No driver from Finland has ever won at Monza. This would remain that way post the completion of the 53-lap Monza Grand Prix 2018, that, for the lack of a better way could only be described as an epic Raikkonen versus Hamilton duel.
Round 14 of the 2018 Formula 1 season, Italian Grand Prix could be described from two polarised fan perspectives. It wasn’t hard to spot whose hearts were gutted after the bloodshot red of the Ferrari- flying in the qualifying run on Saturday- got overtaken by the ebullient Mercedes in Lap 45 with 8 more to go.
Yet, it wasn’t hard to identify that legion of fans, submerged in British flags, that arose with resounding thunder, embracing a triumph that under the circumstances couldn’t be described by anything else other than ‘Titanic’ as Lewis Hamilton crossed the checkered flag, winning the Italian Grand Prix.
In a race that gave heartbreak for Ferrari fans, their woes exacerbated by second-place Sebastian Vettel dropping down to the back of the grid inside the opening lap, the only cheer was served by Raikkonen who fought to protect second, after being passed by Hamilton to collect his hundredth Grand Prix.
But this wasn’t before one evidenced a lot of fighting backed by menacing pace and a battle between the two frontrunners of the Constructor’s standings that unfurled a truly world-class fight.
Opening Lap Fiasco
Kimi withstood early pressure from Hamilton, now a five-time winner at Monza(tied with Schumacher) and Vettel to hold track position within seconds of the start before Ferrari was struck by an early heartbreak.
In the run-up to the chicane, Vettel, who’d all but passed his teammate dived into the inside of Hamilton, who was already protecting that line brilliantly. This was when the two would come together with the contact, later ruled as a racing incident, seeing Vettel dropping down effectively to the back of the grid.
The opening lap fiasco, something not seen for the first time this season for various teams, enforced the safety car. But there was more drama on the grid. In the run-up to the sharp right-hander, inside the first lap, Toro Rosso’s Hartley got smashed by the Sauber of Ericsson.
As the Kiwi retired, Monza produced the first casualty. But, more would follow later.
Three laps later, Monza produced the first heart-stopping moment when Hamilton dived into to the inside of race-leader Raikkonen and took the lead. And just when all thought Kimi wouldn’t be able to snatch it back, he produced an imperious move over Hamilton on the middle-sector to retake the lead.
This was Lap 4 and fans were already in midst of a nervy battle that would only grow intense by each passing lap.
Close Fight behind the leaders
An interesting albeit close battle was beginning between the third and fourth-placed drivers, with Verstappen fighting hard with Bottas, who, in the event of Vettel dropping back had jumped into third.
Meanwhile, several drivers were making bold and fast-paced moves further down the grid. Vettel, first looking unable to past the pack including Ericsson, Magnussen, and Gasly was right by the tail of a quick-moving pack before he’d announce his intentions.
Alonso meanwhile struggled for power and entered the pits limping; he would be the next casualty. Not exactly an ideal way to end what was his final Monza run, a track where he fetched the last win for the Ferrari, in 2010.
Meanwhile, Sauber’s Charles Leclerc passed Gasly’s Toro Rosso for twelfth. In the meantime, Peres in Racing Point Force India had already passed El Nino a lap before.
Gasly, however, would come under intense attack from a Ricciardo fast catching up with the middle pack on the grid as was Sebastian Vettel, fundamentally a big loser from Monza, especially after having clinched second.
Raikkonen-Hamilton Battle continued
Amid this arduous and definitely scenic overtaking, fans meanwhile were fixated on the Raikkonen versus Hamilton show right at the front.
By lap 11, Hamilton, closing the seven-tenths of a gap to race leader Kimi, was not yet into the DRS zone. Ocon, meanwhile, flying on Mercedes power unit grabbed sixth as Peres and Vettel were about to engage in an interesting battle.
A few laps later, on lap 21, Kimi was the first to pit, Ferrari, attempting to make the undercut work. He would emerge arguably with Ferrari’s best-ever timing, that being of a fiercely quick 2.2 seconds. But this would make Kimi drop down to third, Grosjean behind him by a few seconds.
This is where Monza underwent a massive change.
Hamilton, hitherto trailing Raikkonen grabbed the lead and behind him was Bottas as Kimi pursued his fellow Finn. The battle at the front would remain unchanged. Hamilton, turning quicker laps, was relentless right at the front for another ten brilliant laps.
There was action meanwhile further back as Verstappen, on lap 27, pitted and emerged 2 seconds behind Ocon in fifth.
Kimi meanwhile safeguarded his third and was coming closer and closer to Bottas and Hamilton.
Hamilton was significantly quicker than any driver, putting together a 1:23:515 before boxing. He then pitted and much to his surprise, emerged behind Raikkonen, who was still in hot pursuit of Valtteri Bottas right at the front.
This is exactly where a superior Mercedes strategy came into play.
This would leave Kimi sandwiched by the Mercedes
On lap 31, in his exit of the parabolica, but not after receiving a message on the radio to put in faster laps, Raikkonen slid a bit but held on.
Hamilton meanwhile tried to close down the gap to second-placed Raikkonen, who kept fended off the Briton brilliantly by a margin of eight-tenths of a second.
Ricciardo, meanwhile, who had been aggressive at the back retired due to a mechanical fault, not before complaining on the team radio, “smoke, smoke.”
With Kimi back to where he seemingly belonged, at the front, a hot pursuit was underway.
The final 15 laps were an absolute master-class unveiling a great fight as the Raikkonen versus Hamilton show proved why the two guys are so respected, putting all that experience, class and, doggedness into play.
Few laps came and went.
But, with the passing of every single second, it seemed that Hamilton was closing on but not quite.
Finally, lap 45 changed everything once and for all
There was no dearth of drama at Monza as Verstappen, not before cutting a corner at the chicane, contacted Bottas. He would be penalized and would lose the final podium spot to Bottas eventually.
Vettel, at this time, had climbed up into fourth.
But with just eight laps to go, Mercedes and Ferrari both struggling with blistering on the rear tyres saw Kimi come under increasing pressure from Hamilton.
The gap at the front between the one and two drivers was under half a second.
Finally, despite trying his level best, Raikkonen yielded from Hamilton who got a brilliant slip-stream and dived into the inside of the Finn.
Spare a thought for the Iceman
Hamilton would eventually blast Kimi for first, a position that Raikkonen could not get back.
Eventually, amid massive cheers and finally no booing, something that perhaps no driver enjoys, Hamilton literally jogged to an easy win. Raikkonen, on the other hand, had to contend with a hard-fought but a valiant second.
In doing so, with Bottas completing third, Kimi would embrace the roaring crowds, with fans holding placards- Kimi for President, Kimi simply the best- to sip some champagne.
He had, after all, bagged his 100th podium.
Evading the heat of the moment, that so easily may have marred his spirit, failing yet again to win, Raikkonen, appeared ‘normal.’
Only the Iceman, after all, can only manage Somethings.
Amid uncertainty over his Ferrari and therefore, F1 future, with the rabble of Leclerc only growing louder for a drive next year, Kimi, it could be said, kept his cool and put a Ferrari on second.
He wasn’t able to do this the last year.
Hamilton, meanwhile, having pounced on his prey- akin to a fiery mountain cat for a meal, absorbed the heat of the emotion.
In delivering the hammer-time he proved why negatives can also be used to triumph in the end.
But as he defeated the Prancing Horse at Monza, he couldn’t prevent Raikkonen, the sentimental favorite for the weekend, to put his Ferrari on the podium.