By Neil Leverett
- Round 14 of the 2019 Formula 1 season rolls into Monza this weekend for the Italian Grand Prix
- Ferrari looking to build momentum after first win of campaign, following Charles Leclerc’s first F1 win in Belgium
- Paddock arrives in Lombardy under tragic cloud, after Anthoine Hubert’s death last weekend
MONZA, ITALY – As Formula 1 rolls into Italy this weekend, a cloud hangs over Monza following the tragic death of Anthoine Hubert in Belgium.
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Hubert cloud hangs over Monza
As leaden skies welcomed Formula 1 for first practice on Friday morning in Monza, the conditions were perhaps a fitting metaphor for the feeling in the paddock this weekend, as F1 reins in the 2019 Italian Grand Prix.
Aside from Charles Leclerc‘s inaugural win in Belgium only a week ago, Spa last weekend was overshadowed by the death of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert who was involved in an horrific crash during the second lap of F2’s featured race, as the Frenchman’s car was hit at approximately 250kmph.
The burgeoning academy driver was airlifted to hospital, but sadly died of the his injuries hours later, with the Motorsport world again rocked only four years on from Jules Bianchi‘s untimely passing – nine months on from a crash at Suzuka.
As Formula unites this weekend in Lombardy with F1 keen to focus back to events on track, the Milanese air this weekend will be tinged with tragedy, with the all-too familiar reminder of the remaining perils of Formula 1 lingering.
Can Leclerc build on Spa?
With memories of events only seven days ago still fresh, Leclerc will steel himself to build on a superb win at Spa-Francorchamps. As Red Bull’s Max Verstappen crashed out on the opening lap last time out, the Monagesque driver took advantage of McLaren-Mercedes’ car issues to cross the chequered flag first, dedicating the win to his childhood friend, Hubert.
Holding off World Drivers’ Championship leader Lewis Hamilton‘s late charge, Leclerc become the youngest driver ever to win in Prancing Horse colours, and as he stated to F1i.com ahead of this weekend, the win had lifted a sizeable weight of expectation off his shoulders:
“I am very happy this first win is done.
“It’s always difficult to do this first step but once you do it, it takes quite a bit of weight out of your shoulders.”
Some say the first win is the hardest to achieve, but for Ferrari and Leclerc, now comes the race to notch number two. In a debut season that has already showcased Leclerc’s undoubted talents fo the Italian manufacturer, now however, comes the greater feat of achieving season consistency.
With Hamilton sitting over 100 points ahead in the standings, the world title for this season at least is out of reach. His battle with teammate Sebastian Vettel however, could become something of a sub-heading for the remainder of the season. Just eight points behind the German and after finishing fastest in early practice also, Leclerc may be set for another productive weekend.
Chinks in Hamilton armour?
Despite his bloody-minded efforts then, Belgium saw Hamilton reduce his win ratio in the last six races to just 50% and with the Briton’s relentless pursuit of a sixth world championship.
But are the chinks in the Hamilton beginning to show? In the latter half of recent seasons, the Briton has risen like the cream to the top but after increasing reliance issues for both Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas of late, is the Hamilton showing chinks in his defence to be got at for the Abu Dhabi run-in to December?
Holding a 65-point advantage as the Brit does will take some closing over the final eight Rounds of the season – especially given the fact nearest rivals Bottas and Verstappen have six less race wins in 2019 – but could now see a wobble on the Stevenage driver’s Mesopotamic route toward year’s end?
History would suggest otherwise with Hamilton having won in Monza for the last two years running, but with an unpredictable and changeable weekend of weather in the offing, Italy may yet begin a change of course for F1 in 2019.
The 2019 Italian Grand Prix takes place this weekend at Monza, with the race on Sunday at 2:10pm UK time.
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