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F1 Preview: 2016 Italian Grand Prix

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The Italian Grand Prix at Monza traditionally acts as sign that the end of the Formula 1 season is within sight.

As the final European round of the year, the teams will say goodbye to their motorhomes until next season and prepare for the exhausting run of flyaway races that are to follow.

Nico Rosberg revived his fading hopes of a maiden drivers’ championship by taking a clinical victory in Belgium last weekend, charging from lights to flag.

However, a similar charge was offered by Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton. By going from 21st on the grid to finish the race third, the Briton ensured he still leads the standings by nine points ahead of the Italian Grand Prix weekend.

Monza was the site of significant blows to Rosberg’s title bids in both 2014 and 2015. Can he rectify things this weekend?

Here is our full preview of the Italian Grand Prix.

2016 Italian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Rosberg primed for late-season charge

Victory in Belgium last weekend may have been served up to Rosberg on a plate, but taking full advantage of the opportunity was crucial. Having seen Hamilton overturn huge grid penalties in 2014, when Rosberg looked in his mirrors under the safety car and saw a Silver Arrow glinting in fifth place, he would have been forgiven for thinking ‘oh no, not again’.

Alas, Rosberg did all he could. In 2014 and 2015, his title tilts fell apart in the second half of the season, so to start on the right foot at Spa was significant. With his tail up once again, he’ll know that another victory at Monza to move to within two points of Hamilton (assuming Hamilton finishes second, of course) would gain him plenty of momentum.

Hamilton chases Monza hat-trick

Following his charge from the back of the grid in Belgium, Lewis Hamilton will have arrived in Italy feeling like he dodged a bullet. Not only did he leave Spa with his championship lead intact, but he also now has enough power units to get to the end of the season with no further penalties.

Hamilton can now get his head down without the cloud of a grid penalty hanging heavy. The only thing separating him and Rosberg now is nine points – and if Hamilton’s late-season form from 2014 and 2015 is anything to go by, that may be set to escalate fast.

Victory at Monza this weekend would be Hamilton’s third on the bounce at the historic circuit, as well as being his fourth overall – a tally only beaten by Michael Schumacher. It would also be his 50th in F1. Significant territory.

More home heartbreak for Ferrari?

The Italian Grand Prix has always been significant for Ferrari. Tens of thousands of fans draped in red will descend on Monza, hopeful of seeing their heroes climb to the top step of the podium. Yet the way things are at the moment, even reaching the podium would be an achievement for Ferrari.

Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen both had miserable races in Belgium, largely thanks to a first-corner clash with Max Verstappen – his reception will be frosty – and need to fight back. Will Mercedes and Red Bull rain on Ferrari’s homecoming? It’s looking likely…

Monza set for contract extension

To the relief of pretty much everyone, the Italian Grand Prix looks poised to remain at Monza for another three years after much uncertainty. With Imola apparently lobbying to take over the race and Bernie Ecclestone seeking a better deal for F1, it looked possible that the sport could leave ‘La Pista Magica’ after this year – thankfully, it doesn’t seem we will be.

We should still not take Monza for granted. It’s presence on the calendar amid a litany of new-built venues its as a reminder of the past, of where F1 has come from. History is important.

Silly season prepares to step up a gear

After cooling off earlier this year following Max Verstappen’s early promotion into a Red Bull seat and Ferrari’s decision to retain Kimi Raikkonen, ‘silly season’ now looks ready to step up a gear at Monza. Felipe Massa announced in a press conference on Thursday that he would be retiring at the end of the year, setting the wheels in motion for 2017.

Other drivers holding the keys to the market include Sergio Perez (linked with Williams and Renault), Felipe Nasr (linked with Williams) and Jenson Button (also linked with, surprise surprise, Williams). The dominoes are ready to fall…

2016 Italian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Autodromo Nazionale Monza
Corners: 11
Lap Record: Rubens Barrichello 1:21.046 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Medium/Soft/Super-Soft
2015 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2015 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:23.397
2015 Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:26.672
DRS Zones: T11 to T1, T7 to T8

2016 Italian Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports App 4am ET 9/2
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 8am ET 9/2
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports App 5am ET 9/3
Qualifying: NBCSN 8am ET 9/3
Race: NBCSN 7am ET 9/4

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).