Lewis Hamilton hunting records and title lead at Italian Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton will aim to establish a new outright record for career pole positions and leapfrog Sebastian Vettel to take the lead in this year’s world championship at the Italian Grand Prix.

As four-time champion Vettel goes in search of his first win on Ferrari’s home track in Sunday’s classic high-speed charge, his nearest rival will be hunting a third victory in four years at the Autodromo Nazionale.

Hamilton has won the Italian race three times overall and secured pole each of the last three years, a record that has encouraged him to believe he can secure another vital victory.

He will attempt to extend that to four and, after equalling Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 68 in Belgium, deliver his 69th pole.

If he succeeds, and wins, the Briton will close the seven-point gap between him and the German and lead the title race for the first time this year.

He currently has five wins to Vettel’s four, but knows, after last weekend’s hard-fought victory, that nothing can be taken for granted.

“Ferrari have the better car and we have to do all we can to stay in front this time,” said Hamilton.

Following Vettel’s decision to sign a new three-deal with Ferrari, Hamilton appears poised to remain with Mercedes, but the team have made clear ahead of Monza that they intend to delay contract talks until this year’s championship is decided.

Hamilton is committed to Mercedes until the end of next year, but has suggested he is ready to make a long-term commitment to the team.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has said he wants to retain Hamilton, but will wait until the championship is settled before any talks resume.

“Our relationship is very good and I think each of us appreciates what he has in the other one,” said Wolff.

“But this is not a topic we want to tackle now over the last remaining races of the season. It’s an intense last third of the year and we’ll get that over the line and then we’ll pick up a discussion.”

The team is also expected to retain Valtteri Bottas who will have a major part to play in this weekend’s contest as he seeks to secure another podium finish.

For Vettel, however, it is a key opportunity to retain the momentum in front of the tifosi on a weekend when Ferrari will celebrate the team’s 70th anniversary.

“Monza is never a critical race for us,” said Vettel. “But I think it is the nicest race – we have a lot of support and the atmosphere is special. I am looking forward to it.”

Vettel claimed his maiden F1 win for Toro Rosso at Monza in tempestuous rain in 2008 and won again with Red Bull in 2011 and 2013. Since moving to Ferrari, he has had two podium finishes, but no win.

Red Bull’s current drivers Daniel Ricciardo, fresh from his podium in Belgium, and Max Verstappen, facing penalties following his early retirement due to an engine failure, should also be strong contenders.

So, too, should be the two Force India drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon despite their collisions and post-race row last weekend when the latter accused his team-mate of risking their lives.

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Hamilton is still up against it and four other things we learned from Belgian GP

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Lewis Hamilton halved Sebastian Vettel’s lead at the summit of the Formula One championship with victory in Belgium.

Hamilton will now head to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday just seven points behind his title rival.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at the main talking points from yesterday’s race.

Hamilton’s still up against it

To all intents and purposes, Lewis Hamilton enjoyed a stellar weekend.

Twenty-four hours after matching Michael Schumacher’s pole position record, Hamilton, contesting his 200th grand prix, led virtually every lap to secure his fifth win of the season and reduce Vettel’s title lead.

Yet, the Spa-Francorchamps course was supposed to be one which suited Mercedes, and while Hamilton won, he will no doubt be alarmed as to how hard-fought his victory actually was.

Vettel did not give Hamilton a moment’s respite, and at a track where Mercedes were expected to dominate, the intensity of the battle, will be of cause for concern.

Indeed Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas finished only fifth, and was off the pace for much of the weekend.

Hamilton’s display here was faultless, but whether that sort of form will be enough to stop Vettel and his impressive Ferrari team from winning the championship, remains to be seen.

Perez and Ocon feel the Force

Sergio Perez’s relationship with Esteban Ocon appears beyond repair after they collided twice in Belgium.

Ocon called Perez an “idiot” over the radio, then accused his team-mate of trying to kill him during his post-race media commitments, before reiterating his stance on Twitter.

“We were having a good race until Perez tried to kill me two times,” the 20-year-old Frenchman wrote.

Mexican Perez, seven years Ocon’s senior, then gave his version of events. “I am very disappointed to see his comments that l wanted to kill him,” Perez said.

“I am not that type of guy. I just want to tell the truth and move on.”

That might however, be easier said than done.

Renault apologise to Max

Four-time champion and Renault chief Alain Prost personally apologised to Max Verstappen after the Dutchman’s failure to finish in Spa.

Verstappen, running in fifth, came to a stuttering halt on the Kemmel Straight after his Red Bull-Renault engine expired. It marked his sixth DNF of a season which has become increasingly frustrating for the teenager.

The Spa-Francorchamps circuit last week played host to record-breaking crowds, due in part to the large army of Dutch supporters who travelled across the border to cheer on Verstappen.

“I am extremely disappointed, not just because of my retirement but for the fans also,” Verstappen said.

“They pay a lot of money to come and watch the race. I then retire after only eight laps so it must be frustrating for them.”

To make matters worse, Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo claimed the final spot on the podium.

Luckless Palmer calls for Alonso penalty

Jolyon Palmer remains without a point this year after another frustrating weekend.

The 26-year-old Englishman appeared on course to out-qualify his Renault team-mate Nico Hulkenberg for the first time this term, only for a gearbox failure to thwart his progress.

Palmer was forced to start a lowly 14th, with Hulkenberg seventh on the grid.

He then failed to make his way through traffic before losing further ground after an altercation with Fernando Alonso.

“Alonso forced me off the track,” Palmer said.

“I don’t know if he will get a penalty, but he cost me two places.”

Palmer finished 13th, while Hulkenberg crossed the line in sixth. A case of what might have been for the Brit.

Schumacher Jnr rolls back the years

Mick Schumacher, the 18-year-old son of seven-time world champion Michael, wowed the crowds with a demonstration of his father’s title-winning Benetton.

Mick, who contests the European Formula Three series, completed one lap prior to Sunday’s race in the car which his father won his maiden championship in 1994.

The demo marked the 25th anniversary of Schumacher’s first of a record 91 career wins.

The 48-year-old has not been seen in public since he suffered brain injuries during a skiing accident in 2013.

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Vettel finished second at Belgian Grand Prix but questions linger for Ferrari

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Formula 1 might have packed up for a month for its half-term break but what, if anything, has changed on the grid’s return?

The Belgian Grand Prix weekend threw up the fifth Lewis Hamilton-Sebastian Vettel one-two of the season, and in one sense that didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know before the mid-season holiday.

The short of it is that the season will continue to be a pulsating head-to-head between Hamilton and Vettel right, it would seem, to the final race of 2017.

Just seven points now separate them, Hamilton’s win to Vettel’s second cutting the German’s advantage to a tantalisingly slim margin.

But as bizarre as it might sound, if anything Ferrari might actually come away from Spa this weekend as the happier of the two teams despite not actually taking the chequered flag out front.

Due to the nuances of the Ferraris and Mercedes, certain circuits suit their cars more than others. Spa is very much a Mercedes track and the expectation was that this was very much suit the German manufacturer much akin to the high-speed, sweeping corners of Silverstone.

But unlike the British Grand Prix, Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were not able to stamp down their authority as quite they might have anticipated.

Sure, Hamilton got away with the victory but the Mercedes hierarchy were left scratching their heads a little bit in the post-race debrief.

Team boss Toto Wolff said of the small margin of victory: “We were surprised. They’ve done a good job in bringing an upgrade package.”

So how has this been achieved and Ferrari been able to cut the deficit at a race in which they would have expected to have more of a time gap come the race end?

Among the upgrades in Belgium are a new front suspension featuring a third damper, which the team tested out at the post-Hungary test.

What that has done is give them lower drag on the long, fast straights but something that has been achieved without losing their advantage in other areas on the race track. That quest has also been aided by a new front wing and endplate.

So what do those innovations mean for the rest of the championship? Is it now a case of advantage FerrarI?

No one quite knows, not even the title protagonists themselves, and it will probably become none the clearer at Monza, the next race on the calendar.

The big question mark that looms is over the subsequent race next month in Singapore, a habitual bête noire for Mercedes.

The reality is that Mercedes are all too aware that their cars tend not to work so well at the low-speed, high downforce circuits.

And in Belgium, Wolff intimated that this issue in which the team struggles to get its tyres working quickly enough will indeed be a problem. So in short, Ferrari have caught up at their weak tracks while there’s a big query as to whether Mercedes has done so.

It is there under the night lights of the street circuit that the manner in which the title will be won might be swayed one way or the other.

Mercedes do not have any major upgrades looming, Wolff putting it thus, “that the team will continue to bring new bits to the car”.

And the rest of the season is a developmental one as well as a racing one.

There was no shortage of bravado from the title rivals in the immediate aftermath. “Close,” was Vettel’s succinct take while Hamilton brushed it aside by suggesting he had lifted off.

The battle lines between them are drawn, likewise between Ferrari and Mercedes. Who has the advantage currently is not abundantly clear but Ferrari look the happier heading for home.

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