MONZA, (Italy): A victorious Lewis Hamilton tried to speak a few words in Italian on the Monza podium yesterday, but there was no winning over the red-capped crowd on the track beneath the McLaren driver.
They booed the Briton, a low growl that contrasted with the roar of approval that greeted Ferrari’s championship leader Fernando Alonso as he stepped up to the third place step.
Beating a Ferrari driver at the temple of Italian motorsport, an altar to all things red, is never a comfortable experience in the minutes immediately after the race when the hordes of ‘tifosi’ (fans) invade the track.
“It’s much nicer in Silverstone,” Hamilton conceded once safely out of sight of the crowd.
“It’s not as special as it is in Silverstone or Monaco, but it’s one of those special grands prix as this is a very historic circuit,” he added.
“I wish we had a better reception here, but I know and I could hear the great Brit fans we had here this weekend who were standing in amongst the crowd of Italian Ferrari fans…I noticed every one of them when we did the parade lap.”
Speaking to reporters afterwards, Hamilton cut a low-key figure compared to the celebrations going on elsewhere in the paddock.
Alonso, who had started 10th and ended up stretching his overall lead from 24 to 37 points, after rivals Red Bull suffered a rare double retirement, was possibly the happiest man in the paddock.
It was a close run thing with the Mexican Sergio Perez, who finished second for Ferrari-powered Sauber, also beaming as his team passed around the Tequila in their motorhome.
Even Jenson Button, Hamilton’s team mate who retired from the race while in second place, seemed happier than Hamilton at the team group photograph with the trophies.
Maybe that was because, after finishing runner-up at Monza for the past three years, Button did not have to face what he has called a “football crowd” – although they cheered loud enough when his car rolled to a standstill by the side of the track on Sunday.
Hamilton has been in the spotlight all weekend, the subject of endless speculation about his Formula One future amid rumors he could be lured to Mercedes next season as a replacement for Michael Schumacher.
The 2008 world champion, who failed to finish in Belgium after being caught in a first corner pile-up that also ended Alonso’s race, might as well have been on a different planet according to his post race comments.
“It’s been a good weekend, just nice and calm and collected and just silent,” he said.
“It’s an incredible feeling. It’s phenomenal. You never know what’s going to happen when you come into a race weekend but I’ve been so happy that it’s just gone quite smoothly throughout,” he added.
Speaking separately to British reporters, his demeanor clouded – perhaps as much a result of the unwelcome speculation as the immediate line of questioning.
Asked about Alonso getting a bigger cheer and him being booed, he replied simply: “And?”
The podium reception, he said, had made no difference.
“Standing on any podium is great when you’re on the top. It’s quite incredible to see how many people were on the straight.
“I’ve never seen that. Even when I came second in the past I can’t remember seeing such a lot,” he added.
“Pretty much the whole straight was covered in people, incredible.”