MERCEDES cruised to an easy 1-2 victory in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza on Sunday in a memorable race with the weirdest of starting grids and a scintillating performance from Perth’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Lewis Hamilton took pole position in a very wet qualifying session on Saturday, with Ricciardo and Red Bull Renault teammate Max Verstappen second and third, well ahead of the fancied Ferraris.
But the Red Bull team made a tactical decision to fit fresh engines and gearboxes in preparation for the Singapore Grand Prix on September 17, and incurred penalties that dropped them to 16th and 13th places respectively.
So it ended up with Hamilton and comparative rookies Lance Stroll of Williams and Force India’s Esteban Ocon as the top trio on the starting grid.
Hamilton led from start-to-finish while teammate Valtteri Bottas took four laps of the fast, flowing circuit to get past Stroll and Ocon.
Ferrari’s Sebastien Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had a wretched qualifying session, but quickly moved into third and fourth places, while the Red Bulls started their attack from near the back of the 18-car field.
Verstappen, known for his aggressive style, brushed the Haas of Grosjean, then on lap 3, touched wheels with Felipe Massa’s Williams, which broke the Red Bull’s front wing and shredded a front tyre.
The fiery young Dutchman had to pit for repairs and rejoined the race stone last.
Ricciardo meanwhile scythed his way through the field in spectacular fashion, earning admiration from all quarters, earning the Driver of the Day award and he also set the fastest lap.
The highlight was his brave overtake of Ferrari’s Raikkonen 12 laps from the end, which gave him fourth place and he then rapidly closed in on Vettel, finishing just four seconds behind.
Verstappen also had a strong charge to eventually claim 10th place, but ahead of him was a classic race-long battle between the Williams and Force India teams.
It finished with the Williams duo of Stroll and Massa being the meat in a 1.12sec compressed sandwich between Ocon’s and Sergio Perez’ Force Indias.
The top nine were the only cars to finish on the same lap.
“I’m very, very happy about the result and loved it out there today. It was good fun,” an elated Ricciardo said.
“Some good overtakes in the race kept me excited and I had some real pace in the end.
“I could see Seb (Vettel) and the thought of a podium was tempting me, so I was obviously trying to catch him right up to the end. The boys did the quickest pit stop and I also got the fastest lap so that’s very cool.
“You can almost call it a perfect day.”
Team principal Christian Horner was also delighted.
“A fantastic drive by Daniel,” he said.
“After an imperfect start he fought all the way and had good pace, good strategy and made some fantastic overtaking moves to finish within four seconds of Sebastian, just out of a podium place and fully deserved Driver of the Day.”
The fanatical Italian crowd was disappointed with race favourites Ferrari and the emotion showed in jeering and chanting at the end with Hamilton’s podium interview barely audible.
Vettel, however, got tumultuous applause. Fluent in Italian, he turned on the charm and saved as much face for Ferrari as he could – even though he finished a wincing 34 seconds behind the Mercs.
The next race is the Singapore GP on September 17.