Lewis Hamilton is now defending a world championship lead of just three points after the victory of his team-mate Fernando Alonso in the Italian Grand Prix.
Team boss Ron Dennis took to the podium to collect the constructors’ trophy with an uncharacteristically wide grin on his face following his drivers’ one-two on Ferrari’s home turf.
The rookie managed to hang onto a precarious second from two determined Ferrari assaults – but was able to coast home in the closing laps with plenty of time in hand after an audacious overtaking manoeuvre left Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari trailing in his wake.
In the race’s opening seconds, as Alonso drove off unconcerned, Hamilton was beaten for position by Felipe Massa and very nearly taken by Raikkonen too.
He managed to repel the assault at the cost of wheel-to-wheel contact and cutting a corner at the first chicane to preserve his place against a powerful challenge from the red cars behind.
Massa dropped out of the race with mechanical problems on lap 11 – leaving Raikkonen to plan and execute a pit-stop ambush based on his one-stop strategy giving him the edge over the two-stopping McLarens.
He appeared to pull it off, soaring over the horizon at full speed on lap 40 as Hamilton trundled along the pit exit with his rev-limiter on. The Ferrari fans were ecstatic – and McLaren’s followers believed their dream finish had been snatched away.
But within two laps Hamilton was back in front, gliding past Raikkonen coming out of turn one in a clearly superior car. Raikkonen locked his brakes in a last-ditch defending manoeuvre but had nothing left to offer and the remaining 10 laps saw Hamilton remorselessly extending his lead over the Finn.
At the post-race press conference Hamilton said he had realised he must act quickly while his new soft tyres retained their advantage.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the grid, Red Bull Racing’s David Coulthard was on the wrong end of a nasty crash in the first lap of the race after his front wing split and took his car off the road.
The veteran Scot had made up five places after a transmission failure wrecked his qualifying session – only to score a large-scale smash at the Curva Grande when the failed part got under the car and deprived him of steering.
He ended up in the tyre wall with bits of splintered advertising hoarding protruding into his car – but was able to climb out and walk away unaided.
Honda’s Jenson Button managed to convert his 10th-place grid slot into an eighth-place finish and a single point in a car that looked a good deal more balanced and responsive than any he has driven for a while.
And Anthony Davidson brought his Super Aguri home 14th after losing a race-long battle to keep Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella behind him.