Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain takes a selfie as he celebrates with fans after winning the Italian Grand Prix at the Monza. The Brit leads Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by three points. Image Credit: AP

Monza: Lewis Hamilton said he had enjoyed playing the villain at the Italian Grand Prix after he took the lead of the Formula One world championship for the first time this season.

The Mercedes driver was booed by a fiercely partisan crowd, desperate to see a Ferrari win at the Scuderia’s 70th anniversary race, as he revelled in a dominant victory.

Hamilton’s evident pleasure was understandable. His win, a run from pole to flag during which he barely put a wheel out of place, leaves him in front of his title rival, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, with seven races remaining.

Vettel finished third, behind Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas. Vettel had led by seven points going into the race but now trails Hamilton by three after 13 grands prix. Hamilton has won six races to Vettel’s four and the Mercedes had a clear advantage over Ferrari at the high-speed challenge of the Autodromo Nazionale.

The crowd had come to see their beloved Scuderia win, however, and when denied they thronged beneath the podium and booed Hamilton, albeit in a good-natured fashion which was appreciated by the three-times world champion, who has made clear his affection for this glorious circuit. “It is to be expected here in Italy — the last 10 years it has been common to have that if a Ferrari driver is not on top,” Hamilton said.

“Inevitably, you are going to be the villain here if you are the one who is stopping the Ferraris. If Valtteri and I were not driving here today Ferrari would have won. We are the villains but some days I am really happy to be the villain and I don’t mind. I just try to remain respectful and I admire their passion.”

The season has ebbed and flowed between the two drivers and this is the first time one of them has taken back-to-back wins, after Hamilton’s victory at the previous round in Spa. The Briton, though, was taking nothing for granted. “I know it’s not easy for the Italian fans to accept but I think ultimately we did the better job this weekend, collectively, as a team,” he said. “But it’s still close and there’s still a long, long way to go.”

“We’re going to Singapore next, which the Ferrari should be quite quick at, with the extra downforce they generally are able to add on, so the fight will continue. But it is amazing to have the back-to-back wins. It’s been a long, long time that Sebastian has been leading the championship, so with all the ups and down to now be just slightly ahead is a great feeling.”

The Mercedes executive director, Toto Wolff, believed Hamilton had shown great character to recover from a disappointment at the Hungarian Grand Prix before the summer break when he had finished fourth and was behind Vettel by 14 points. “Budapest was a difficult moment for us,” Wolff said. “It gave us a lot to think about. It made him come back stronger and more determined and so far Spa and Monza demonstrate that.”

Hamilton has shown fine form on high-speed circuits since he drove to a dominant victory at the British Grand Prix in July. “Silverstone was an empowering weekend, and from then it has sparked a forest fire within me and hopefully that has reflected in my driving,” Hamilton said.

Ferrari’s chairman, Sergio Marchionne, was not happy with his team’s performance. “I think we just screwed up,” he told RTL television. “The set-up for the car was wrong. I think we underestimated the circuit.”

— Guardian News & Media Limited, 2017