Nico Rosberg leaves the European season just two points in arrears of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton thanks to a flawless victory at the Italian Grand Prix.
Rosberg qualified a devastating half-second behind Hamilton on Saturday afternoon, but a poor start by the Briton that dropped him to sixth opened the door for Rosberg to seize the lead.
The German’s Mercedes machinery enabled him to confidently build a gap from which Hamilton, who took 11 laps to recover to fourth behind the Ferrari cars, couldn’t close.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Rosberg said on the podium. “It was all down to the start. I had an awesome start and that made the win, it was all there.
“A very special day for me, very happy to finally win here in Italy. I’m going to enjoy this day.”
Rosberg also noted the significance of his second successive win in the championship fight, which enters its final seven races with just two point separating the silver-clad protagonists — though he refused to be drawn on questions of momentum.
“The race is on with Lewis of course. It’s always going to be a great battle, and I look forward to what is to come.”
Hamilton put on his brave face after the race, knowing full well an easy opportunity to rebuild his championship lead after seeing it dwindle in Belgium had gone begging due to his formerly chronic start problems.
“Obviously the start wasn’t great, but it’s still a great day for Mercedes-Benz and I’m proud to be a part of it,” he said succinctly.
Hamilton admitted after qualifying that he allowed himself to buy into the statistic that his five pole positions at Monza was the equal best record of any driver and that a victory on Sunday would have made him only the second man in history to win three successive Italian grands prix after Juan Manuel Fangio.
Behind the Mercedes cars — five seconds adrift, though never in contention for higher than third — finished the Ferrari cars, led by podium finisher Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel was happy to see his team execute a badly-needed clean weekend culminating in Ferrari’s first podium finish in five rounds.
“This is the best podium in the world,” he said. “[Mercedes is] doing a very good job, so you have to say well done and show them the respect for what they have achieved.
“We try, we’re working very hard. Ferrari will come back. I can’t make any promises as to when, but I know that we will.”
The Italian Grand Prix was a sedate affair, with the much of the action taking place at the start.
Jolyon Palmer and Felipe Nasr tangled at the second chicane, with both drivers forced into retirement as a result.
Nasr was handed a 10-second time penalty for causing the collision, and his team fired his car back up to allow him to serve it at Monza rather than have it carry over to the next round in Singapore.
Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo locked himself in a fascinating strategic duel with Williams’s Valtteri Bottas for fifth place, culminating in the Australian making the pass of the year to date on the Finn at the first chicane in the final laps of the grand prix.
Ricciardo hit the brakes very late, drawing alongside Bottas from a long way back, and raced side-by-side through the chicane until he could power out on the fastest line.
The Australian said after the race he simply wanted to ‘have a go’, and paid credit to Bottas’s wheel-to-wheel ability.
Bottas’s sixth place finish combined with Massa’s two points for ninth sees Williams re-take fourth place in the constructors standings over Force India, which usurped the Grove-based team in Belgium.
Force India suffered an unusually tyre-limited weekend, with Sergio Perez holding his grid slot to finish eighth and Nico Hulkenberg coming home tenth behind Felipe Massa.