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MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 Italian GP

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Formula 1 heads to one of its most historic and revered venues this weekend as the Autodromo Nazionale Monza plays host to the Italian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg arrive at Monza still embroiled in a tight tussle at the top of the drivers’ championship, the gap between them shrinking to nine points following last weekend’s race in Belgium.

Victory at Spa for Rosberg has seen momentum shift back in his direction after a barren run of form through July before the summer break.

Yet after Hamilton’s fightback from 21st on the grid to third at the checkered flag last Sunday, both drivers will be feeling good heading into the final European race of the season.

MST F1 writers Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno have made their picks for the forthcoming weekend – let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton has been hugely impressive at Monza over the past few years, winning three of the last four races there. With fresh engines and the concern of failures no longer hanging over his head, I’ll pick Hamilton to score a third straight Italian Grand Prix victory on Sunday.

Surprise Finish: Valtteri Bottas. Williams has impressed recently at Monza, the high-speed nature of the circuit suiting the strengths of its cars. I’ll tip Bottas to beat the Force Indias and follow home the top six as the ‘best of the rest’ on Sunday.

Most to Prove: Ferrari. Still no wins in 2016. A baying crowd hungry to see a driver draped in Maranello red on the podium. On home soil, Ferrari needs to impress.

Additional Storyline: Verstappen’s on-track antics. Following the war of words between Max Verstappen and the Ferrari drivers over the Dutchman’s on-track behavior in Belgium, it will be interesting to see if any approaches change this weekend. It’s a tight run down to Turn 1…

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. Damage limitations exercised after his power unit changes going into Spa, Lewis got on the podium and hung onto the championship lead. He’s often gone well at Monza and I can see him winning again here.

Surprise Finish: Sebastian Vettel. Us saying a Ferrari is a surprise finisher? Considering Ferrari hasn’t been on the podium since Austria nearly two months ago, yes, a podium would be a surprise. But it’s desperately needed, and while Raikkonen’s been solid this year I can see Vettel coming P3.

Most to Prove: Max Verstappen. His rivalry with Kimi Raikkonen is established and he’s rankled the establishment with his aggression. A calm weekend out of the headlines is needed. Unless the headlines are that he’s stunned the rest by beating the Mercs…

Additional Storyline: Ferrari on home soil. Always the story, rarely the favorite in recent years at Monza… how does Scuderia Ferrari get on in front of the tifosi this weekend?

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”