Hamilton issues intent to do 'battle'

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton (right) finished third at the Italian Grand Prix after chasing Charles Leclerc (centre) for most of the race. He attempted to overtake, but was forced onto the run-off by the Ferrari driver.
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton (right) finished third at the Italian Grand Prix after chasing Charles Leclerc (centre) for most of the race. He attempted to overtake, but was forced onto the run-off by the Ferrari driver.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Briton ready to alter racing style after Leclerc is merely warned for squeezing him off track

MONZA • After being on the receiving end of some "hard racing" from Charles Leclerc, Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton is more than ready to drive as aggressively if it gives him a greater shot at winning a race.

The five-time world champion finished third in Sunday's Italian Grand Prix, behind Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas and the Ferrari race winner, who ended his team's nine-year wait for success at their Monza home track.

Hamilton was in relentless pursuit of Leclerc for most of the race and almost got past on Lap 23, but the latter veered to the right and forced him onto the run-off.

However, the Monaco native only received a warning in the form of the black-and-white flag, leaving the Briton bemused at the lack of "consistency", referencing how Red Bull's Max Verstappen received a five-second time penalty for a similar incident with Bottas at last year's Italian Grand Prix.

"There was a rule put in place, and then it wasn't abided by today," he said. "They used different consequences... I guess the stewards woke up on a different side of the bed today, I don't know."

While insisting that he had "absolutely zero issue" with Leclerc's style of driving, Hamilton claimed he would have a word with his rival about the roles being reversed and whether the former would be okay with him applying the same defensive move, and "if that's cool, then that's how we're racing".

He added: "As long as we know that you're allowed to not leave a car width for example, you don't have to do that now. You're allowed to run wide even if someone's there and you only get a warning flag, you only need that once to potentially keep the guy behind you.

"So as long as it's clear moving forward, that's fine, just so I know how to go into battle, same for all the drivers."

While F1 race director Michael Masi defended the decision as there was "no contact", unlike the Verstappen incident, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff backed Hamilton, who he claimed was "instrumental in not making it an incident".

He also felt that stewards would never give a five-second penalty for a leading Ferrari in Monza as "we would then need a police escort out of here".

The Austrian suggested that drivers will now push the limits, in the knowledge that they will likely first receive a warning flag.

"There will be more cars touching, it will be more of a common practice," Wolff said. "In my opinion, it's going to go to the point that it will end up again in a collision. Then we're going to bail out of it again, or crawl back. This is the modus operandi. Until then, we let them race."

With seven races left, Hamilton leads the standings by 63 points from second-placed Bottas, with the championship now moving to Singapore for the Sept 22 night race.

ASSOCIATED PRESS, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2019, with the headline 'Hamilton issues intent to do 'battle''. Print Edition | Subscribe