Lewis Hamilton ready for tight scrap in Italian GP qualifying

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Lewis Hamilton forecast a tight battle in qualifying after finishing third fastest for Mercedes behind the Ferraris in Friday’s second practice for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.

The defending world champion, who leads Friday’s fastest man, Sebastian Vettel, by 17 points in the title race, said his team had much work to do in just a few areas.

“We woke up to torrential rain this morning, which meant it was a less busy first session than normal,” he said.

“We did a few laps, but after that it was like having a day in the office when you don’t have too much work to do – I was even snoozing in the car at one point!

“But we did plenty of laps this afternoon in the dry and we could see that, like in Spa, we had a small gap to Ferrari on both the short and the long runs.

“My laps felt pretty good, but Ferrari were a little bit quicker today. We’re all working flat out right now in every part of the team, and we have work to do tonight as well.

“But there are some areas where we can see deficits, so I hope we can make a little step for qualifying.

“It has been a big battle for a number of races now, and they have had a small advantage since the middle of the summer, but we are pushing as hard as we can to overcome that.

“Although we are on Ferrari’s home turf, we have some great support out there and it’s always a boost to see that in the grandstands.

“It will be a very close fight tomorrow and, like every race weekend, we will be giving it everything we’ve got.”

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Sebastian Vettel fastest in Italian Grand Prix practice ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen

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Sebastian Vettel led a Ferrari one-two in a second practice session for the Italian Grand Prix.

The German clocked a best lap of one minute and 21.105 seconds to outstrip the Finn by two-tenths of a second at the high-speed Autodromo Nazionale.

Lewis Hamilton, who holds a 17-point championship lead over Vettel, finished third, 0.287 seconds slower than his title rival.

The British driver won from pole position last season, and has qualified first at Monza for the past four years, but, just as in Belgium last weekend, Mercedes are on the back foot.

Ferrari may have not celebrated a win on home turf since Fernando Alonso took the chequered flag in 2010. But Vettel, who escaped without damage following a spin into the gravel at the Parabolica, insisted he does not feel any extra pressure to deliver in front of the expectant tifosi.

“We are in Italy, in the home country of Ferrari, and everybody, not only the Ferrari drivers, can feel and sense that there is something special going on,” he said.
“Myself and Kimi have the two most special seats this weekend, and I am looking forward to it.

“People forget that for the last five years, Mercedes have been absolutely dominant, so it is good to be up with them, and a match, but we cannot take anything for granted.”

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German GP on 2019 F1 calendar as 21-race season ends in December

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The 2019 Formula One season will run into December for the first time in more than half-a-century.

A provisional 21-race calendar for next year, which includes the previously under-threat German Grand Prix, was released by F1 on Friday.

Melbourne’s Albert Park will play host to the season-opening round on March 17, with the final race to be staged at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi on December 1.

The 1963 South African Grand Prix was the last F1 race to take place in December, although that year’s 10-round calendar kicked off in May.

There will be no triple-header next season with the British Grand Prix – as it stands, the last to be staged at Silverstone – moved back by one week. The race will clash with the men’s Wimbledon final on July 14.

F1 also announced a renewal of the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka until 2021, while the sport’s 1,000th race will be held in China on April 14.

F1’s American owners Liberty Media had already announced that plans for a race in Miami, first pencilled in for 2019, have been put on hold for at least another 12 months.

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