Eight races remain but Hamilton favoured to retain world championship
Lewis Hamilton says it is “game on” in his quest for a fourth world championship, having got his grid penalties out of the way last weekend in Belgium.
Ahead of Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix, Hamilton said his drive from last place to third in Spa-Francorchamps was the best he could have hoped for, as he prepares for a race he has won the last two years.
Nico Rosberg, his Mercedes team-mate and sole title rival, won in Spa but was able to narrow the gap to just nine points in the drivers’ standings.
Rosberg said yesterday that every grand prix is now a “cup final” for him, with eight races to try and win a first championship.
Despite having a slender lead, Hamilton remains the heavy favourite to be crowned champion at the final race in Abu Dhabi, or possibly before, heading into a series of races where he is traditionally very strong.
The three-time champion said: “Spa was about as good as damage limitation can get, I think. It was a fantastic result for me and for the team.
“Now we go to Monza - a track I know well from so many racing categories throughout my career and one it’s impossible not to love. I had a perfect weekend on track there last year. If I can repeat that it would be amazing but we’ll see how we look when we get there.
“It’s game on for me now with the penalties out of the way and fresh engines ready to use.”
Although Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will have home support from the tifosi, Mercedes are expected to again be the class of the field, allowing Rosberg and Hamilton to fight it out.
Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen of Finland steers his car during the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium,last weekend. Picture/AP.
Red Bull have also been improving but on a power-dominated circuit like Monza they are likely to struggle. Rosberg has never won in Italy and suffered an engine blowout a few laps from the end last season, effectively ruining his championship hopes.
Ahead of this weekend, Rosberg added: “I’m really enjoying the battle out there right now. We’ve got several cars in the mix now which is exciting for us and also the fans.
“For me, I’m taking every race like a cup final. It’s great to know you have the team and the car to just go out there and lay it on the line.”
Meanwhile, the long-running saga surrounding the future of the race at Monza appears to be drawing to a conclusion, with hopes that there could be an official announcement this weekend.
The circuit’s contract to host the Italian Grand Prix - which has been held there since 1950 - runs out after this season. For months Bernie Ecclestone, F1‘s chief executive, has been talking down the chances of a new deal.
But this week Ecclestone said he would be surprised if a contract was not agreed. And in a press conference at the circuit yesterday, the head of the Italian motorsport federation (ACI), Angelo Sticchi Damiani, said a provisional agreement to hold the race at Monza from 2017 to 2019 was close.