Hamilton goes wire-to-wire for third Italian Grand Prix victory

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Lewis Hamilton extended his lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship to 53 points by winning Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza in emphatic fashion.

After scoring his 11th pole position of the season on Saturday, Hamilton went lights-to-flag at Monza to lead home Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 25 seconds.

Mercedes’ weekend was far from perfect, though, as championship contender Nico Rosberg suffered an engine failure with three laps remaining, resigning the German to his first retirement of the 2015 season.

At the start of the race, Kimi Raikkonen bogged down in first gear from second place to fall to the very back of the pack as the rest of the field streamed past. Hamilton managed to defend his lead from Vettel before opening up a gap over the first few laps, whilst Rosberg dropped down to P6 to leave himself with a mountain to climb.

Raikkonen began his fightback in the laps that would follow, rising into the top ten after five laps thanks to clean moves on the Red Bull and McLaren drivers. He also gained positions when the two Lotus drivers retired after just one lap, bringing an early end to a difficult weekend for the British team.

At the front, Hamilton began to open up a gap to Vettel behind as Rosberg bid to make up for his poor start. The German driver made a good move to pass Sergio Perez for fifth place before latching onto the back of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas. However, he was told to be careful with his brakes due to excessive wear, causing him to drop back again.

Rosberg was forced into pitted early on lap 18 in the bid to get the undercut on the Williams drivers ahead, moving onto the medium tire that would last him to the end of the race. Before stopping, the German driver had already fallen over 20 seconds behind Hamilton at the front, who in turn was over 12 seconds clear of the field.

The undercut worked well for Rosberg as he got the jump on Felipe Massa, who had been running P3 before stopping. Williams opted to keep Bottas out for a few more laps before stopping, leaving the Finn to come out behind Rosberg and Massa.

Hamilton was the last of the leaders to pit on lap 26, moving onto the medium compound tire. Vettel had pitted just one lap earlier, but remain some 18 seconds behind in second place after the pit cycle, giving Hamilton plenty of breathing room up front.

Rosberg’s fightback continued at the expense of Raikkonen, who had worked his way up to third place with a long first stint. His starting tires were beginning to fade, though, allowing Rosberg to take P3 before Ferrari brought the Finn in for his solitary pit stop at the end of lap 28. He emerged back out on track in P10 behind Marcus Ericsson, having narrowly avoided being hit by Roberto Merhi at pit entry.

As Hamilton’s lead rose to over 20 seconds at the front, Mercedes turned attention to Rosberg in third place in a bid to score another one-two finish. The German driver ran five seconds behind Vettel after both had pitted, but with his tires some seven laps older, it would be a big challenge for Rosberg to leapfrog his compatriot in the second half of the race.

Further back, Raikkonen continued his charge by passing both Ericsson and Nico Hulkenberg soon after pitting, moving himself up into seventh place with 15 laps remaining. In the battle to make the points, Daniel Ricciardo’s long first stint had launched him up into tenth position, giving Red Bull some solace after a trying weekend.

With three laps remaining, the championship race took a huge twist as Rosberg’s engine began to exude smoke before eventually failing at the Roggia chicane, forcing him to pull over and retire from the race.

At the head of the field though, Hamilton was given a late scare when Mercedes told him to pull out a gap at the front of the field and push hard, telling him that they would explain after the race. He managed to remain in the lead until the flag, completing a lights-to-flag victory.

Some 25 seconds later, Vettel crossed the line in second after coming under heavy pressure from Rosberg in the closing stages. Traffic had caused trouble for both drivers, but it was Vettel who managed to stay ahead and give the loyal Ferrari fans at Monza something to cheer for.

Lucking in from Rosberg’s failure was Felipe Massa, who crossed the line just three-tenths of a second clear of teammate Valtteri Bottas to finish third for Williams. Kimi Raikkonen’s fightback finished with him in P5 ahead of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg, whilst Daniel Ricciardo finished eighth. Marcus Ericsson and Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top ten.

Carlos Sainz Jr. and Max Verstappen fought well for Toro Rosso to finish 11th and 12th, whilst Felipe Nasr followed them home in 13th. Jenson Button finished P14 ahead of Manor drivers Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi. Fernando Alonso retired from the race late on, ending a tough weekend for McLaren.

In the moments following the checkered flag, the stewards issued a statement calling for both Hamilton and Rosberg due to a supposed issue with their tire pressures before the start of the race, reasoning Mercedes’ call for Hamilton to push in the closing stages.

For the time being though, Hamilton remains the winner of the Italian Grand Prix, and now enjoys a 53-point lead over Rosberg in the drivers’ championship heading to the Singapore Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”