What to watch for: Italian Grand Prix (NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET)

AP
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After easing to his 11th pole position of the season on Saturday, Lewis Hamilton now has his sights firmly set on claiming a third Italian Grand Prix victory today and extending his lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship.

Coming off the back of his sixth victory of the season at the Belgian Grand Prix two weeks ago, Hamilton has showed few signs of easing off at Monza as he has topped every single session so far this weekend.

Mercedes’ decision to upgrade its power unit for this weekend’s race has already paid dividends for Hamilton as he saw off the threat of Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel in Q3 to record his seventh straight pole position.

With teammate Nico Rosberg struggling to P4 on the grid, Hamilton now has a golden opportunity to extend his lead further this weekend and tighten his stranglehold on the championship.

Here are a few things to watch for in today’s Italian Grand Prix, which you can watch live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET on Sunday.

HAMILTON CHASES ITALIAN HAT-TRICK

A two-time winner at Monza, Lewis Hamilton will be gunning for his third Italian Grand Prix victory on Sunday from pole position that would draw him level with the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio, Alberto Ascari and Alain Prost.

Perhaps more importantly though, it would deal another huge blow to the title hopes of teammate Nico Rosberg. Victory for Hamilton would ensure that his lead passes the 30-point barrier, and given his late-season form in 2014 – he scored 193 of the final 200 points available – the championship race would look increasingly like a foregone conclusion.

RAIKKONEN, VETTEL AIM TO PLEASE THE TIFOSI

The atmosphere at the Italian Grand Prix is like no other on the F1 calendar thanks to the thousands of fans that descend on Monza for the weekend. The majority of them will be draped in the scarlet red of Ferrari, cheering on Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel at the team’s home race.

The loyal Tifosi fan base will know that a win may be out of reach for Ferrari this weekend, such is Mercedes’ pace, yet a double podium is certainly possible. Raikkonen and Vettel will start the race from P2 and P3, and if Hamilton struggles off the line, things could get very interesting indeed.

ROSBERG’S DAMAGE LIMITATION

After his power unit was contaminated on Saturday, Mercedes had no choice but to revert back to the one Rosberg used at Spa two weeks ago, denying him the upgrades that Hamilton still has.

As a result, Rosberg could only struggle to P4 in qualifying, making clear not only how much of a step Mercedes has made with its upgrades, but also the progress at Ferrari.

Rosberg is still sure he can beat the Ferrari drivers even with a downgraded and six-race old engine, but his focus remains solely on damage limitation this weekend. Leaving Monza only 35 points behind Hamilton would be something of a relief for Rosberg.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS FOR WILLIAMS, LOTUS, AND FORCE INDIA

Monza’s high-speed straights mean that this weekend’s race is all about engine power. Therefore, those running the Mercedes power units have a great chance to make some serious progress in the constructors’ championship as their rivals struggle towards the back of the field.

All eight Mercedes-powered drivers will start today’s race inside the top ten, and it would be a surprise for that not to be repeated come the checkered flag later this afternoon. With Red Bull and Toro Rosso struggling, this is a weekend for the likes of Williams, Lotus and Force India to pounce.

STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM NOW WE WHERE?

In the latest F1 grid penalty saga, 168 places worth of grid drops were dished out by the FIA stewards to seven drivers following qualifying on Saturday, the majority coming as a result of power unit changes.

So the back of the grid looks very different to normal. Firstly, the two Manors will start from P13 and P14, which is something astronomical for the team. Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso will also start a little higher than usual in P15 and P16 for McLaren.

The bottom two rows are filled by Red Bull and Toro Rosso due to their engine woes, leaving Daniel Ricciardo P19 and Max Verstappen P20 behind their teammates. It will be intriguing to see how far up they can get by the end of the race.

STARTING GRID FOR THE 2015 ITALIAN GRAND PRIX

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
5. Felipe Massa Williams
6. Valtteri Bottas Williams
7. Sergio Perez Force India
8. Romain Grosjean Lotus
9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
10. Pastor Maldonado Lotus
11. Felipe Nasr Sauber
12. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
13. Will Stevens Manor
14. Roberto Merhi Manor
15. Jenson Button McLaren
16. Fernando Alonso McLaren
17. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
18. Daniil Kvyat Red Bull
19. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
20. Max Verstappen Toro Rosso

The Italian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET on Sunday.