Hamilton at Monza; he took the booing of the tifosi whence it came, respecting their passion for Ferrari. Photo: Antonio Calanni / AP

Monza, Italy - Lewis Hamilton was a man alone. An English impediment on an Italian stage.

The victor looked down from the podium at the scene below: the pits straight teeming with red-shirted fans, the image of the Prancing Horse depicted on flags yards long, streamers in national colours getting caught on the overhead camera wire, and then a flurry of tickertape.

That annual post-Italian Grand Prix pilgrimage is one of the most evocative in motor racing, but on Sunday it was not scripted quite right for the tifosi, the Ferrari faithful inside Monza’s Temple of Speed.

They must have sensed what Hamilton’s victory seemed to spell for the wider title fight. For the British interloper assumed the championship lead - by three points - for the first time in a calendar year. Ferrari’s golden boy, Sebastian Vettel, third here, had finally surrendered his season-long advantage.

The commanding manner of the win, Hamilton’s fourth at Monza, made him clear favourite to wear the crown for a fourth time once the chequered flag is waved in Abu Dhabi in late November, and possibly before.

Hamilton expected it

"I had a really nice tune playing in my head, so the booing went over my head," claimed Hamilton. "It's to be expected here in Italy. It has been common for the last 10 years when a Ferrari driver is not on top. Inevitably you are going to be the villain if you are the one stopping the Ferraris and some days I am really happy to be the villain.

"I just try to remain respectful because I admire the fans’ passion. They seem a little bit more like football supporters here, but it is all in the name of love for the red car."

Hamilton is in very fine form. In the space of eight days, in Spa and Monza, he has claimed two poles and two victories of commanding stature.

The next round on the slower road circuit in Singapore is meant to suit the Ferraris, though even a red triumph there would not unduly undermine the Mercedes momentum that suggests the season is edging towards an inevitable conclusion.

The truth is that the 53-lap race itself was a dirge. That, however, is a tribute to Hamilton for turning it into a formality thanks to his heroics during a rain-prolonged qualifying session when, in a final, nerve-jangling dart, he beat everyone else by 1.1s.

It was one of the finest single laps of his career and it put him ahead of Michael Schumacher as the holder of the greatest number of career poles with 69.

Hamilton rejuvenated 

So, when Hamilton got away cleanly on Sunday, only an unexpected gremlin could have prevented first place. His task was made easier when team-mate Valtteri Bottas became his rear-gunner for most of the afternoon, ensuring Vettel could not remotely penetrate the front.

The truth was that, in any event, Ferrari was no match for Mercedes. As Toto Wolff, the victorious team principal, said: "It looks as if this weekend Ferrari has taken a step back."

But it was a victory not just of the machine, but of the well-oiled man. Since he won at Silverstone in July, Hamilton has been rejuvenated.

"I feel as if I have had more heart and passion in the last three or four races," he said. "Silverstone was an empowering weekend. It sparked a forest fire in my head and that is reflected in the way I am driving now."

Part of the explanation seems to be that he has found equilibrium in his life. Once he had changed into his civvies last night, he reflected that he had found a "good balance of work time and play time".

He said that he finds it impossible simply to rest and train but instead enjoys a little fun each week. His battery, he said, had been low, but now it was "at the top level".

He got plenty of sleep during the summer break, since when he has orchestrated a 17-point swing. His focus is being heightened by his contentment. He also talked of being in ‘beast mode’ - promising more dominance for the remaining seven races.

Ludicrous penalties 

Ludicrously, nine drivers received grid penalties for engine and gearbox changes amounting to a nominal 165 places, and these penalties rendered the grid absurd.

The weekend threw up a few other heroes. Williams’ 18-year-old Canadian, Lance Stroll, qualified fourth, started second after the two Red Bulls were thrown down the grid by grid-penalty sanctions, and finished fourth. Force India’s 20-year-old Frenchman, Esteban Ocon, similarly started third, having qualified fifth, and finished sixth.

A word of congratulation for Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who rampaged through the grid from 16th to fourth, including a fine pass on Kimi Raikkonen. Max Verstappen, too, went from 13th, via a puncture-induced setback, to 10th.

Apart from that there was little to marvel at in Monza, but plenty to admire in Hamilton’s fluency during a weekend he dominated in rain and shine.

Daily Mail

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