Kimi Räikkönen lines up in second. It's been a long time since we read those words; the Iceman hasn't been on the first row since the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix, when he put his Lotus second on the grid behind... Lewis Hamilton. Räikkönen lined up just ahead of a Ferrari at that China race, then driven by Fernando Alonso. In Italy this weekend, he lined up in front of the Ferrari driven by his teammate, Sebastian Vettel, who qualified third. Both Ferraris benefitted from an upgraded power unit, ending a front-row drought for the scuderia that goes all the way back
Nico Rosberg has a lot of work to do from fourth in the second Mercedes-AMG Petronas. Mercedes discovered a problem with Rosberg's engine but couldn't figure out the cause, so he reverted to the previous-spec engine he used in Belgium, one that's six races old. The lack of power hurt.
Williams teammates Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas took fifth and sixth, with Massa seemingly given a team-ordered helping hand. Williams told Bottas to tow Massa down the front straight, giving Massa a blistering time in the first sector. Then Bottas did it again, ensuring he would line up behind Massa.
The first Sahara Force India of Sergio Perez nabbed seventh, three places ahead of teammate Nico Hülkenberg in tenth, with Romain Grosjean in the Lotus behind Perez in eighth. Marcus Ericsson in the Sauber qualified ninth, but some clumsy driving saw him impede Hülkenberg twice. The stewards penalized Ericsson with a three-place grid penalty and two points on his superlicense, so Hülkenberg inherited ninth and Pastor Maldonado in the second Lotus inherited tenth.
We hardly saw Hamilton during the race, because he led from the start, worked up a larger gap to second place on every lap, and didn't give up the lead for the whole event. On Lap 48 of 53 he had a lead of 22 seconds, which is the kind of breakout run we haven't seen at Monza since Michael Schumacher was trouncing the field early in his Ferrari career.
As of that lap we caught a lot of Lewis, though, because his team engineer told him "to pull a gap" on the car behind – an exceedingly odd request when you're already leading by a quarter of a lap. Mercedes wouldn't say what the issue was, not even to Hamilton, but kept urging him to rock the lap times. Turns out Hamilton's left rear tire was 0.3 psi under the mandated minimum pressure, so the team wanted him to get a 25-second advantage in case the stewards issued a penalty. He could have been disqualified for violation of a safety regulation even though Mercedes said the pressures were checked and cleared by the Pirelli representative before the race. That might have been part of the reason the stewards cleared him. The win sticks.
Teammate Rosberg would have to be conflicted about that, because after a strategic pit stop got him up to third place his six-race-old engine blew on Lap 51 as he was pulling up on Vettel to try and take second. Rosberg falls further behind in the Driver's Championship race, but if he'd reached the finish he'd have been investigated, too: his right rear tire pressure was 1.1 psi below the minimum.
So Vettel held on for second in front of a madhouse crowd. He had a quiet race himself until Rosberg began closing on him, ceding about half a second to Hamilton each lap. Mercedes' and Ferrari's engine upgrades this race seem to have kept matters right where they started.
Massa finished third, a car length ahead of teammate Bottas in fourth. The Williams' got worked over by Rosberg's undercut – the German was behind Bottas when he entered the pits but came out ahead of Massa by the time he exited the pits – but the team kept everything else clean and the car had the pace to keep the rest of the field at bay. For Massa, thanks to a problem with Bottas' MGU-K unit, the Brazilian had enough pace to keep the Finn at bay and take third by a small fraction of a second. After gaining ground on Ferrari in four of the past five races for the Constructor's Championship, the Grove team slipped back by one point.
Now that Mark Weber and his ever-reliable unreliability have left the grid, it's hard not to think of Kimi Räikkönen as Weber 2.0. The Finn started second on the grid, and then when the lights went out he simply didn't start. He blamed a problem with the second clutch slipping him into anti-stall when he released the first clutch. Team Principal Mauricio Arrivabene showed he's not about to protect his drivers at the expense of the team when he replied that "it looked like he was struggling or messing a bit with the finger to follow the procedure." Räikkönen left the grid in last place, but fought his way to fifth at the finish by simply hunting down one car after another.
The Force India pair of Perez and Hülkenberg drove solid races to finish sixth and seventh. Perez is undoubtedly feeling good with two solid race weekends to his credit. On the other side of the garage, after Hulk's aborted start in Belgium all is still not well with his car, the German complaining about a lack of grip and power. The team's B-spec car is meant to finally be ready for Singapore in two weeks, and everyone should be looking forward to it.
Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat drove their Infiniti Red Bull Racing RB11s to eighth and tenth at the flag. The team is still out to sea thanks to intractable Renault power units; this weekend was the first qualifying since Brazil in 2008 that a Red Bull didn't make it into Q3. Just before qualifying Renault put another power unit into Ricciardo's car and it promptly blew up, so the Aussie got two heapings of penalties. He lined up in 19th, so he'll be glad to head to leave Italy with a few points.
Marcus Ericsson split the Red Bulls, coming home ninth. The Swede said he stopped worrying about everyone and everything else and focused on his own driving, the result being a run of three points finishes in the last three races. His have been the only points Sauber's scored recently, these latest putting the Swiss team eight points ahead of McLaren. On that note, the only team that had a worse time of it than McLaren was Lotus, which lost both cars less than halfway through the first lap. It's tough times for storied names right now.
Hamilton's seventh victory of the season gets him to 252 points in the Driver's Championship, way out ahead of Rosberg's 199 points and Vettel with 178. At the end of the race, Hamilton said he's doing his best driving right now. Combine that with the Mercedes chassis, and it looks like Hamilton or Mercedes will have to give the World Championship trophy away for anyone else to win it.
Speaking of which, Mercedes conceded three points to Ferrari in the Constructor's Championship, but still leads 451 to 270. The next race happens in Singapore in two weeks, we'll see you then.