Lewis Hamilton made the most of his luck to lead team-mate Valtteri Bottas home in Sunday’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix as Mercedes sealed a record seventh consecutive constructors’ championship triumph.
The six-time champion capitalised on pole-sitter Bottas’s ill fortune in picking up a debris-damaged floor to win with a near-flawless tactical drive and the fastest lap of a dramatic and incident-filled race at Imola.
Hamilton recovered from a poor start, when he dropped to third, to fight back with a long first stint and the aid of a timely Virtual Safety Car intervention to grab the lead on a memorable day for the ‘silver arrows’.
Daniel Ricciardo finished third for Renault ahead of Daniil Kvyat of Alpha Tauri and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc after Max Verstappen had crashed out of the race in his Red Bull in the closing stages. He was unhurt.
Sergio Perez was sixth for Racing Point, Carlos Sainz finished seventh ahead of his McLaren team-mate Lando Norris and the two Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen, in his 325th Grand Prix race, and Antonio Giovinazzi.
It was Hamilton’s record-increasing 93rd victory in a race that saw him complete 5000 laps as a race leader. The Mercedes one-two finish also not only secured the teams’ title, but also ensured that a Mercedes driver will take the drivers’ championship.
“That was an exhausting race,” said Hamilton. “The speed we had to go after a poor start – it’s just overwhelming now because there are so many people in the team who are unsung heroes. I’m forever grateful to be a part of it and it always feels like the first time.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said: “I’m not so much into the numbers, but this is something to be proud of – as long as we can stay energised and motivated, I think we can push it for ever. We are looking forward to a new challenge.”
Bottas said: “The damage had a big effect for me today – suddenly out of Turn Seven on lap two there was debris. I tried not to run over it, but it made the car tricky to drive.”
Ricciardo said it had been “a bizarre one. I thought fourth was the best I could do!”
On a near-perfect autumnal afternoon with temperatures of 18 and 25 degrees for air and track, Bottas made an equally bright start from his 15th pole while Verstappen surged past Hamilton for second.
On lap nine, after an excellent start, Pierre Gasly was called in to retire his Alpha Tauri from fifth. “We have a terminal situation, we have to box and retire,” said the team, citing a coolant leak.
Verstappen came in on lap 19, releasing Hamilton. “I’m going to pick up the pace, don’t stop me,” he snapped as Bottas pitted, re-joining second.
The champion produced successive fastest laps to lead by 25 seconds before Mercedes told Bottas his floor was damaged.
Bottas then slid wide at Rivazza and Verstappen seized his chance to take second. With 16 laps to go, the Dutchman began his chase after Hamilton, who led by 14 seconds.
His charge was soon over. On lap 51, his car failed – seemingly due to an instant right-rear puncture – as he braked and he lost control, crashing into a gravel trap and out of the race. “Something broke on the car,” he said.
A full Safety Car period ensued, during which both Bottas and Hamilton pitted, before Russell crashed, while weaving to warm his tyres behind the Safety Car.
“I don’t know what to say,” he told Williams.
All this drama left Hamilton leading Bottas, when the Safety Car came in, for a six-lap dash to the flag in which the luckless Albon spun, while defending against Perez. He pitted and fell to 15 th and last as the ‘black arrows’ finished with another one-two triumph.
Formula One takes a break next weekend before returning for the Turkish Grand Prix on November 15 where Hamilton could wrap up a record-equalling seventh drivers’ crown.