A delighted Nico Rosberg broke into Italian and sang for joy on Sunday when he re-set the scrap for this year’s world drivers’ championship to just two points.
Taking full advantage of a poor start by his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, Rosberg claimed his first Italian Grand Prix win with a near flawless drive.
The 31-year-old German took the lead at the start when pole-sitter Hamilton became ‘bogged down’ in the second phase of his departure and he pulled away to control the race with calm aplomb, finishing 15 seconds clear of the defending three-time champion.
In an otherwise predictable race thereafter, four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel came home third, 5.9 seconds further adrift, ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Finn Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion.
The ‘scarlet army’ of home fans swarmed on to the track for a memorable podium ceremony in which the ‘tifosi’ played a full vocal part, apparently satisfied that Ferrari, on a two-stop strategy, had been content to follow the one-stopping Silver Arrows home.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo produced what television commentator and former racer Martin Brundle described as the ‘move of the season’ on his way to finish fifth for Red Bull ahead of Finn Valtteri Bottas of Williams.
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen was seventh in the second Red Bull, Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India, retirement-bound Brazilian Felipe Massa in the second Williams and German Nico Hulkenberg in the second Force India.
It was Rosberg’s second win in a row following the European summer holiday break, his first Italian win, his seventh of the season and the 21st of his career, reviving his championship challenge with seven races remaining.
“Thank you so very much guys,” said Rosberg to his team. “It’s so great to win in Italy.”
After a spectacular and emotional podium ceremony, Rosberg added: “It was all down to the start. I had an awesome start and it was all from there…”
It was also the 50th podium finish of Rosberg’s career and, against expectations, prevented Hamilton completing a cherished hat-trick of Italian wins, to equal a feat achieved only once before by Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950’s, and register his 50th career victory.
It was the first time in seven years that the race was not won by a driver starting from pole position. “Good job!” said Hamilton, with a grimace, as he shook hands with Rosberg afterwards.
Hamilton, who effectively lost the race in the first 20 metres when the lights went out, now leads the title race with 250 points ahead of Rosberg on 248 and knows, from the look on his face, that he faces a grim battle to stay in front in the closing ‘flyaway’ series of events after the final European round of the year.
“This is the best crowd we get all year,” said Hamilton. “It’s a great day for Mercedes and I am glad to be a part of it, but I don’t know if it’s such a great day for the fans that there wasn’t more of us racing (to win).”
He admitted that his bad start was his own fault, according to Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. “Lewis came on the radio and said it was his mistake,” he said.
Hamilton added: “Yes, the start was the decider for this race and then I had to climb back and score points.
“I lost a lot of time as Nico went clear ‘easy-and-breezy’ and he did a great job -- and I had to try and get back to second.”
Asked if he detected a difference in Rosberg this year, and notably following the European summer break, Hamilton said: “No, not really.” His eyes showed no sign of mercy.
As the ‘tifosi’ screamed for Vettel and Ferrari, both Mercedes men faced a challenge to charm the vast crowd below them when they arrived on the podium to a mixture of cheers and some booing.
“Thank you everybody,” said Rosberg, who soon broke into Italian and led the crowd in singing The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army.
"I feel a part of me is Italian because I have a lot of friends and grew up with the culture, so it's special for me,” he explained before moving into it with “Doh, doh, doh…doh” which, to universal amazement, the crowd joined in.
“Unbelievable!” said a beaming Vettel. “This is the best podium in the world. Thank you everyone.
“We (Ferrari) are working very hard, Mercedes do a very good job so you have to say well done and show them respect. I'm sure Ferrari will come back and keep fighting. We will succeed.”
Ricciardo, the Perth racer of Italian heritage, produced a dazzling overtake to remember when, from a long way back, he attacked and swept past Bottas at the first chicane to seize fifth in the closing laps – and then waved his fist in glee.
“I thought ‘just have a go’ and I was behind Valtteri and even though I was far back I was going to have a go. I knew he would not turn into me and we didn’t touch and it was clear. It was good fun!
“We knew Ferrari had the edge on us so fifth was our objective and we got it….”
He was, by his own admission, hugely “pumped up” for the move – which he signaled with, he said, a bit of “sharkers”… Exactly what he meant was lost to most who heard it.
So, he was asked, will you celebrate with an Italian-style party? No, said Ricciardo. “I am going home to work and train and prepare with the right discipline for the next race in Singapore, because it is the most physical test of the season.”
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