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Italian GP preview: Lewis Hamilton aims to be the new king of Monza

From one iconic circuit to another in the blink of an eye.

The summer break is a distant memory as a packed schedule demands the Italian Grand Prix at Monza comes just one week after an emotional race in Belgium.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took his maiden Formula 1 victory from pole position at Spa, a day after his friend Anthoine Hubert, the Formula 2 driver, was killed in a collision at the circuit.

“This one is for Anthoine,” Leclerc said over team radio after crossing the line. “Feels good, but difficult to enjoy on a weekend like this.”

It was a bittersweet moment for the 21-year-old Monegasque, who held off the chasing Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton in a nail-biting finish, with less than a second between them.

The Belgian Grand Prix also foreshadowed a possible shift in the hierarchy at Ferrari as for the first time this season, Sebastian Vettel was ordered to hand back the lead to team-mate Leclerc.

In finishing second, Hamilton extended his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship to 65 points, with team-mate Valtteri Bottas his closest rival.

As F1 heads to Monza, will Ferrari’s superior straight-line speed on their home track bring them back-to-back victories for the first time since Australia and Bahrain in 2018?

Or will Hamilton do what he does best in Italy…. keep the Italian national anthem “Il Canto degli Italiani” off the podium’s public address speakers?

‘La Pista Magica’

Located to the north east of Italy’s fashion capital Milan, Autodromo Nazionale Monza was constructed in just 110 days in 1922 and has been an F1 fixture since 1950.

This weekend, the Italian Grand Prix is run as part of the F1 calendar for the 70th time – with only the 1980 race held away from Monza as it was refurbished.

That run looks set to continue; reports suggest the Automobile Club of Italy has agreed in principle with the circuit a new deal to run to 2024.

It seems unthinkable that Monza’s place in F1 was ever in doubt: It is one of the sport’s most well-known venues, with a mix of bank configuration and road course layout, famous corners like Curva Grande, Lesmo and Parabolica, plus speeds so quick drivers spend 75% of the lap on full throttle.

Expect a change of colour in the stands. Max Verstappen’s fans turned the grandstands orange in Austria and Belgium. But in Italy, it is all about the red, black and yellow of the tifosi – Ferrari’s loyal support.

“The fans are nuts,” Daniel Ricciardo once noted. “Typical Italians. Very passionate.”

Hamilton took a thrilling and controversial victory in the Italian Grand Prix in 2018 following a first-lap tussle with Vettel.

The Mercedes driver fought a cat-and-mouse battle with Vettel’s then team-mate Kimi Raikkonen throughout the race and eventually passed him around the outside of the first corner with nine laps to go.

Victory that day for Hamilton was the first of a four-race winning streak on the way to a fifth world title.