By Alan Baldwin
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 ‘tifosi’, 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-time 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 One 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.”