Nico Rosberg took his first Italian Grand Prix win and his seventh victory of the season with a controlled drive to the flag after pole position man and title leader Lewis Hamilton’s race was compromised by a poor start.
In qualifying Hamilton had comprehensively outpaced his team-mate, sealing pole for the Monza race ahead of Rosberg by a margin of almost half a a second. The expectation was that with such a sizeable pace advantage, at lights out for the race the championship leader would simply drive away from his rival and seal his own seventh win of the campaign.
However, at the start, it wall went wrong for the Briton. He initially got away at the same time as the rest of the field but then he bogged down badly and slid down the order as those around him on the front rows surged past. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel slotted into P2 ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, while Valtteri Bottas took fourth place ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Another driver who got away badly was Max Verstappen in the second Red Bull. The Dutch prodigy also bogged down and fell back from his P7 starting slot to 12th place by the end of lap one. Haas’ Esteban Gutierrez too made a dreadful start and slid from tenth on the grid to 20th place.
Hamilton quickly passed Ricciardo for fifth place and then at the end of lap 10 he passed Bottas to take fourth place. Verstappen, too, began to claw his way back through the order, rising to ninth place by the time Hamilton was past Bottas,
At the front, though, Rosberg was busy building a gap, and by lap 11 he had carved out a 4.4s gap to Vettel and had 11.0s in hand over Hamilton.
Bottas was now slipping back into the clutches of Ricciardo and at the end of lap 13 the Williams driver decided that discretion was the better part of valour and he dived towards the pit entry, taking on soft tyres during the stop. Verstappen also took the opportunity to pit for soft tyres on the same lap as did Alonso.
Raikkonen, though, chose a different path and when the Finn pitted on lap 15 he took on a second set of supersoft tyres, trusting that a two–stop race might be the right strategy. Vettel then showed his hand on the following lap, the four-time champion also taking on supersoft tyres during a first stop slowed momentarily by a problem with the gun on the front left wheel.
Those stops promoted Hamilton to P2 behind Rosberg and at the start of lap 20 the Briton found himself 13.4s behind his team-mate, with Vettel third ahead of Raikkonen, Bottas and Ricciardo, who had moved to soft tyres.
Further back, Verstappen was still working hard to make his way back toward the major points, finding himself in eighth place behind Sergio Perez after 24 laps.
Rosberg made his single stop from the lead on lap 24, taking on a set of medium tyres that would see him to the end of the race. The stop was not perfect, however, as a slight delay with the right front wheel costing the German valuable time. Hamilton made the same switch on the following lap and emerged behind the two Ferrari, both of which would need a final pit stop.
Vettel now began to push on his supersoft tyres, attempting to make time in advance of his second stop on Rosberg and the chasing Hamilton. By lap 33 he had closed the gap to Rosberg to 4.1s and he then pitted for soft tyres, emerging in P5 behind Ricciardo. The gap from the Ferrari man to Hamilton was now 19 seconds, with Hamilton on medium tyres and Vettel on softs.
Raikkonen soon followed suit, making his second stop on lap 34 and taking on soft compound Pirelli rubber. The brief halt saw him rejoin in P6, behind Verstappen. The order now saw Rosberg leading, 11.5s clear of Hamilton with Ricciardo third ahead of Vettel and Raikkonen.
Ricciardo made his second stop, for a final set of supersofts, on lap 37 and he rejoined in P6, once again finding himself behind Bottas, but on newer, quicker tyres.
The Australian quickly began applying pressure, lapping upwards of a second quicker than the Williams man and closing the gap to fifth place to 2.4s by lap 42.
It was the major developing battle at the upper end of the order as at the front Rosberg led Hamilton by almost 13s, with the Briton 14s clear of Vettel in third place and the lead Ferrari driver six seconds ahead of Raikkonen in fourth.
By lap 47 Ricciardo was inside DRS range of Bottas and despite his supersoft tyres having taken a battering in the wake of the Williams, the Red Bull driver pulled off a superb move under DRS into the first chicane to take P5.
The Australian’s team-mate was also making moves. Verstappen rose to P7 on lap 49 with a good move down the inside of Perez into the second chicane. Caught unawares, the Mexican was forced to cross the chicane to avoid clashing with the opportunistic Dutchman.
And that was how the order remained. Four laps later Rosberg crossed the line to claim his first Italian GP win ahead of Hamilton, with Vettel third ahead of Raikkonen. The Red Bulls of Ricciardo and Verstappen were split by the Williams of Bottas in P7, while the final points-scoring places went to Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa, with the Brazilian scoring points in his final Italian Grand Prix and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg.
Rosberg’s win means he closes the gap to championship leader to just two points, with Hamilton now on 250 points to his team-mate’s 248. In the Constructors’ title battle Mercedes extend their already massive lead at the top of the table to 208 points but Red Bull’s lead over Ferrari has been cut to 11 points.