MONZA, Italy (Reuters) - Ferrari fans had mocked up a picture of Lewis Hamilton as a cry baby ahead of the Italian Grand Prix but the Mercedes driver was not the one shedding tears of frustration at Monza on Sunday.
The boos and jeers rang out as the beaming Briton bounded out onto the podium as a five times winner of Ferrari’s home race — and the mass of red-shirted ‘tifosi’ showed how much it hurt.
Hamilton had started third, behind Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel on the starting grid, and yet he beat them both to stretch his championship lead to 30 points with seven races remaining.
Monza is the one race a Ferrari driver always has to win and none has done that since 2010. The wait will now go on for another year.
“Here there was a lot of negativity, as there is when you’re against an opposing team,” Hamilton said as a throng of fans invaded the track and filled the start-finish straight with their red flags and flares.
“In future, the negativity is really a positive thing for me because I harness it and turn it from negative to positive,” added the 33-year-old, who also paid tribute to his fans for holding firm.
“I know I’ve got those individuals who are out there who travel the world to support me. I know they’re there,” he told reporters.
“I’m really really proud of them, because obviously when you’re in a big sea of red and there’s the booing and... you notice there’s one guy standing there with a flag or there’s a kid waving it and you can imagine being surrounded by that, feeling the heat on him,” he said.
Hamilton’s win equalled the number achieved by Ferrari great Michael Schumacher at Monza, a circuit where Mercedes have won for the last five years.
The Briton has many admirers in Italy too, even if Monza is more about demonstrating passion for Ferrari than the sport itself, and he refused to criticise the crowd for their response.
“It doesn’t offend me, no. There’s nothing to get offended by,” he said, even if he had never himself booed anyone or any team.
“It happens in all sports. It definitely happens in football and probably here more than I’ve noticed in others but it is the way it is,” added the Briton.
“It is very, very easy to allow it to get to you, to allow it to have an impact on your life and have you think about it, all these different things. But it is also quite easy to harness it and use it and that gave me so much motivation today.
“I welcome it. If they want to continue to do it, that just empowers me.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar