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What to watch for: Italian Grand Prix (NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 7am ET)

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The Italian Grand Prix weekend has been one of ‘goodbyes’ thus far.

As we prepare to say goodbye to Europe for the remainder of the 2016 Formula 1 season, we’ve also learned that both Felipe Massa and Jenson Button won’t be on the grid next year, kick-starting the driver market ‘silly season’.

Alas, keeping things in the present, there is still plenty to be fought for in today’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg prepare to enter battle one again.

Hamilton dominated qualifying on Saturday for Mercedes, finishing almost half a second clear of title rival and teammate Rosberg in Q3 to capture a record-equalling fifth pole at Monza.

Hamilton now enters Sunday’s race on the cusp of a third straight win at the track known as ‘La Pista Magica’ – doing so would see him regain the momentum lost at Spa when Rosberg returned to the top step of the podium.

You can watch the Italian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 7am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Here’s what to watch for in today’s race.

2016 Italian Grand Prix – What To Watch For

Monza hat-trick the goal for Lewis

By taking his fifth Italian Grand Prix pole at Monza on Saturday, Lewis Hamilton emulated five-time F1 world champion Juan Manuel Fangio as well as his own personal hero, Ayrton Senna.

Hamilton now heads into Sunday’s race with the chance to match Fangio once again. Victory for the Briton would be his third in a row at Monza, equalling Fangio’s streak from 1953 to 1955 – another key record.

The biggest thing for Hamilton will be re-establishing his points lead and – perhaps more crucially – his psychological advantage over Rosberg. Despite fighting back at Spa last weekend, Rosberg was still able to end his winless run and cut the points gap.

Monza has been the site of Rosberg’s downfall each of the past two years – will Lady Luck smile more favorably this time around?

Ferrari looks to give the Tifosi comfort, if not celebrations

Tens of thousands of Italian fans will descend on Monza today draped in the scarlet red of Ferrari, eager to catch a glimpse of drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. This year, it’s highly unlikely either will stand on the top step of the podium – frankly, just being on the rostrum would be an achievement.

Monza is a key part of Ferrari’s season, a place where the year run thus far is reflected upon and analyzed. President Sergio Marchionne made no secret of his disappointment on Saturday, saying Ferrari has “failed” to meet its targets this year – which, really, is putting it mildly.

The engine update is doing the tricky and Ferrari should claw back into Red Bull’s advantage in the constructors’ championship today – but dreams of a first home win since 2010 should be put on ice.

Can Williams’ revival continue?

Much like Ferrari, Williams has found itself losing more and more ground in recent races. After entering the year hopeful of dicing with the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull, the British team has slipped back into the clutches of Force India over the past few months, falling to fifth in the constructors’ championship in the process.

However, a glimmer of a revival was present in qualifying on Saturday as Valtteri Bottas charged to fifth place on the grid, beating not only the Force Indias but also both Red Bulls. It was an impressive display that the Finn will be keen to repeat today.

The battle for P4 in the constructors’ championship may seem unimportant for those believing that only winners get remembered, but that is wrong. Here, it means many millions of dollars in prize money, making it key for privateer teams. A strong run today at Monza could be crucial for Williams come the end of the season.

Gutierrez hopes to capitalize on Q3 run

Esteban Gutierrez scored another breakthrough for Haas during qualifying on Saturday at Monza by chalking up the team’s first Q3 appearance, sticking his VF-16 car 10th on the grid.

Gutierrez’s points drought is approaching three years, his last top-10 finish coming at the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix. With the updated Ferrari power unit in the back of his Haas, the Mexican stands every chance of ending that today, relying he can keep his cool in the midfield battle.

Teammate Romain Grosjean may start P17, but he too will be hopeful of reaching the top 10 with a charge through the pack. Stick him on an alternate strategy, and who knows what will happen?

Tire strategies aplenty at Monza

Mercedes pulled an interesting move in qualifying on Saturday, getting both Hamilton and Rosberg through Q2 on the soft tire that ensures both can go longer in their first stint today. With the cars around them all on super-softs, Mercedes may not have such a big pace advantage to begin with, but it should make a one-stop strategy very possible for the Silver Arrows.

Otherwise, most will be expecting a two-stop race at Monza, which with a mix of super-softs, softs and mediums all available from Pirelli could be completed in a variety of different ways. Keep an eye on those trying to make a one-stop work, particularly the tire-savvy drivers such as Sergio Perez.

2016 Italian Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
4. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
5. Valtteri Bottas Williams
6. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
7. Max Verstappen Red Bull
8. Sergio Perez Force India
9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
10. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
11. Felipe Massa Williams
12. Fernando Alonso McLaren
13. Pascal Wehrlein Manor
14. Jenson Button McLaren
15. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
16. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
17. Romain Grosjean Haas
18. Felipe Nasr Sauber
19. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
20. Jolyon Palmer Renault
21. Kevin Magnussen Renault
22. Esteban Ocon Manor

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).