That's how the Mercedes AMG Petronas man found himself at the head of the grid for the Italian Grand Prix, ahead of his teammate Rosberg by a quarter of a second. And because the high-po Monza circuit loves a high-po Mercedes engine, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa lined up in third and fourth for Williams, followed by Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button in their McLarens. Alonso flattered the Ferrari again, lining up seventh, followed by the Infiniti Red Bull Racing duo of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, but Sergio Perez in the Sahara Force India would make it seven out of ten for the Mercedes HPP engine program.
When the lights went out to start the race, Hamilton – and a few other top drivers – discovered that the work of recovery wasn't finished.
Hamilton's Merc suffered a glitch in its race start software, robbing power and throwing his engine rpms all over the place. Immediately swamped, he managed to fall only to fourth place while he got the software reset over the opening few laps. Rosberg was the beneficiary, taking the lead into the first turn, followed by Magnussen – who'd jumped up to second from fifth – and Felipe Massa. Magnussen's Mercedes-engined McLaren doesn't have Silver Arrows or Williams pace, though, so he held up the drivers behind while Rosberg took off up the road.
Both Massa and Hamilton got past Magnussen on Lap 5 and took off after Rosberg; by Lap 10, when Hamilton got past Massa, the gap to Rosberg was around 2.2 seconds. It should have been more, but a lap earlier Rosberg out-braked himself into Turn 1 and had to take the escape road, losing time while he weaved through the polystyrene obstacles.
Rosberg held the lead through the first and only round of pit stops. Hamilton couldn't close on Rosberg, though, seemingly unable to get closer than 1.3 seconds behind. On Lap 27 of 53, Hamilton's race engineer told him that the race would be at the end, when tires would go off, and that Hamilton should drop back to a 2.5-second gap to get the tow and maintain downforce. The Brit ignored him, finding some extra juice to press the attack and narrow the gap to less than a second. At the beginning of Lap 29, Rosberg outbraked himself again into Turn 1 and had to weave through the escape road, losing so much time that Hamilton passed him. One lap later, Hamilton had put Rosberg 2.6 seconds behind him. Over the remainder of the race he got that out to more than four seconds, but crossed the line in first, ahead of his teammate, 3.2 seconds ahead. Conspiracy theorists immediately wondered if Rosberg hadn't let Hamilton through, another repayment for Belgium. Hamilton suggested it happened just because Rosberg "doesn't seem to like" pressure.
Felipe Massa took an untroubled third place, returning to the Monza podium for the first time since 2010, also the first time not in a Ferrari uniform.
The second recovery drive came from Valtteri Bottas, who finished in fourth. The Finn fell from third to tenth at the start and worked some tremendous passes, usually into Turn 1, to make his way up the order. It took him 12 laps, from passing Ferrari's Kimi Räikkönen to move up to ninth, to Lap 21 when he passed Magnussen to take fourth. Then he had to do it again after his pit stop on Lap 25 when he re-emerged in ninth place. That déjà vu recovery drive took him 14 laps, passing Sergio Perez to take eighth on Lap 26, and finally getting past Vettel on Lap 40 to re-secure fourth.
He was followed him by yet another outstanding recovery drive turned in by Daniel Ricciardo. The Belgian Grand Prix winner had been off the pace all weekend, qualified outside the top ten and then languished there in the race until after his only pit stop on Lap 27. Then he turned on his end-of-race pace – we don't know where he gets it – and started clawing his way forward starting with a pass on Räikkönen on Lap 34 to take ninth place. He put some terrific moves on both Perez on Lap 41 and his teammate Vettel on Lap 47 at the second chicane, and that last one secured a well deserved placing that probably no one thought he would pull off. He was followed to the flag by teammate Vettel, who gambled on an early pit stop on Lap 19 for hard tires, then couldn't defend his position when Ricciardo came blasting through on fresher rubber.
Magnussen crossed the line in seventh but got relegated to tenth. For the second race in a row the stewards punished the Dane for the same infraction from Belgium, forcing a driver off the track. In Belgium it was Alonso, in Italy it was Bottas through the first chicane. Hit with a five-second penalty, he slid to tenth in the classification.
Perez took eighth, followed by Button in ninth after a battle between the Force India and the McLaren that went at least three rounds and lasted numerous laps. The former teammates would pass and repass, and get side-by-side and two-up into corners, keeping it clean the whole time – possibly aided by Perez's race engineer repeatedly telling him to "Keep it clean." Perez somehow pulled it off on delicate rubber and while having to save fuel.
Räikkönen closed out the top ten on track, but got moved up to ninth after Magnussen's penalty. Ferrari put on a show for home fans on Friday, its drivers getting up to third and fourth in Free Practice 3. Come qualifying, that mojo had gone into hiding, and come the race the scarlet team was nowhere: Alonso retired on Lap 29 because of an Energy Recovery System issue, Räikkönen labored around the circuit exposing the underpowered engine behind him. Alono's exit, his first since Malaysia last year, means he didn't bring home and points for the first time in 2014.
Hamilton's win shrinks the Driver's Championship gap to his teammate to 22 points, Rosberg on 238, Hamilton on 216. Ricciardo in third place slid back to a 72-point deficit to the leader with 166 points. Mercedes AMG Petronas recovering its one-two finish technique puts more daylight between it and Infiniti Red Bull Racing, 454 points to 272 points. Williams did a number on Ferrari, jumping out to 177 points against 162, while Force India with 109 points closed in on McLaren with 110.
Formula One returns to its globe-trotting ways at the Singapore's street circuit of in two weeks. We'll see you then.