Star Wars in Monza: Lucas awards Hamilton for Italian GP win
MONZA, Italy (AP) The only thing that came close to stopping Lewis Hamilton at the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday was an inquiry over tire pressure.
In the end - 3 1/2 hours after the Mercedes driver took the checkered flag and was interviewed on the podium by Star Wars creator George Lucas - that obstacle fell away, too.
Hamilton's left rear tire pressure was found to be 0.3 psi below the minimum of 19.5 when measured moments before the race. But stewards decided to take no action because they determined that Mercedes had pumped the correct amount of air into the tires before the pressure dropped on its own.
''I wasn't aware of it,'' Hamilton said, adding that 0.3 psi ''is not really a huge amount on one tire.''
Hamilton cruised to his seventh win of the season, and nearly doubled his Formula One lead over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, whose engine caught fire with two laps remaining.
A potential challenge from Ferrari fizzled when Kimi Raikkonen stalled on the front row of the starting grid.
In perfect conditions, Hamilton finished 25 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the other Ferrari, while Felipe Massa narrowly edged Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas for third.
Sole tire supplier Pirelli, still recovering from the Belgian GP two weeks ago where there were frightening tire deterioration problems, agreed with the stewards decision on Hamilton.
''We are totally sure no one is cheating,'' Pirelli spokesman Roberto Boccafogli said, adding that ''0.3 psi is nothing. ... Such a small thing.''
Otherwise, it was a golden weekend for Hamilton, who topped every practice, started from pole position and led the race from start to finish.
''I dont know if I've ever had a weekend like this,'' said Hamilton, who is aiming for his second straight F1 title and third overall.
As thousands of red-clad Ferrari fans rushed out onto the track below the podium, Lucas recounted how he had suggested that Hamilton win by 20 seconds.
''Well, you did it in spades,'' the film director said. ''I bow to you.''
Hamilton had such a comfortable lead that he told his team midway through the race that he was turning his engine down.
But Mercedes must have been made aware of the tire pressure issue late in the race, because the team started to send worrisome messages to Hamilton via radio.
''We need to pull a gap,'' a Mercedes engineer told Hamilton. ''Don't ask questions, just execute.''
Hamilton was perplexed.
''The last few laps I was told to push and I'm thinking, `I've got quite a big gap already.' So I was a little taken aback by it,'' he said. ''But nonetheless I still managed to pull it out and do what they asked me to do.''
Amid speculation that Monza might be removed from the circuit after its contract expires next season, Vettel made an emotional call to keep the race in Italy.
''If we take this race away from the calendar for any (poor) money reasons I think you are basically ripping our hearts out,'' said the German, who won twice at Monza with Red Bull and once with Toro Rosso before signing with Ferrari a year ago.
Hamilton now leads Rosberg by 53 points with seven races remaining this season.
With the 40th win of his career, Hamilton moved within one victory of his childhood idol Ayrton Senna and Vettel on the all-time list. The Briton also became the first driver to secure back-to-back wins at Monza since Damon Hill in 1993-94.
Raikkonen started on the front row for the first time since China in 2013 but wasted the opportunity by stalling in his grid position. The Finn eventually got going but dropped immediately to the back of the pack, before working his way back through the field to finish fifth.
Before the race, fighter jets flew overhead leaving a trail of red, white and green smoke - the colors of the Italian flag. Italian Premier Matteo Renzi belted out the national anthem while standing next to F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, who will decide Monza's fate.
There was more smoke - pure red - produced by Ferrari fans in the grandstand.
Also, drivers stood for a minute of silence to remember Justin Wilson, the British driver who died after debris struck his helmet in an IndyCar race last month.
F1 now heads to Asia for races in Singapore and Japan. The season ends in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 29.
AP Sports Writer John Leicester contributed.
Andrew Dampf can be followed at www.twitter.com/asdampf