In the 2018 Italian Grand Prix, the titanic duel between Ferrari’s Raikkonen and Mercedes-ace Hamilton gave us a wild race at Monza.
Lewis Hamilton won his fifth driver’s title in 2018, a year where the Briton hardly put a foot wrong in demonstrating typical ‘Hammertime’ consistency. What made the year special for the Briton’s triumph was the fact that Mercedes’ only rivals that year, Ferrari, fielded a machine that was nearly on par with the Silver Arrows.
The team that we find struggling in the midfield in 2020 was, until two summers ago, regularly making its way to front-row finishes. That’s how powerful a car Ferrari had in 2018.
The only team that was able to emerge with breakthroughs other than Ferrari and Mercdes was Red Bull winning in Mexico and Austria.
The 2018 Italian Grand Prix
The Italian Grand Prix is a different ballgame altogether.
With the passionate Tifosi in attendance, watching Ferrari compete in a battle for ascendency on home turf is a thrill that can’t be put into words. A magical procession of sorts.
Add to that the challenge of racing at the fastest track on the calendar.
But the 2018 Italian Grand Prix shall be remembered for years to come. Not only because the best driver on the grid -Lewis Hamilton- clinched another mighty triumph.
It was because a driver who often craves a real battle, found on that memorable afternoon, a mighty match in Kimi Raikkonen.
The duel between two amazing drivers among a crowd not less than 120,000, made the 2018 Italian Grand Prix a crazy fiesta, the kinds of which we often crave nowadays, but hardly get to see in front of Mercedes’ downright dominance.
But it were Ferrari not Mercedes who set the right tone for the race given their exemplifying qualifying result on Saturday.
The Iceman Takes Pole In Qualifying
Raikkonen skillfully set the tone to an epic 2018 Italian Grand Prix by taking pole position for Monza.
But this was no ordinary achievement, even if for the sake of the Finn, this was his first pole since Monaco, 2017. In going at a ballsy 1:19:119, Kimi Raikkonen, then 38, set the fastest-ever lap in the history of the sport, bettering former teammate McLaren driver Juan Pablo Montoya.
Even today, that sensational qualifying lap featuring ballistic commentary reactions in myriad languages- French, Russian, Italian, English, and Finnish make it one of the most viewed Kimi Raikkonen-videos on the net. The Finn ended 0.161 seconds faster than his teammate. Talk of close margins.
How desperate were fans to see their famous Italian marquee roaring to a win could perhaps be established by an important statistic. The last Ferrari driver- until then- to win Ferrari’s home event was Fernando Alonso in 2010.
The only other driver to stamp his authority at Monza was none other than Lewis Hamilton.
Lewis Hamilton- The Master of Monza
Apart from being a four-time winner here before winning again in 2018, Lewis Hamilton had against his name the envious tally of 2 grand slams in 2014 and 2015 (winning the race, setting the fastest lap, and setting pole) at the Italian Grand Prix.
That wasn’t all. In the events where he didn’t finish right on top at the Italian GP, he set fastest laps in 2011, 2012, and 2013, besides grabbing 5 pole positions; 2009, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
Need a shining example of consistency? Look no further than Hamilton’s record in Italy.
On the other hand, Kimi had only 4 podium finishes in Italy.
Kimi sets early pace
Having fired the opening salvo by taking pole, Raikkonen’s only task now was to defy Hamilton for 53 laps, a challenge he seemed capable of as he got away cleanly at the start.
But, there was trouble for Sebastian Vettel, who found Hamilton right on his tail in no time at all.
Inside the opening lap itself, the two, however, came together, Hamilton sneaking on around Vettel’s outside at around the first chicane with the German struggling to defend. A a move that ended up being disastrous for the German, Vettel sliding away into the grass, seconds after which he’d be down at the back of the grid.
Hamilton was cautious that in order to claim a fifth win in Italy, he would now have to pass Kimi. A plan he approached with zeal and determination, helped by the tremendous pace of his Mercedes.
And it didn’t take him long as he stormed on the straights, three laps later, serving Kimi the ‘Hammertime’ warning.
Tucking away on the outside of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari on Lap 4, Hamilton made the move that no Ferrari fan expected; snatching the lead.
The order of the contest was now reversed: it was Kimi Raikkonen who had to now catch, if he could, the enthralling race-leader.
But just when a hundred of thousands of hearts slipped into despair sensing the contesting slipping away from the grasp of Ferrari, Raikkonen bounced back. He immediately passed Hamilton on the same lap (where he conceded the track position) around the Ascari Chicane to retake the lead.
Back at the commentary box, David Croft noted the tantalizing role-reversal, “Raikkonen retakes the lead as Monza goes wild!”
The Horse, it wasn’t hard to note, was finally prancing amid the delight of home fans.
From that point on, much of the race at the front was down to the Raikkonen versus Hamilton show as further down the field some exciting battles were taking place in the midfield, Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen coming to blows on Lap 5.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, meanwhile, was defending brilliantly from the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, the Dutchman up in third with Bottas attempting to enter the podium position.
Raikkonen, on the other hand, was unperturbed holding well onto his race-lead.
On Lap 19, however, Max and Bottas, in a close scrap went over the grass, just before the first chicane.
Mercedes cut down the gap to Ferrari
At this time, Hamilton was closing down that gap to Kimi remorselessly, the difference at that stage being under 1 second.
On Lap 21, Kimi pitted for fresh tires, in a fine attempt to undercut the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. A clean and timely stop, nevertheless, saw Raikkonen emerging out in fourth, Hamilton now the race-leader.
On Lap 25, Daniel Ricciardo, the driver with one of the most commanding drives at the Italian Grand Prix of 2017, where he finished fourth but with several majestic overtakes, retired due to an engine failure. His 2018 woes exacerbated in one of the worst runs he ever had in an otherwise long and productive Red Bull stint.
Lewis, whose instructions until such time had been – do whatever Kimi doesn’t do- had pitted on Lap 28 for an exceptional 2.4 second stop.
Bottas, meanwhile, took the lead as Raikkonen held onto a seemingly comfortable second.
Hamilton was, once again, behind Kimi. The two drivers knew their task and much of what was left to the 2018 Italian Grand Prix was down to Kimi defending from Lewis and the Briton, attempting to breach past the staunch defenses of the Ferrari.
Meanwhile, Raikkonen set a blazing fastest-lap right at the end of Lap 29, indicating his softs were ready for a fight at 1:23:515.
Hamilton’s tires, though fresher than Raikkonen’s, had some catching up to do, as Kimi seemed in fine form.
The relentless Mercedes vs Ferrari fight
Both cars, meanwhile, contested with nearly even corner pace on a track where they were already enjoying mighty straight-line speed.
At all this time, Sebastian Vettel was executing some sublime overtakes as he kept himself busy climbing back from the back of the grid having slided backwards for a move for which only he was responsible.
With just 10 laps to go, Raikkonen, who’d been defending well until such time, found Hamilton ever so close. The gap now down to only 0.506 seconds.
And it’s these ten last laps that defined the context of a race that had so determinedly been led by Raikkonen, now about to find his moment of glory short-lived.
The turning point of the race came in Lap 45 with just 8 more to play.
Carrying blazing speed and experiencing much better grip than the car in front, Hamilton stuck to the outside line of Raikkonen on the straights just before hitting the Ascari Chicane, finally outsmarting his arch-rival.
He was now in control at the very spot where he’d conceded race-lead earlier.
The order of the contest had been revered; the hunter was now the hunted, but not before dominating the contest for the better part of the day.
Now up in front, experiencing no such tyre blistering as Raikkonen (whose tires were withering away), Lewis saw a clear track right in front. There was no more overtaking to do.
Putting all that Monza excellence into play, it was a matter of time before the Mercedes passed the checkered flag.
Kimi Raikkonen, though, passed the finish line with a valiant second, in the process of which he collected his 100th podium.
Not every loss often feels like one, but true to his unexpressive demeanor, it would’ve been hard to speculate what might have Kimi’s thoughts been at that point.
The well-deserved victory for Lewis came at the back of a titanic duel at the temple of speed, where countless prayers were riding on Kimi Raikkonen that afternoon.
Max, for all his defending, rose to an important third as Bottas and Vettel held onto fourth and fifth.
With Alfa Romeo fading badly in 2020, it would seem Kimi and Lewis are unlikely to give us a battle like we saw at the 2018 Italian Grand Prix.