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Hamilton dominates Italian GP for fourth Monza win, leading Mercedes 1-2

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Lewis Hamilton moved into the lead of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship for the first time this season on Sunday by claiming his fourth Italian Grand Prix victory, heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes at Monza.

On Ferrari home soil, Mercedes delivered its most dominant performance of the season to date as Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas ran P1 and P2 for all but three of the 53 laps, finishing over 30 seconds clear of Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel was left to settle for P3, fending off a charging Daniel Ricciardo in the closing stages to ensure Hamilton’s lead only stands at three points heading into the flyaway races.

A slick getaway from Hamilton allowed him to retain his lead off the line as Esteban Ocon jumped ahead of Lance Stroll, while Kimi Raikkonen managed to get the jump on Bottas in the second Mercedes for fourth place.

Bottas refused to back down, quickly putting the superior straight-line speed of his Mercedes to re-pass Raikkonen, before easily disposing of Stroll and Ocon on consecutive laps to put the German marque one-two early on at Monza.

With his championship lead looking precarious, Vettel struggled to make up ground in the opening laps, eventually slipping ahead of Raikkonen before also jumping Stroll. Ocon put up more of a fight, but was powerless to keep the faster Ferrari back, with Vettel completing the move on Lap 8.

Further back, Max Verstappen’s rollercoaster season took another twist when he suffered damage following a clash with Felipe Massa at Turn 1, having made up five places on the first lap to run inside the points. The Red Bull driver was forced to pit for repairs, causing him to drop to the very back of the field, almost going a lap down.

Ocon and Stroll may have been unable to hold the leading trio back, but they were able to keep Raikkonen in the second Ferrari at bay, the Finn struggling to get close enough to pass. Ferrari opted to try and get the undercut by bringing Raikkonen in on Lap 16, also acting to give the team some information on his tires that may help Vettel.

Ocon responded one lap later, retaining his advantage thanks to a slick stop from Force India, but Stroll was less fortunate, dropping behind Raikkonen following a slow turnaround by the usually-sharp Williams team.

The fight between F1’s oldest driver and two of its youngest resumed not long after the stops, with Raikkonen eventually getting a tow and using DRS down the main straight to slip past Ocon for P6 on Lap 26, with the leading five drivers still yet to pit.

Vettel was the first of the front-runners to blink, coming in for a fresh set of soft Pirellis at the end of Lap 31. However, the gap to Hamilton in the lead had swelled to over 20 seconds by the time he had come in, giving him no advantage for the undercut.

Mercedes reacted all the same, bringing Hamilton and Bottas in on the following two laps. Swift work from the Silver Arrows’ pit crew ensured the cars remained P1 and P2, with the gap to Vettel only growing.

Ferrari’s concern soon became the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo, who from P16 on the grid had perfected a reverse strategy to run into the top five on fresh super-soft tires after a long first stint.

Ricciardo quickly caught Raikkonen before pulling off a stunning divebomb move at Turn 1 on the Ferrari driver, boldly taking fourth away before getting his head down and setting off in pursuit of Vettel, gaining at a rate of one second per lap, setting up a tight finish.

With 53 laps in the book, Hamilton crossed the line 4.4 seconds clear of Bottas to become the first back-to-back winner in F1 this year, seizing the lead of the drivers’ championship in the process.

Vettel gave Ferrari something to cheer for at its home race by taking third place, seeing off Ricciardo’s late charge. Fourth place for the Red Bull racer nevertheless marked a stunning turnaround for the Australian, continuing his excellent form this season.

Kimi Raikkonen wound up a lonely fifth for Ferrari, putting 10 seconds between himself and Esteban Ocon at the checkered flag. Ocon’s run to sixth was impressive all the same, as was Stroll holding on to P7 for Williams ahead of teammate Felipe Massa despite a late scrap.

Sergio Perez recovered from his grid penalty for a gearbox change to take ninth for Force India, finishing ahead of Verstappen, who recovered to P10 despite the early clash with Massa.

More to follow.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.