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Hamilton happy to play the villain

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Lewis Hamilton took the lead from Sebastian Vettel. AFP

MONZA, Italy (Reuters) – The booing began as Lewis Hamilton stepped out onto the Italian Grand Prix podium, high above the red tide of Ferrari fans surging down the straight, but not for a moment did the triumphant Mercedes driver stop smiling.

He understood their pain but that was also part of the pleasure.

If winning at Monza, Italy’s venerable ‘Temple of Speed’, is an unforgettable experience for a Ferrari driver, it is pretty sweet for anyone else to beat the sport’s oldest and most glamorous team in their own backyard.

Hamilton has now done that three times in the last four years and Sunday’s victory, if dull for the worldwide audience and many of the 93,000-strong crowd at the former royal park outside Milan, was even more rewarding.

It took the championship lead from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who finished a distant third, and handed it to Hamilton for the first time in a year.

All on a weekend when the Maranello-based team were celebrating the 70th anniversary of late founder Enzo Ferrari’s first car in 1947.

“Inevitably you are going to be the villain here if you are the one that’s stopping the Ferraris,” Hamilton, who led team mate Valtteri Bottas in an absolutely dominant one-two, told reporters.

“If Valtteri and I were not driving here today, the Ferraris would have won. So we are the villains. But some days I am really happy to be the villain and I don’t mind.”

Hamilton, now three points clear of Vettel, said he had had “a real nice song” playing in his head as he stood on the podium and so the crowd’s reception had gone over his head.

Even so, former racer and podium interviewer Martin Brundle suggested he ‘punch through’ the noise.

“It is to be expected here in Italy. Over the last 10 years it’s been common to have that if a Ferrari driver’s not on top,” Hamilton said, with plenty of experience having also won for McLaren in 2012.

“I just try to remain respectful. I admire their passion. They feel a little bit more like football fans here – the aggressive ones – but it’s all in the name of love for the red car.

“But in amongst them, I see the British flag, I see Italians who have crossed from Ferrari to Mercedes, and bit by bit, year on year we convert a few more.

“It may only be a couple each time but I am grateful for those ones,” said the Briton.

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