Lewis Hamilton holds a 65-point lead over Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in his pursuit of a sixth world championship (Italics)
Olawale Agbede – Chief Sports Writer
The Italian Grand Prix this weekend plays host to the 14th round of the Formula One campaign. Lewis Hamilton holds a 65-point lead over Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in his pursuit of a sixth world championship.
Here, we look at five talking points ahead of Sunday’s race at Monza.
Safety in the spotlight after Hubert tragedy
Formula One mourned its first driver tragedy at a grand prix weekend following Anthoine Hubert’s tragic death at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend. The incident will put the sport’s safety record back in the spotlight at Monza, the fastest track on the Formula One calendar which is also known as the Cathedral of Speed. An FIA investigation, led by Australian race director Michael Masi, is being conducted, Belgian police are also carrying out their own inquiry into last Saturday’s accident and Giuliano Alesi’s car has been impounded by the authorities. The Frenchman lost control of his machine, appearing to cause Hubert to take evasive action. Meanwhile, Juan-Manuel Correa, the American driver who tore through Hubert’s car, has been transferred to a London hospital. Correa broke both his legs and suffered spinal cord damage in the 160mph crash.
Leclerc leading Ferrari’s charge
Under the cloud of his friend Hubert’s death, Charles Leclerc registered his maiden Formula One victory. The young Monegasque impressed all weekend in Spa, and will start this weekend as the favourite to triumph in front of the Tifoisi. Just as with Spa, the high-speed Monza layout is likely to suit Leclerc’s Ferrari machinery. Sebastian Vettel will be desperate to strike back following his rather drab fourth place. Vettel’s race in Belgium was hindered by a two-stop strategy, but he was comfortably slower than Leclerc, leading Nico Rosberg to say he looked like Rubens Barrichello, the Brazilian who played second fiddle to Michael Schumacher at Ferrari. “Just waving past your team-mate, and helping him out,” said Rosberg. “Amazing for a four-time world champion. He won’t be happy with that.”
Hamilton set to wrap up title number six
Lewis Hamilton warned before the last race that the title wasn’t over. Yet, despite a rather tricky weekend – Hamilton suffered a mechanical failure on Friday before crashing out of final practice – the Mercedes star still managed to extend his title lead. The 34-year-old delivered an impressive race performance to hustle Leclerc to the flag, finishing second and increasing his lead over Valtteri Bottas to 65 points. There are just 200 points left to play for. A matter of when, not if, for the five-time world champion…
Grid penalty scuppers Verstappen’s chances
Max Verstappen had been billed as the man who may thwart Hamilton’s charge to the championship following a strong end to the opening half of the season. But the Dutchman crashed out on the first lap of the Belgian Grand Prix, following a collision with Kimi Raikkonen. He will also start Sunday’s race from the back of the pack, penalised for taking on an upgraded Honda engine for the final round of the European campaign. Verstappen is 87 points behind Hamilton and could trail him by more than a ton once the weekend is out.
Five more years
The Italian Grand Prix will remain at Monza until at least the end of 2024. The track, which has hosted more races (68) than any other, announced a new deal with F1’s owners’ Liberty Media on the eve of the 90th Italian GP. Only Italy and Britain have staged a race every year since the sport’s inception in 1950. Next year’s calendar will feature a record 22 races with the return of a round in Holland and the addition of the Vietnam Grand Prix. The race in Germany has been dropped due to financial difficulties.