Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes team believe Ferrari have taken a step backwards in the battle for the Formula One title after Sebastian Vettel was knocked off the championship summit for the first time this year at the Italian Grand Prix.
Hamilton toasted his victory on Ferrari’s home turf in Monza – his second triumph in what could prove a pivotal eight days in this year’s title battle – with a beer from his Monte Carlo apartment on Sunday night before skateboarding through the streets of his adopted home town.
The 32-year-old Englishman is now three points clear of Vettel after his crushing performance in which he finished 36 seconds clear of the German, who crossed the line a distant third.
Monza’s so-called Temple of Speed was always expected to play to Mercedes’ strengths, but the margin of Hamilton’s victory will be a cause for concern for Ferrari.
Vettel attempted to put a brave face on their disappointing performance in front of a record 93,000 crowd, made up mostly of partisan Ferrari fans, but Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive of the Italian manufacturer described the difference between his team and Mercedes as “embarrassing”.
Ferrari’s disappointing weekend was made worse when Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who started 16th, eased past their second driver Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages to finish fourth.
“Emotions run high and when you have a bad day you can’t hide it, so I can understand his feelings,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said in response to Marchionne’s comments.
“For me it looks like Ferrari have taken a step back this weekend. I think we were very solid, but they have not performed in the way everybody expected.
“The Red Bull started towards the back of the grid and almost finished third which suggests something was out of sync here, and something was not how it should have been.”
The F1 circus now leaves Europe and heads to Singapore for its next stop a week on Sunday, the first of three races in Asia.
The Marina Bay street circuit could provide Vettel an immediate chance to bounce back with his Ferrari car so far suited to the low-speed tracks on the calendar.
Hamilton has struggled at the floodlit race in recent years, failing to make it to the chequered flag in 2015 before losing the title lead to Nico Rosberg last year after he finished third to his former Mercedes team-mate. Despite dominating the final four races of last season, it was a deficit from which Hamilton would never recover.
“To be leading the championship – whilst it is only a couple of points – I am grateful, but by no means do I feel comfortable,” added Hamilton, who has led virtually every lap of the two grands prix since the sport resumed after its summer break.
“I definitely feel like I have felt more heart and passion and found more within myself at the last three or four races, so I am going to keep applying myself in the same way.
“Towards the end of the first part of the season you are running on the low end of the battery pack, but I am operating at the top end of it so that is a good feeling.”
Hamilton will take part in a Pirelli tyre test at France’s Paul Ricard circuit on Thursday. He will then head to the Mercedes factory in Northamptonshire next week before jetting out to the Far East.