By Alan Baldwin
MONZA, Italy (Reuters) – Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton equalled Michael Schumacher’s record of five Italian Grand Prix wins on Sunday and left Ferrari feeling the pain yet again in their own backyard.
The Mercedes driver and his Ferrari title rival Sebastian Vettel tangled at the fourth corner of the opening lap, with the German spinning around while the Briton sped off with an undamaged car.
Vettel then fought back through the field from 18th to fourth, ending the day 30 points behind Hamilton and with seven races remaining.
Vettel’s veteran Finnish team mate Kimi Raikkonen finished second, after starting on pole position and racing superbly, with compatriot Valtteri Bottas third for Mercedes.
The thrilling victory was a fifth in a row for Mercedes at Monza, the former royal park near Milan.
“You are the man, you are the man,” said Hamilton’s engineer Peter Bonnington over the radio as the chequered flag was waved. “You knocked that out of the park today.”
“It was one of the most exciting of victories that I’ve had, that I can remember,” Hamilton told reporters later.
For the Ferrari ‘tifosi’ it was a major let-down at the high-speed spiritual home of the sport’s most glamorous and successful team, who last won there in 2010, and they did not hide their feelings.
“Today was so difficult. Whilst the negativity is never great, that’s what powered me along. I actually accept it,” said Hamilton, booed on the podium by the crowd flooding the main straight with their flares and flags.
“I love being here in Italy…the track is incredible, and it’s a such an honour to win here in front of such a great crowd.”
While Vettel looked to be to blame for his own misfortune, he pointed the finger at Hamilton who had seen his chance and seized it in a move that could be crucial to the championship outcome.
“Lewis saw a little bit around the outside but he didn’t leave me any space,” the German told Sky F1 television of the collision. “I had no other chance (but) to run into him and make contact.”
Others saw it differently.
“Sebastian Vettel cracked under pressure, it has to be said,” commented 1996 world champion Damon Hill.
Hamilton’s former team mate and 2016 champion Nico Rosberg said it was “100 percent Sebastian’s fault. Lewis left him enough room.”
The Briton’s sixth win of the season lifted him to 256 points, to his German rival’s 226. Mercedes have 415 points to Ferrari’s 390 in the constructors’ standings.
Raikkonen had looked to be in with a chance of his first win in 108 races but the Finn, who responded to Hamilton overtaking him on lap four by promptly taking back the lead with a brilliant move, could not resist on worn tyres.
Hamilton, who pitted later, passed the Finn again eight laps from the end.
“I think it (the car) was quick enough but unfortunately our rear tyres went,” said Raikkonen, who at least had a fitting location for his 100th podium in Formula One. “It was a losing battle from that point. We did our maximum.”
Hamilton was also helped by team mate Valtteri Bottas, who eked out his tyres before pitting to hold up Raikkonen and help the eventual winner close the gap.
Bottas and Vettel, who made two stops including a first one to replace a damaged front wing, both moved up a place at the finish after Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was handed a five second- penalty for pushing the Finn off on lap 44.
Vettel was back in the points by lap 15, helped by the safety car coming out immediately after his spin. Verstappen was fifth.
Romain Grosjean finished sixth for Haas but was then disqualified after his car was ruled to be in breach of the rules following a Renault protest.
That meant Renault stayed fourth overall and moved the Force India duo of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez up to sixth and seventh.
Renault’s Carlos Sainz was eighth and Williams’ Canadian Lance Stroll and Russian Sergey Sirotkin were ninth and 10th — the latter scoring his first ever point.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo both retired.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin,; Editing by Ed Osmond)