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.

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit

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Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.