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

Italian Grand Prix track graphic. Number of laps: 53 - Circuit length: 5.793km

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.

Michael Schumacher wins at Monza in 1996
Michael Schumacher took victory in a Ferrari at the 1996 Italian Grand Prix from third on the grid

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.

What's the Monza form guide?

The tifosi will be praying that Hamilton does not make himself at home once again at the cathedral of speed.

Hamilton has won five times at Monza - level at the top of the list with Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world champion and Ferrari great.

Take another on Sunday, and the Briton will not only leapfrog Schumacher at the top of the Monza winning stats, he will also become the first driver since Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio to secure three consecutive race victories at the iconic circuit.

The form guide tells us Hamilton is perfectly placed to make history, as the 34-year-old has broken a Schumacher-held accolade at the 'magic track' before.

Lewis Hamilton celebrates winning the Italian Grand Prix
"You knocked that out of the park today." Hamilton's Mercedes engineer Peter Bonnington was a fan of his 2018 victory

In 2017 during a two-hour, rain-lashed qualifying session, Hamilton broke the all-time record for pole positions by taking the 69th of his career, eclipsing the record previously held by the 'rain master'.

"It is an awesome way to pay homage and respect to him as a great, and kind of picking up the baton from him," Hamilton said.

If he takes the front row spot on Saturday, he will move two clear of multiple world champions Fangio and Brazilian Ayrton Senna on seven Italian Grand Prix poles.

Qualifying will be an area in which Ferrari can feel quietly confident after securing a front row lock-out in Belgium, their first since the Bahrain Grand Prix in March.

Leclerc put in a scintillating lap at Spa to bank his third career pole and was a massive 0.748 seconds clear of team-mate Vettel.

The German sat alongside former team-mate and pole sitter Kimi Raikkonen on the starting grid last year, and although he has been on pole position three times in Italy, none have been for the Scuderia.

Monza offers a quick turnaround for any driver who did not get the rub of the green in Belgium.

Verstappen's retirement following a opening-lap bump with Raikkonen at Spa meant the orange army did not get to celebrate another Dutch victory.

Red Bull are without an Italian podium appearance since Vettel's victory from pole position in 2013, but are expecting a new Honda engine upgrade in time for Monza.

Then there's Lando Norris. The McLaren driver, 19, suffered disappointment last Sunday as a suspected engine failure on the final lap dropped him out of the points.

The young Briton did, however, pick up F1's official driver of the day award as a nod from the fans to the fifth place he could have taken.

Decisions, decisions

Red Bull's Verstappen, along with the two Racing Points of Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez, head to Italy with a bag full of the soft tyre compound.

Vettel's Ferrari and Bottas' Mercedes will each have four sets of the medium tyre.

Most teams, meanwhile, have chosen to travel with two sets of the hard compound.

Monza tyre choices

How to follow on the BBC

BBC Sport has live coverage of practice, qualifying and the race, across the website and BBC Radio 5 Live. There will be live digital coverage on the BBC Sport website and app - including audience interaction, expert analysis, debate, features, interviews and audio content.

You can follow all the action and the latest news on the BBC Sport F1 page and via the BBC Sport app, and catch up with analysis and interviews with the BBC Radio 5 Live Chequered Flag podcast.

Italian Grand Prix coverage details (all times BST)
DateSessionTimeRadio coverageOnline text commentary
Chequered Flag podcast: Italian Grand Prix review - download here once the race has finished
Friday, 6 SeptemberFirst practice10:00-11:30BBC Sport website From 09:30
Second practice14:00-15:30BBC Sport website From 13:30
Saturday, 7 September Final practice11:00-12:00BBC Sport website From 10:30
Qualifying13:00-15:00BBC Sport website From 13:00
Sunday, 8 September Race14:00-16:00BBC Radio 5 Live From 12:30

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