Thursday 22 March 2018

Hamilton error costs him as Rosberg seizes chance

Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen leads a packed field through the opening chicanes during the Italian Grand Prix at Monza yesterday. Photo: Getty
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen leads a packed field through the opening chicanes during the Italian Grand Prix at Monza yesterday. Photo: Getty

Daniel Johnson

Never let it be said that this sport is simply the story of the fastest driver in the fastest car winning every time. Lewis Hamilton has put that formula to fine use over the past few years, but the tiniest of misjudgements here was catastrophic.

Any hope of a 50th career win, of matching the great Juan Manuel Fangio's record, was over after less than 50 yards and a fraction of a second. An otherwise dominant weekend was ruined by one blemish, a terrible getaway, which immediately rendered victory in the Italian Grand Prix practically impossible.

Nico Rosberg (C) celebrates with his team in the pit after winning the Italian Formula One Grand Prix. Photo: AFP/Getty
Nico Rosberg (C) celebrates with his team in the pit after winning the Italian Formula One Grand Prix. Photo: AFP/Getty


As is the norm in Formula One during the Mercedes era, Nico Rosberg was the welcome beneficiary of his teammate's blunder. The German had been woefully slow compared to his title rival throughout practice and qualifying, but he made a fine start to earn himself a first triumph in Italy. Hamilton knew immediately it would be an uphill struggle, falling to sixth from pole position with huge black tyre marks left on the famous Monza tarmac. He battled up to second, yet, with frail rubber, it would have proved too big a risk to try and reel Rosberg in.

The German barely saw another car as he sauntered to his seventh win of the season - one more than Hamilton - and the 21st of his career. For the seventh time this year, it was a victory during which he did not make a single overtake other than off the line.

But while Rosberg's style might not win him hearts and minds, it is putting him in contention for this championship. He is now just two points adrift as Formula One leaves Europe for the final time in 2016, heading off into a mad dash across Asia, North America, South America and the Middle East.

Sebastian Vettel gave the tifosi some cheer by standing third on the podium, but Ferrari are unlikely to feature in this private duel between the Mercedes duo in the championship, other than perhaps in Singapore, easily the world champion's worst race of 2015.

The race was won and lost at the start and that is where intrigue was afterwards. First, Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss, said Hamilton conceded over the radio it was his fault.

The 31-year-old explained - slightly implausibly - this as an attempt to make sure his engineers' heads did not drop. "I knew that my engineers would be worried and nervous of how the start went, so I tried to put their mind at ease," Hamilton said.


Then Wolff spoke to the press and appeared to suggest it was Hamilton's fault after all, the second phase of the getaway being consumed by wheelspin.

The Austrian said: "Our system has improved a lot, but obviously today, machine and driver got it wrong. The only thing I heard was in the race he said, 'Don't worry, guys, I got it wrong in the start'. I don't want to blame anybody, not Lewis, nor the engineers, nor the systems. We have to address that topic because it lost him the race."

By the time Hamilton had emerged from his debrief with the engineers, he did not seem to think it was his mistake. There is no shame in fluffing a start, but unfortunately for Hamilton, this is a recurrence of a problem which blighted some of his early-season races.

"I'm told it's not driver error or anyone's error," the three-time champion added. "We [Mercedes] continue to have an inconsistency."

Most of this race's drama came in the first 10 seconds. Hamilton quickly dispatched Daniel Ricciardo for fifth, but Williams' high top speed meant Valtteri Bottas took far longer. By the time the Finn was cleared, and the two Ferraris moved out of the way by pitting once more than him, the gap to Rosberg (pictured below) was 15 seconds. Hamilton slowly edged it down to less than 10 seconds, but after a lock-up 12 laps from the end at the first chicane, he conceded defeat. Consolidating second was the smart move.

The Variante del Rettifilo saw almost all the afternoon's action. Jolyon Palmer was minding his own business on the outside when Felipe Nasr chopped across. Nasr was given a 10-second penalty, but Palmer had to retire on lap nine.

Having lost another chance to impress the Renault executives, the Englishman was furious.


"I think he should have a grid drop [at the next race]," the 25-year-old rookie said. "He's ended my race. We have to race fairly.

"If you drive someone off the track when we're side by side, I think there's better racing in GP2 or GP3."

This first chicane was also the site of Jenson Button's overtake on his teammate, Fernando Alonso, showing that he still has the speed despite taking a sabbatical from the sport in 2017, one which could become permanent. He finished 12th despite his efforts.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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