Who can catch Hamilton at the Temple of Speed?
New father Nico Rosberg has plenty to be happy about right now but Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton intends to be smiling just as much after this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.
Sunday’s race, at a super-fast track that faces an uncertain future despite its historic status as a temple to Ferrari, could see Hamilton accelerate ever closer to his third Formula One world championship.
“At the moment it doesn’t look like it is possible to beat Hamilton,” said retired triple champion Niki Lauda after the Briton won last month’s Belgian Grand Prix to go 28 points clear of Rosberg with eight races remaining.
“If Lewis does not make a mistake in the next couple of races, it will be hard for Nico,” said the Mercedes team’s non-executive chairman.
A dramatic, high-speed blowout in practice at Spa, coupled with a similar one on race day for Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, did little for Rosberg’s peace of mind ahead of the birth of his daughter last Sunday.
Any sleepless nights since then will have been more to do with his home life, however, with Pirelli’s post-Belgium enquiry expected to exonerate their tyres from any structural failure.
Safety will still be a prime concern at the fastest track on the calendar, with the paddock community mourning the death in America last week of British IndyCar driver and former F1 racer Justin Wilson.
Vettel, furious after his scare at Spa, will be setting his sights on coming back with a different kind of bang in his first race at Monza in Ferrari’s red overalls.
A victory in front of the passionate home fans, at the circuit where he took his first F1 victory with Toro Rosso in 2008, would make Vettel the first since Stirling Moss in the 1950s to win the Italian Grand Prix with three different teams.
The four times champion cannot be ruled out, with Ferrari likely to be Mercedes’ closest rivals given that Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat are expected to take engine penalties, but Hamilton remains the clear favourite.
Last year he won from pole position and set the fastest lap at Monza before going on to win six of the last seven races and take his second title.
This time, he arrives on the back of 10 poles in 11 races and six wins to Rosberg’s three.
If he wins at Monza on Sunday for the third time in his career, Hamilton will become the first driver to take successive Italian Grand Prix victories since his compatriot Damon Hill with Williams in 1994.
Monza’s own future will also be in the spotlight, with the circuit still to agree a new contract after 2016 and more talks with commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone sure to take place over the weekend.
For Hamilton, as much as any Formula 1 fan, a calendar without Monza would be unthinkable.
“It’s an awesome track — so fast and with some of the most passionate fans you’ll see anywhere in the world,” said the Mercedes driver. “Racing in Italy brings back a lot of good memories for me and I’d love to add to those this weekend.”
Italian Grand Prix Facts & Stats
- Lap distance: 5.793km. Total distance: 306.72km (53 laps)
- Race lap record: Rubens Barrichello (Brazil) Ferrari, one minute 21.046 seconds (2004)
- 2014 pole: Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes 1:24.109
- 2014 winner: Hamilton
- Start time: 1200 GMT (1400 local)
- Tyres: Medium (white), Soft (yellow)
- Mercedes have had seven one-two finishes this season and won nine of 11 races. Double world champion Hamilton has won six.
- Four-times champion Sebastian Vettel has 41 career wins, Hamilton is on 39 and Fernando Alonso 32. Kimi Raikkonen has won 20 races, Jenson Button 15 and Rosberg 11.
- Ferrari have won 223 races, McLaren 182, Williams 114 and Red Bull 50. Mercedes have won 38.
- McLaren have not won for 49 races, a run that dates back to Brazil 2012 and is the team’s worst since they went 53 races without a win between the 1977 Japanese Grand Prix and 1981 British GP.
- Mercedes have been on pole for the last 22 races. The record for successive poles is 24 (Williams 1992-93).
- Hamilton has been on pole in 10 of 11 races this season, including the last six in a row, and has already clinched the 2015 pole trophy. The Briton has 48 career poles, Rosberg 16.
- Hamilton can also take his 19th successive front row start and move closer to the record of 24 set by his great boyhood hero Ayrton Senna.
- Rosberg took 11 poles last year, when Mercedes and Williams were the only teams to start on pole. The last non-Mercedes pole was Austria, 2014.
- Ferrari’s last pole was in Germany with Alonso in 2012.
- Nine drivers from five teams have appeared on the podium this season — Hamilton, Rosberg (Mercedes), Vettel, Raikkonen (Ferrari), Valtteri Bottas, Felipe Massa (Williams), Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) and Romain Grosjean (Lotus).
- Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel have shared the podium in six races.
- Hamilton has 80 career podiums, the same as Senna.
- Hamilton leads Rosberg by 28 points.
- Vettel’s tyre failure in Belgium ended a run of 21 successive races in the points. The record of 27 is held by Ferrari team mate Raikkonen.
- The winner at Monza has ended the season as champion in three of the last four years (Hamilton being the exception in 2012) but only five of the last 15.
- Vettel can become only the second driver, and first since Britain’s Stirling Moss in the 1950s, to win at Monza with three different teams. He has done so previously with Toro Rosso (2008) and Red Bull (2011 and 2013).
- The last driver to win at Monza two years in a row was Hamilton’s compatriot Damon Hill in 1993-94.
- The Italian and British Grands Prix are the only ones to have featured every year since the championship started in 1950.
- The Italian race has always been staged at Monza, with one exception – at Imola in 1980.
- Monza is the quickest track on the calendar and holds the record for Formula One’s fastest lap, an average of 262.242 kph set by Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya before qualifying in 2004.
- The race has been won from pole position eight times in the last 10 years.
- Michael Schumacher won a record five times at Monza, all with Ferrari — who have 18 wins at the track, more than any other team.
- Ferrari marked their 900th Grand Prix at Spa, while Vettel made his 150th start.