari man to counter as Hamilton enters what historically is his strongest leg of the campaign, when it comes to the mental battle. The last two races have seen both side’s of the Briton’s sporting character and at each end of the spectrum Hamilton has come out on top.
With the Asian leg of the season approaching however, Vettel does hold the statistical advantage, with a quartet of wins in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan – superior to his British foe at all three venues.
Rather tellingly also, Hamilton has won just once at the Sepang International Circuit for the Malaysian leg, three years ago.
History, then, may favour Vettel for the next three races, but the hunger having usurped Vettel still burns inside Hamilton – to the Briton’s credit – and will be a more formidable opponent this year than in any run-in of the last decade.
Bottas will be key player in title race
Valtteri Bottas’ second step on the podium this weekend is likely to have done little for his dwindling title prospects.
Whilst the Finn is now off the pace of the two-horse championship duel, his drive in Monza could however be the first of many key facets to the remainder of the season, for both team and team-mate.
With Hamilton putting clear daylight between himself and Ferrari rivals on their home track from the green light, Bottas provided the perfect shield for the duration of Sunday’s race, barely being troubled.
Bottas has already proved his worth to bosses Toto Wolff and Nikki Lauda and in the weeks to come will become a key figure at the head of the field.
Should the Finn be allowed to run his own race, he could find himself the pivotal pawn in what is set to become a game of motorised chess between now and November.
Ricciardo – champion in the making
Ricciardo’s season for Red Bull has been punctuated by inconsistency, yet the Australian showed a glimpse of why many are tipping the 28 year-old as a future world champion.
His weekend in Monza had been understated after initially finishing third-fastest in qualifying, before his proceeding penalty that saw a seventh placed starting berth.
On race day itself, the Perth native’s task was compounded after slipping back to 16th place, but what followed was a driving masterclass firmly entrenched from his Formula 3 days.
In a surging finish, Ricciardo shot up to fourth place and with seven laps remaining was pushing Vettel for what would have been a stunning podium finish, before settling for 12 points.
For the Australian, 2017 has so far been highlighted by his sole win in Azerbaijan this season. With a handful of third-placed finishes also however, his drive in Italy could be a sign of things to come.
The Singapore Grand Prix takes place between 15-17 September, at the Marina Bay Circuit.
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