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Hamilton expects Monza fight with Ferrari to be as close as Spa

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Lewis Hamilton is braced for another close battle with Formula 1 title rival Sebastian Vettel in this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix after Mercedes and Ferrari were evenly-matched through Friday’s second practice at Monza.

Hamilton was tipped as the favorite for both last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix and the upcoming race at Monza given the high-speed layouts and the strengths of the Mercedes W08 car.

However, Vettel was able to push Hamilton all the way at Spa, remaining within two seconds for much of the race, and ran both Mercedes driver close again in FP2 at Monza on Friday, finishing just one-tenth of a second off the pace.

Hamilton topped FP1 before trailing Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in second practice, and while he remains wary of the threat posed by Ferrari, he was content with his performance.

“It’s been a good day, a clean day. We got the running done, we got through our program with no problems,” Hamilton said.

“The car seems nicely balanced here. We just have some work to do to eke out a little bit more performance.

“It looks quite close between us and the Ferraris, so I anticipate it’s going to be similar to the last race in that sense.”

After a rough weekend in Belgium that ended with a run to P5 in the race, Bottas was more upbeat following his charge to P1 in second practice at Monza.

“I think it was a good day – at least I have a better feeling than I had after the Friday in Spa, everything started on the right foot,” Bottas said.

“Initially in FP1 we went slightly in the wrong direction with the setup, but we managed to change it around for FP2 and the car felt a lot better.

“Overall, it was a positive day, the car is looking strong, but obviously it’s the next two days that count.”

Dakar Rally video highlights from the concluding Stage 14

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EDITOR’S NOTE: NBCSN will air additional Dakar Rally highlights on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. ET and Monday at 7 p.m. ET.

The 40th Dakar Rally is now history.

Nearly 550 competitors began the early 5,600-mile long race 15 days ago and concluded Saturday.

As we’ve done throughout the Rally, here are some key video highlights from NBCSN’s coverage of the Rally: