Lewis Hamilton was a relieved man at the end of the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday after he fought his way up into the points and did enough to hang onto the lead in the battle for the 2008 drivers' crown.

Hamilton started the race at Monza firmly on the back-foot in his McLaren-Mercedes MP4-23 after a nightmare qualifying session left him down in 15th place on the grid.

Initially it looked like he would be in for a tough afternoon, but after the first 10 or so laps, he began to fly, passing the likes of Kimi Raikkonen, Nick Heidfeld, Timo Glock and Fernando Alonso as he hauled himself back into contention.

When he came in for his one and only planned stop on lap 27, the Englishman was well-placed to challenge for the win, but as track conditions continued to dry out and no more rain was forthcoming he had to make a second stop to switch from Bridgestone's extreme-wet to wet-weather tyres.

That dropped him back and while he was unable to finish ahead of his arch championship rival Felipe Massa, with the Brazilian just one spot in front in sixth, Lewis remains top in the drivers' standings, 78 points versus 77, with just four races to go.

"I felt I drove a really good race and was moving through the field very quickly when the circuit was at its wettest," Lewis reflected. "If it had kept on raining, I feel pretty confident I probably could have even won from 15th grid position.

"But, as the circuit dried out, my tyres overcooked and I had to defend my position from Mark Webber. Still, today was all about damage control: I came away with some points and kept my lead in the world drivers' championship."

McLaren team principal Ron Dennis and Mercedes boss Norbert Haug meanwhile both agreed that Hamilton could probably have finished a lot higher up had the predicted rain returned.

"Lewis made excellent progress in the wet conditions early on, moving swiftly from 15th on the grid to a potential points-scoring position, and he could well have been able to record a podium finish had the rain persisted and had he therefore been able to maintain his one-stop strategy," Dennis added.

"As it was, he was forced to make an unscheduled stop in order to exchange his extreme-wet tyres for wet-weather tyres, which dropped him back down the field. At first his wet-weather tyres performed well, and he began to catch up impressively; but then, along with various other drivers, his performance deteriorated as his wet-weather tyres began to overheat and lose grip on the drying track."

"At various stages of the race it looked great for Lewis, who drove a first-class race. Unfortunately, the rain we had expected for his one-stop strategy did not persist. However, after yesterday's grid position it's okay to score points," Haug chipped-in.


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