MONZA, Italy (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton won the Italian Grand Prix to take a 53-point lead in the Formula One championship on Sunday after Mercedes team mate and closest rival Nico Rosberg retired with his car in flames.
The Briton had to wait several more hours, however, for the result to be confirmed after a stewards’ enquiry into low tyre pressures on his car.
With some rivals calling for the reigning champion to be disqualified, the stewards ruled Mercedes had followed the specified procedures and decided to take no further action.
Apart from that scare, Hamilton’s was an afternoon remarkably free of pressure in all other aspects.
He enjoyed a commanding cruise to the top step of a podium, standing high above a throng of Ferrari fans who had hoped to acclaim one of their own as winner but had to make do with Sebastian Vettel finishing runner-up.
It was Hamilton’s 40th career victory, one less than his boyhood hero Ayrton Senna, and seventh of the season.
“This weekend’s been just fantastic, a perfect weekend for me,” said the Briton, who dominated practice, started from pole position, led from the first corner and set the fastest lap.
”I don’t know if I have ever had a weekend like this. This circuit is such a special one for me...when you stand on top of that podium you feel an incredible pride, incredibly proud to be amongst the greats who have stood there.
“The sea of fans is just unlike anything I’ve seen.”
He had led from start to finish, with his points advantage in the championship gaining a sudden boost when team mate and closest rival Rosberg retired two laps from the end with flames flickering from the engine.
Vettel finished a massive 25 seconds behind while Brazilian Felipe Massa took third for Williams a mere 0.3 ahead of his Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas.
A Hamilton disqualification would have put both Williams drivers on the podium and that team’s head of engineering Pat Symonds felt that should have been the case.
“There’s a list of penalties for sporting infringements, technical infringements are disqualification,” he said.
The win was Hamilton’s third in Monza and also made him the first driver since compatriot Damon Hill in 1994 to take back-to-back wins at the historic Italian circuit, whose future on the calendar remains in doubt.
He had been unaware of the tyre pressure issue until after the finish, when stewards said the left rear tyre -- measured before the start -- had been 0.3 PSI below the minimum specified by Pirelli.
Rosberg’s tyre had even less pressure but the German was past caring, his hopes literally going up in flames when the German pulled over with smoke and flames billowing out from the rear of his car while in third place.
A pre-qualifying problem had forced Rosberg to start the race with an engine that had previously done five races, while Hamilton had a fresh one with upgrades for the fastest circuit on the calendar.
The German had started fourth but lost places taking evasive action when Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, on the front row with Hamilton, struggled to get away with cars swerving around on either side.
The Finn was last into the first corner but fought back to take fifth place.
Force India’s Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg were sixth and seventh with Australian Daniel Ricciardo eighth for Red Bull.
Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson was ninth for Sauber and Russian Daniil Kvyat 10th for Red Bull.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Martyn Herman and Toby Davis