Tuesday 24 April 2018

Pantomime villain role puts smile on face of Hamilton

Hamilton became the first driver in 2017 to record back-to-back wins. Image: AP Photo/Luca Bruno
Hamilton became the first driver in 2017 to record back-to-back wins. Image: AP Photo/Luca Bruno

Oliver Brown

For Lewis Hamilton, this felt like the moment that everything changed. Here at Monza, the temple of speed that represents consecrated ground for the teeming swarms of Ferrari tifosi, he achieved a victory so crushing that it turned this season's world championship fight on its head.

In arrears to Sebastian Vettel all year, he vanquished his arch-rival by more than 36 seconds to surge three points clear.

As plumes of lurid red smoke engulfed the back straight, he offered the broad smile of a man quite happy, for once, to play the pantomime villain.

"Beast mode all the way," Hamilton said, after becoming the first driver in 2017 to record back-to-back wins.

After dominating on a circuit where almost 80pc of race distance is taken at full throttle, he intends, to use one of his favourite expressions, to keep the hammer down.

Even from pole, he had expected Vettel's Ferrari to be swarming in his rear-view mirrors, but he turned on the afterburners to stunning effect in this reassertion of Mercedes supremacy.

Seductive

From a rain-lashed qualifying to a race staged in the seductive glow of late summer in Lombardy, Hamilton stood supreme all weekend, irrespective of conditions.

Having enjoyed three weeks of down-time in Cuba and Barbados, he has returned to the Formula One grindstone revitalised, determined to give no quarter.

His stated mission to turn Vettel's smile upside down has worked. The German, for all the love that washes over Ferrari's No 1 driver at the Italian Grand Prix, appeared chastened by the scale of his eclipse in third.

Every aspect of Hamilton's demeanour screamed defiance. It has been a year since he last led the championship outright, and he acknowledged it was an "empowering feeling".

Valtteri Bottas, as ever, provided the ablest supporting role, cruising to a ninth podium finish that cemented a Mercedes one-two.

It was eerily reminiscent of 2015 and 2016, when this silver bullet of a car beat the field by yawning margins.

The outstanding racer of the day, though, was Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, who propelled himself from 16th on the grid to finish fourth, thanks to a series of sumptuous overtakes.

There were none better than the Australian's audacious lunge on Kimi Raikkonen into the Rettifilo chicane, which he timed to perfection.

It was all a lonely affair for Vettel, who never looked like mustering the pace to reel in the Mercedes pair. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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