Lewis Hamilton hailed the feeling of leading the championship for the first time this year as “empowering” following his triumph at the Italian Grand Prix.
Hamilton became the first driver to win consecutive races this season after he followed up his victory in Belgium with a crushing display at the home of rival Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari team on Sunday.
The Englishman has moved three points ahead of Vettel, who finished third, with Valtteri Bottas splitting the title rivals at Monza.
Hamilton has won three of the last four grands prix – a run which started at July’s British Grand Prix – to move to the summit of the championship for the first time since this stage one year ago.
Hamilton lost his battle to Nico Rosberg last term, but on current form and with seven rounds remaining, it would now take a brave person to bet against the British driver marching to a fourth title.
“It’s an empowering feeling because it has been a constant search and battle for perfection which is what has been needed to overhaul the Ferraris as they have been exceptional all year long,” Hamilton said.
“I definitely feel like I have found more heart and passion within myself in the last three or four races. Silverstone was an empowering weekend and that has kind of sparked a forest fire in me and that is hopefully reflecting in my driving.
“While I feel like I always drive with my heart – my heart is really the engine, the power and the force behind what I do – my mind is like the rudder, and I feel like it has been steering me in the right direction.”
Twenty-four hours after Hamilton turned in a wet-weather masterclass to surpass Michael Schumacher’s all-time pole position record, the Mercedes driver held off the chasing pack on the long run down to turn one at Monza and from there never looked back.
The passionate Tifosi jeered Hamilton as he collected his winner’s trophy, but the Brit, who finished 36 seconds clear of Vettel, was not fazed by the boos from the record Italian crowd. He even claimed he drowned out their disdain by recalling the lyrics of a song he had written.
“I had a real nice song playing in my head so the boos kind of went over my head,” Hamilton, 32, added. “It was one of my own, so you won’t know it.
“It is to be expected in Italy and over the last 10 years it has been common to have the boos if a Ferrari driver is not on the top step of the podium.
“Inevitably you are going to be the enemy and the villain here if you are the one stopping the Ferraris. But some days I am happy to be the villain.
“I just tried to remain respectful. I admire their passion, and they feel like football fans here – the aggressive ones – but is all in the name of love for the red car.”
For the first time this season, Lewis Hamilton leads the World Championship, leapfrogging Sebastian Vettel to a three-point advantage following his sixth victory of the season at the Italian Grand Prix.
The resultant praise was deserving following on from a record 69th pole in treacherous conditions the preceding day, potentially paving the way for another world title depending on how Mercedes fare at the subsequent Ferrari-suited circuits.
For Hamilton, it would be a fourth world title but for Esteban Ocon, another notable star from Monza, the aspiration burns bright for a first World Championship win.
And the signs are that Ocon could well find himself alongside Hamilton as his teammate for the 2019 season should the stars align.
Ocon may not have earned the plaudits that Hamilton did as a rookie, partly because he does not have a race-winning car at his disposal as the Briton did during his debut campaign at McLaren.
But the 20-year-old has earned no shortage of praise simply because of the fact he has won points at every single race bar the Monaco Grand Prix.
Force India are quick and competitive this season although not in the same bracket as Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull for that matter, meaning the true chance to shine is when the field is levelled by the rain.
It was in exactly such conditions that Ocon shone to park his car third on the grid for Sunday’s race, the latest in a long line of facets that have him earmarked as a champion in the making, and then backing it up with sixth in the race.
— Esteban Ocon (@OconEsteban) September 2, 2017
Prior to this season, he had already done enough to leapfrog Pascal Wehrlein for a Force India drive, the German the favourite at one stage to join Hamilton at Mercedes.
Like Wehrlein, Ocon is on Mercedes’ driver development programme but is clearly in the No1 spot and, with every drive, Mercedes know that sooner or later they will have to make a decision on his long-term future.
He is tied into Force India for a second season but looks a reasonable bet to step up to the Mercedes team full-time in 2019 depending on how the Hamilton-Valtteri Bottas dynamic works.
Ocon has all the signs of a future champion. There are the drives in the junior ranks: first as a national then international star in karting, a European Formula 3 champion in 2014 – in which he beat a certain Max Verstappen to the title – and the GP3 crown the following year.
DTM followed in 2016 before Manor came calling for him to drive for the latter half of the season – and then Force India took what many thought was a chance, but how he has flourished.
After a troubled spell at McLaren, Sergio Perez’s stock had fallen but a series of podiums with Force India restored a reputation, in fact a career.
Ocon, to a certain extent, has undone that, causing the Mexican to pull off unnecessarily dangerous manoeuvres – most notably at the preceding race in Belgium – to fend off his young upstart of a teammate.
It is the handling of his relationship with Perez that in some ways highlights his championship capabilities even now.
Not one clearly to suffer fools gladly, he accused his teammate of trying to “kill me”, in effect not afraid who he upset by saying how he had seen it in the moment. It was all very Hamilton-esque in the Briton’s infancy.
But in a calmer moment, he was able to show admirable maturity, adding: “We have lost points, we have lost money, we have lost parts of the car, it is enough.
“I am a professional driver and we are professional, Sergio and I. In the end, we are here because we are clever, I hope we will be intelligent enough to have respect and just move on.”
Such a comment hinted at another strength, that of being a team player. Ocon picked out his fifth place in Spain as his F1 career highlight, not because of the position so much but the celebrations with his mechanics on the pitwall as he crossed the line.
Then there is the intelligence, a race brain that defies his years and has left Force India, Mercedes and other suitors not so quietly impressed.
As for the team hierarchy, Force India chief executive Otmar Szafnauer said succinctly: “We knew he had the potential to do it. He has exceeded our expectation.”
Ocon’s expectations, though, are rather higher: “My target is to be world champion”. He’s started well in that quest.
Lewis Hamilton will start the Italian Grand Prix from pole position following his wet-weather masterclass in one of the longest qualifying sessions in Formula One history.
Hamilton’s excellence at a rain-hit Monza, following a delay which lasted two hours and 36 minutes, sees him stand alone as the sport’s all-time one-lap specialist with his 69th career pole.
The Englishman, 32, held his nerve in the shootout for pole as the rain, which wreaked havoc with Saturday’s schedule, returned with vengeance in the closing moments.
Hamilton was the last to cross the line, and his lap was an incredible 1.1 seconds faster than Red Bull’s Max Verstappen with his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo third.
It marks Hamilton’s fourth consecutive pole at Monza and moves him above Michael Schumacher’s tally which he matched in Belgium last weekend
Hamilton however, will be joined on the front row by the Canadian teenager Lance Stroll with both Verstappen and Ricciardo to serve grid drops following engine penalties. And to cap a remarkable day for Hamilton his title rival Sebastian Vettel will start only sixth.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 2, 2017