Monza - Lewis Hamilton will aim to establish a new outright
record for career pole positions and leapfrog Sebastian Vettel to take the lead
in this year's world championship at the Italian Grand Prix.
As four-time champion Vettel goes in search of his first win
on Ferrari's home track in Sunday's classic high-speed charge, his nearest
rival will be hunting a third victory in four years at the Autodromo Nazionale.
Hamilton has won the Italian race three times overall and
secured pole each of the last three years, a record that has encouraged him to
believe he can secure another vital victory.
He will attempt to extend that to four and, after equalling
Michael Schumacher's all-time record of 68 in Belgium, deliver his 69th pole.
If he succeeds, and wins, the Briton will close the
seven-point gap between him and the German and lead the title race for the
first time this year.
He currently has five wins to Vettel's four, but knows,
after last weekend's hard-fought victory, that nothing can be taken for
"Ferrari have the better car and we have to do all we
can to stay in front this time," said Hamilton.
Following Vettel's decision to sign a new three-deal with
Ferrari, Hamilton appears poised to remain with Mercedes, but the team have
made clear ahead of Monza that they intend to delay contract talks until this
year's championship is decided.
Hamilton is committed to Mercedes until the end of next year,
but has suggested he is ready to make a long-term commitment to the team.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has said he wants to retain
Hamilton, but will wait until the championship is settled before any talks
"Our relationship is very good and I think each of us
appreciates what he has in the other one," said Wolff.
"But this is not a topic we want to tackle now over the
last remaining races of the season. It's an intense last third of the year and
we'll get that over the line and then we'll pick up a discussion."
The team is also expected to retain Valtteri Bottas who will
have a major part to play in this weekend's contest as he seeks to secure
another podium finish.
For Vettel, however, it is a key opportunity to retain the
momentum in front of the tifosi on a weekend when Ferrari will celebrate the
team's 70th anniversary.
"Monza is never a critical race for us," said
Vettel. "But I think it is the nicest race - we have a lot of support and
the atmosphere is special. I am looking forward to it."
Vettel claimed his maiden F1 win for Toro Rosso at Monza in
tempestuous rain in 2008 and won again with Red Bull in 2011 and 2013. Since
moving to Ferrari, he has had two podium finishes, but no win.
Red Bull's current drivers Daniel Ricciardo, fresh from his
podium in Belgium, and Max Verstappen, facing penalties following his early
retirement due to an engine failure, should also be strong contenders.
So, too, should be the two Force India drivers Sergio Perez
and Esteban Ocon despite their collisions and post-race row last weekend when
the latter accused his team-mate of risking their lives.
World championship standings ahead of the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday:
1. Sebastian Vettel (GER) 220 pts, 2. Lewis Hamilton (GBR) 213, 3. Valtteri Bottas (FIN) 179, 4. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) 132, 5. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) 128, 6. Max Verstappen (NED) 67, 7. Sergio Perez (MEX) 56, 8. Esteban Ocon (FRA) 47, 9. Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) 36, 10. Nico Hulkenberg (GER) 34, 11. Felipe Massa (BRA) 27, 12. Romain Grosjean (FRA) 24, 13. Lance Stroll (CAN) 18, 14. Kevin Magnussen (DEN) 11, 15. Fernando Alonso (ESP) 10, 16. Pascal Wehrlein (GER) 5, 17. Daniil Kvyat (RUS) 4, 18. Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL) 1
1. Mercedes 392 pts, 2. Ferrari 348, 3. Red Bull 199, 4. Force India 103, 5. Williams 45, 6. Toro Rosso 40, 7. Haas 35, 8. Renault 34, 9. McLaren-Honda 11, 10. Sauber 5