Lewis Hamilton’s dreams of winning the Italian Grand Prix for the third year in a row, and chalking up his 50th Formula One race victory, went out with the start lights on Sunday.
In a split second the triple world champion went from pole position to chaser, a slow getaway leaving him sixth as Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg disappeared into the distance.
The fault appeared to be his, as he hinted over the team radio, even if he said afterwards that he had done everything as normal and the clutch was to blame.
“I am told it wasn’t a driver error but it wasn’t anyone’s error,” said the Briton, whose advantage over Rosberg was cut to two points. “It was just we continue to have an inconsistency with our clutch. It has hit me quite a lot this year.
“The procedure was done exactly how I was supposed to do it but unfortunately the wheels were spinning from the get-go.”
Hamilton passed Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, leaving just the two Ferraris between him and Rosberg.
Ferrari’s two-stop strategy, compared to the single stop of the Mercedes pair, resolved that but the gap to the German was too great for Hamilton to close and keep life in the tyres.
“Nico drove a great race… and did what he had to do. Once you are out front here it is relatively plain and simple… all he had to do was match some of my times and he was sorted,” said Hamilton.
“It’s like less than a 10th of a second (at the start) decided the race and that is tough for everyone.”
The rules governing the start were changed last year, reducing the amount of information drivers have to help with clutch settings.
Both Mercedes drivers, who have started all but one race on pole, have suffered slow getaways this season.
“It’s the rule change, it makes it more challenging. Because now it’s down to the driver to do it, it’s more difficult,” declared Rosberg.
“I think the driver thing is the same as it was before,” countered Hamilton. “It’s just that we have a relatively inconsistent clutch.”
Team principal Toto Wolff said “machine and driver” had got it wrong.
“The only thing I heard was in the race he (Hamilton) said ‘Don’t worry guys I got it wrong in the start’,” said the Austrian.
“A driver in the heat of the moment after losing a race to his team mate will say things. Once we have seen all the data we will address internally what needs to be done.”