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Hamilton dominates Italian GP for fourth Monza win, leading Mercedes 1-2

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Lewis Hamilton moved into the lead of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship for the first time this season on Sunday by claiming his fourth Italian Grand Prix victory, heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes at Monza.

On Ferrari home soil, Mercedes delivered its most dominant performance of the season to date as Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas ran P1 and P2 for all but three of the 53 laps, finishing over 30 seconds clear of Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel was left to settle for P3, fending off a charging Daniel Ricciardo in the closing stages to ensure Hamilton’s lead only stands at three points heading into the flyaway races.

A slick getaway from Hamilton allowed him to retain his lead off the line as Esteban Ocon jumped ahead of Lance Stroll, while Kimi Raikkonen managed to get the jump on Bottas in the second Mercedes for fourth place.

Bottas refused to back down, quickly putting the superior straight-line speed of his Mercedes to re-pass Raikkonen, before easily disposing of Stroll and Ocon on consecutive laps to put the German marque one-two early on at Monza.

With his championship lead looking precarious, Vettel struggled to make up ground in the opening laps, eventually slipping ahead of Raikkonen before also jumping Stroll. Ocon put up more of a fight, but was powerless to keep the faster Ferrari back, with Vettel completing the move on Lap 8.

Further back, Max Verstappen’s rollercoaster season took another twist when he suffered damage following a clash with Felipe Massa at Turn 1, having made up five places on the first lap to run inside the points. The Red Bull driver was forced to pit for repairs, causing him to drop to the very back of the field, almost going a lap down.

Ocon and Stroll may have been unable to hold the leading trio back, but they were able to keep Raikkonen in the second Ferrari at bay, the Finn struggling to get close enough to pass. Ferrari opted to try and get the undercut by bringing Raikkonen in on Lap 16, also acting to give the team some information on his tires that may help Vettel.

Ocon responded one lap later, retaining his advantage thanks to a slick stop from Force India, but Stroll was less fortunate, dropping behind Raikkonen following a slow turnaround by the usually-sharp Williams team.

The fight between F1’s oldest driver and two of its youngest resumed not long after the stops, with Raikkonen eventually getting a tow and using DRS down the main straight to slip past Ocon for P6 on Lap 26, with the leading five drivers still yet to pit.

Vettel was the first of the front-runners to blink, coming in for a fresh set of soft Pirellis at the end of Lap 31. However, the gap to Hamilton in the lead had swelled to over 20 seconds by the time he had come in, giving him no advantage for the undercut.

Mercedes reacted all the same, bringing Hamilton and Bottas in on the following two laps. Swift work from the Silver Arrows’ pit crew ensured the cars remained P1 and P2, with the gap to Vettel only growing.

Ferrari’s concern soon became the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo, who from P16 on the grid had perfected a reverse strategy to run into the top five on fresh super-soft tires after a long first stint.

Ricciardo quickly caught Raikkonen before pulling off a stunning divebomb move at Turn 1 on the Ferrari driver, boldly taking fourth away before getting his head down and setting off in pursuit of Vettel, gaining at a rate of one second per lap, setting up a tight finish.

With 53 laps in the book, Hamilton crossed the line 4.4 seconds clear of Bottas to become the first back-to-back winner in F1 this year, seizing the lead of the drivers’ championship in the process.

Vettel gave Ferrari something to cheer for at its home race by taking third place, seeing off Ricciardo’s late charge. Fourth place for the Red Bull racer nevertheless marked a stunning turnaround for the Australian, continuing his excellent form this season.

Kimi Raikkonen wound up a lonely fifth for Ferrari, putting 10 seconds between himself and Esteban Ocon at the checkered flag. Ocon’s run to sixth was impressive all the same, as was Stroll holding on to P7 for Williams ahead of teammate Felipe Massa despite a late scrap.

Sergio Perez recovered from his grid penalty for a gearbox change to take ninth for Force India, finishing ahead of Verstappen, who recovered to P10 despite the early clash with Massa.

More to follow.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.