In a display reminiscent of his early-season form, Nico Rosberg capitalized on an error from Mercedes teammate and Formula 1 title rival Lewis Hamilton at the start before dominating Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza en route to his seventh victory of 2016.
Rosberg went relatively unchallenged through the 53-lap race, seeing off a charge by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the first corner before surging clear. He led all but one lap, falling to second briefly when pitting.
Hamilton was able to perfect his one-stop strategy despite his poor start to follow Rosberg home in second place, ensuring he retains the lead of the drivers’ championship heading into the flyaway rounds. The gap has, however, been whittled down to just two points.
The start saw Hamilton bog down after getting too much wheelspin, falling back to sixth place before the first chicane. Rosberg came under pressure from the super-soft shod Vettel, but kept his cool to take the lead. Raikkonen followed Vettel through ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo, while Max Verstappen dropped outside of the top 10.
The opening stages went by without too much drama, the exception being a clash between Jolyon Palmer and Felipe Nasr at the first chicane. Both drivers tried to continue, only to be forced to retire with damage. Nasr was hit with a 10-second time penalty for the incident, prompting Sauber to send him back out to serve it and avoid a penalty in Singapore.
Rosberg immediately set about creating a gap to the chasing pack as Hamilton began his fightback. The Briton eased past Ricciardo at the end of the first lap before closing up on the back of Bottas. The straight line speed of the Williams allowed Bottas to stay ahead at first, but Mercedes remained cool, reminding Hamilton that the cars ahead would suffer a tire drop-off shortly. Hamilton eventually slipped past Bottas on lap 11, moving up into fourth place, albeit now 11 seconds behind race leader Rosberg.
Bottas was the first of the leading drivers to pit, switching from super-softs to soft tires on lap 13. Ferrari followed suit with its drivers in the next three laps, releasing Hamilton up into second place. Mercedes may have enjoyed a one-two, but Rosberg sat almost 15 seconds clear – a significant buffer.
Despite a slow pit stop, Vettel was able to stay ahead of Raikkonen as the duo waited to see when Hamilton would pit. Mercedes’ pit wall kept a close eye on his tire life as he began to eat into Rosberg’s lead by a few tenths each lap, the plan being to emerge from the pits ahead of the Ferrari pair so as to avoid any further hold-ups.
Rosberg came in for his one and only pit stop at the end of lap 24, switching from soft to medium tires. Hamilton mirrored his move one lap later, coming out behind both Ferraris. Despite not having the clean air in which to try and catch Rosberg, Hamilton knew that Vettel and Raikkonen would have to stop once again, making second place his for the taking.
Vettel came in for his final pit stop at the end of lap 33, moving onto the soft tires that would take him to the checkered flag. Once Raikkonen had pitted one lap later, Hamilton once again sat second, the gap to Rosberg standing at 11 seconds.
Hamilton and Rosberg’s pace was fairly even through the second stint of the race, only for another mistake from Hamilton – this time cutting the first chicane after locking up – cost him yet more time.
However, the damage had already been done. Rosberg was able to keep cool through the medium stint, eventually crossing the line 15 seconds clear to record his first Italian Grand Prix victory.
The result ended a barren run of form for Rosberg at Monza, the track being the site of two significant blows to his title bids in 2014 and 2015, as well as drawing him to within two points of the championship lead.
Hamilton was left to settle for second place, his one-stop strategy allowing him to comfortably finish clear of Vettel in third place. While the tens of thousands of Ferrari fans packed into the Monza may have dreamed of seeing the Scuderia ascend to the top step of the podium, third place was nevertheless a solid result given Red Bull’s recent rise.
With Raikkonen following Vettel home in fourth, Ferrari was able to close up on Red Bull in the constructors’ championship once again. Ricciardo was Red Bull’s lead driver in P5, making an alternative strategy work to pass Bottas late on. The Williams driver had chewed through his middle-stint softs too quickly, leaving him sixth at the flag.
Max Verstappen recovered from a dreadful start to come home in seventh place ahead of Sergio Perez, while Felipe Massa was ninth. Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10 for Force India as it slipped back down to fifth place in the constructors’ behind Williams.
Haas narrowly missed out on its first points finish since Austria as Romain Grosjean’s bold one-stop strategy brought him home in P11. Esteban Gutierrez’s charge to Q3 went to nothing after a dreadful start before eventually finishing 13th.
Jenson Button was McLaren’s lead driver in 12th after passing teammate Fernando Alonso late on. McLaren opted to pit Alonso with two laps to go, giving the Spaniard the chance to record the fastest lap of the race and finish 14th.
Carlos Sainz Jr. finished 15th for Toro Rosso as teammate Daniil Kvyat retired, while Marcus Ericsson and Kevin Magnussen were P16 and P17 for Sauber and Renault.
Esteban Ocon was Manor’s sole finisher at Monza, crossing the line 18th. Teammate Pascal Wehrlein had made a rocket start and moved up into the points through the pit stops, but was told to park his car up just past half distance due to an issue.
Formula 1 returns in two weeks’ time with the Singapore Grand Prix.