Hamilton aims to break Ferrari hearts at Monza's 'temple of speed'
Monza (Italy) (AFP)
Lewis Hamilton will seek to break more records and a few hearts this weekend when he bids to win the Italian Grand Prix for Mercedes while Ferrari, without the 'tifosi' in attendance, hope only to avoid embarrassment at their traditional home event.
Championship leader and six-time world champion Hamilton has won five of this year's seven races and is now within two triumphs of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher's career total of 91 wins as he demolishes the German's statistical grip on Formula One's peaks.
This weekend, he will be favourite to claim his sixth victory in the old royal park, moving him one clear of the record five he now shares with Schumacher – and leaving him on 90 wins overall ahead of the Tuscany Grand Prix a week later, an event organised to celebrate Ferrari's 1,000th F1 race.
After their dismal and pointless performance at last Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix, it is a nightmare scenario.
Ferrari travelled back to Italy warning absent fans not to expect miracles.
Many believe Ferrari could be heading towards the team's worst-ever Monza performance in 70 years.
The 'scarlet scuderia' has won 19 of the 69 races to date, but will – if they repeat their Belgian showing – register a new first by failing to qualify a car in the top ten on the grid and in the race.
Monza is famous as the "temple of speed", a track where outright power and straight line speed are usually decisive.
"It is a circuit that is high power-sensitive," said Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto.
"So it may change the balance of competitiveness in qualifying and we all know how important it is to start ahead on the grid."
In the circumstances, departing four-time champion Sebastian Vettel has said it is "probably better" that there will be no fans at the behind-closed-doors event, his last race in red at Monza.
"Don't get me wrong, it will be sad not to have the fans in Monza – it is the first time," he said.
"For me, it would be so difficult to race in front of the Ferrari fans knowing it's my last time in red. So, in that regard, perhaps it is a little better this way."
Given his excellence this year, Hamilton will be expected to rule again, but he may face a serious challenge from Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, as well as a threat from Red Bull's Max Verstappen, the only other drivers to have won this season.
Bottas this week revealed that Hamilton has raised his game in qualifying this year to a level that he is struggling to match.
"Lewis has been really consistent, not making any mistakes in qualifying," said the Finn.
Hamilton has five wins from pole already in 2020 while his fastest lap last Saturday at Spa-Francorchamps prompted Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff to suggest he was "extra terrestrial".
"This year, I have had to make a couple of adjustments and with this car it seems to work quite well," said Hamilton.
"So now I am back to being able to produce qualifying laps that I was able to do before last year and on a more consistent basis."
© 2020 AFP