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Sunday December 17th, 2017 10:24PM

Hamilton wins Italian GP to move ahead of Vettel

By The Associated Press
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MONZA, Italy (AP) — Lewis Hamilton won the Italian Grand Prix virtually unchallenged from pole position Sunday and moved ahead of Sebastian Vettel to take the lead in the drivers' standings.

Hamilton finished nearly five seconds ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas while Vettel came third in his Ferrari, more than half a minute behind.

Hamilton now has 238 points, three more than Vettel with seven races remaining.

"It's obviously an incredibly exciting season and the last two races have been incredibly strong for us as a team," Hamilton said.

Vettel had led the standings all season but Ferrari struggled in rainy qualifying conditions Saturday and couldn't match Mercedes' race pace, either, on a Monza circuit featuring long straights and high speeds better suited to Mercedes' outright power.

"Mercedes power is definitely better than Ferrari power," Hamilton said. "So it worked well this weekend."

After getting out of his car, Hamilton first greeted Bottas then jumped into a crowd of Mercedes team members. The British driver was met with a mix of cheers and boos during Monza's famed celebration with the podium suspended over the track.

"You know what? I love it here in Italy and I love the passion of the Ferrari fans," Hamilton told a sea of red-clad Ferrari fans who invaded the track. "We don't get to see this energy anywhere else, apart from maybe Silverstone."

"To get 1-2 here is incredible," Hamilton added later. "I know it's not easy for Ferrari fans to accept."

The Ferrari supporters were hoping for more on a weekend celebrating the automaker's 70th anniversary.

"This race was difficult, I know," Vettel told the crowd. "But we're coming."

After a brilliant start to the season, Vettel has now won just one of the last seven races.

"We didn't have the pace of Mercedes today," Vettel said.

It was Hamilton's 59th career win and second consecutive triumph after posting a harder-fought victory in Belgium last weekend.

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth, having climbed through the field from a 16th-place start due to a grid penalty.

Kimi Raikkonen crossed fifth — exactly where he started — in the other Ferrari.

Force India's Esteban Ocon placed sixth and 18-year-old Lance Stroll settled for seventh after becoming the youngest F1 driver to start on the front row in his Williams.

Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen rounded out the top 10.

As drivers gathered at the front of the grid for the national anthem ahead of the race, air force jets flew low overhead emitting a trail of smoke in the green, white and red colors of the Italian flag.

Hamilton got off to a clean start and Bottas quickly moved up from fourth to put Mercedes 1-2 after only four laps.

Raikkonen battled with Bottas early on but then went off course and had to slalom through the barriers.

"I have damage on the rear of the car," Raikkonen said via team radio.

But Ferrari told the Finn they couldn't see anything.

"I don't know to fix it," Raikkonen replied.

Meanwhile, Vettel slipstreamed past Ocon down the main straight to move into third but he, too, then reported problems with the rear of his car and kept dropping further and further behind the Mercedes cars.

"It took a while before I could really trust the car," Vettel said. "And then we were isolated."

Hamilton's only hiccup came when he skidded onto the edge of the gravel briefly midway through the race. Otherwise, he and Bottas were gaining half a second per lap on the Ferraris.

Verstappen had another eventful race in his Red Bull, making contact with Massa's Williams and both Haas cars at various stages.

After Kevin Magnussen was cut off by Verstappen, the Haas driver said, "What is he doing, pushing me off the track?"

Near the back, Renault's Jolyon Palmer was penalized five seconds for going off track and cutting a corner to get ahead of Fernando Alonso's McLaren Honda.

"Five seconds is a joke," Alonso said.

Palmer was then told to retire, to which Alonso commented, "Karma."

Alonso, however, did not finish after being forced to retire his car toward the end.

Fly-away races make up the rest of the F1 calendar, starting with the Singapore GP in two weeks.

"Ferrari might be a little bit quicker when we get to a couple of tracks where it's maximum downforce," Hamilton said. "It's going to be close with us all the way."

  • Associated Categories: NASCAR News, Other Motorsports, Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Auto Racing, Formula One Racing
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