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Hamilton seeks pole record in front of Ferrari fans at Monza

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Lewis Hamilton could break Michael Schumacher’s record for pole positions in Formula One.

Championship leader Sebastian Vettel could strengthen his bid to become the first Ferrari driver to win the F1 title in a decade.

And all this while Ferrari is celebrating its 70th anniversary.

There is no lack of story lines entering this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix in Monza, where the Ferrari fans – “tifosi” – may unleash a wave of pent-up enthusiasm after years of disappointment.

That’s if things go to plan for them. It will be interesting to see how the crowd reacts if Mercedes driver Hamilton leads qualifying and breaks his tie with Schumacher to claim his 69th pole position.

Schumacher won five of his record seven drivers’ championships with Ferrari from 2000-04 and remains revered among the team’s supporters – and in F1 in general.

The current condition of the 48-year-old Schumacher’s health remains closely guarded among family and close associates.

It was while skiing with his teenage son, Mick, on a family holiday that Schumacher sustained severe head injuries in France on Dec. 29, 2013. He has been cared for at his home in Switzerland since September 2014.

Vettel leads Hamilton by seven points but could be hard-pressed to match Mercedes’ outright power on a circuit featuring long straightaways and high-speed curves.

Mercedes has won the Italian GP the last three years – Hamilton in 2014 and 2015 and the now retired Nico Rosberg in 2016.

“Monza is a circuit that has been good to us in recent years,” said Toto Wolff, Mercedes head of motorsport. “It rewards low drag and peak power, both of which are among the strengths of our package.

“But braking stability and low-speed grip are also crucial through the chicanes, and these are areas where Ferrari has held an advantage,” Wolff added. “The team that finds the best overall compromise will come out on top.”

With parts of the Monza circuit still featuring long straight sections from an old oval track, it features the fastest speeds in F1 – up to 370 kph (230 mph) on the approach to Turn 1 at the end of the start/finish straightaway.

Teams prepare low-drag configurations that are generally only seen in Italy and, with the new wider and faster cars this year, speeds could be even higher.

“It’s an incredible feeling racing down those iconic straights punctuated by the tight chicanes and big, fast corners that require a huge amount of commitment,” McLaren-Honda driver Fernando Alonso said.

On Sunday, a parade of historic cars will celebrate the anniversary of the first Ferrari-badged car in 1947.

McLaren almost back on schedule with 2018 F1 car after delay

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McLaren is almost back on schedule with its 2018 Formula 1 car development after losing two weeks due to a delay in deciding on its engine supplier, according to racing director Eric Boullier.

McLaren confirmed back in September it would be cutting ties with Honda at the end of the year after three difficult seasons, favoring a switch to Renault power units.

The decision was not taken lightly by McLaren, causing it to lose two weeks in the development of next year’s car, but Boullier confirmed in an interview with the official F1 website that the team is almost back on-track.

“Maybe we made the decision to change the engine manufacturer two weeks too late for our schedule, but these two weeks have almost been recovered,” Boullier said.

“Any big decisions are always difficult to take. The concept of McLaren winning with Honda was a dream for everybody, yes – it was a beautiful story.

“Today we have huge respect for them and we definitely don’t divorce with fights and screams and finger pointing. We are all very professional – and in the end it was a business decision, which they understand.

“There is a sadness that it didn’t work out like we wanted. McLaren-Honda in terms of brands was a good fit – in terms of results it didn’t work.

“That’s what it is in the end. Now we have to see that we get back to competitiveness – back to the top!”