The Formula One duel between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton returns to its roots this weekend at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza.
The Mercedes rivals developed their now incendiary rivalry when they raced karts in Italy more than a decade ago.
Rosberg enters with a 29-point lead over Hamilton in the drivers’ standings – the biggest it has been all season.
A big part of that gap was built in the Belgian GP two weeks ago, when Rosberg finished second and Hamilton claimed the German driver acknowledged that he had deliberately crashed into him early in the incident-packed race.
The two drivers attended a meeting at the team’s headquarters in England last week, where Mercedes said Rosberg was disciplined after accepting responsibility for the collision.
Still, it remains to be seen how Mercedes will handle the tensions at Monza, the fastest circuit in F1.
With Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo claiming his third win of the season in Belgium, Mercedes might want to install team orders to safely secure the drivers’ championship.
Here are some things to know entering the 13th race of the 19-event season:
LEWIS LOOKS BACK
Hamilton won the Italian GP from pole in 2012 but struggled to a ninth-place finish last year.
“The Italian Grand Prix is always a special one for me in terms of the memories I have there, going right back to my early career,” the British driver said. “The karting championships used to race in Italy quite often and it’s also where I met Nico, so that’s where our rivalry really began.
“My aim for the weekend, of course, is to claw back the gap in the drivers’ championship,” Hamilton added. “It’s as big as it’s been all season so I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me but anything can happen in this sport. I won’t give up until the flag drops in Abu Dhabi and there’s still plenty of points to be won before then, so it’s far from over yet.”
Fernando Alonso is tired of reading about speculation that he’ll leave Ferrari.
“I don’t like certain rumors. They create stress for me and the team,” Alonso told the Gazzetta dello Sport. “I’m honored that other teams have stated that they want me but I’ve been repeating for a year now that I want to stay on with Ferrari. I’ll stay through 2016 and if possible even longer.”
Alonso’s contract with Ferrari expires after the 2016 season, but he hasn’t he signed an extension yet.
“We’re close,” Alonso said. “We’re working on it.”
Alonso joined Ferrari in 2010 and is still seeking his first title with the Italian team.
“Winning is the most important thing for every athlete but there are also other things that can make you happy,” he said. “Ferrari’s passion is enough on its own to fill you with pride. And (new team principal Marco) Mattiacci wants to change and be more aggressive. That makes staying more attractive.”
With average speeds of 250 kph (155 mph) and top speeds of 340 kph (211 mph), Monza is the fastest circuit on the calendar, as well as one of the oldest – with the Italian GP one of only four races to have survived from the first year of F1 in 1950.
The layout of the Monza track – long, high-speed straights followed by slow corners – also requires heavy breaking.
“It is extremely difficult in Monza to get a perfect lap because it is almost impossible to hit every curve and every chicane in the way you want,” three-time Monza champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull said.
The main straightaway in Monza was originally part of a banked high-speed oval circuit.
“The biggest challenges at Monza nowadays are the braking zones,” Ricciardo said. “The first chicane is the ultimate example: You’re coming down at the highest speed an F1 car will reach all year and you’re braking into one of the tightest corners you’ll take all year.
“Added to that you’re doing this with the least amount of downforce you’ll have all year, which means the car tends to slide around quite a bit as well as taking longer to stop,” Ricciardo added. “You can’t afford to lock a brake but equally you can’t lose time by being too eager on the pedal. It demands that you are really focused all of the time.”
Ricciardo was born in Australia to parents of Italian origin, so Monza is a special stop for him.
“As a kid when we watched races on TV, dad always rooted for Ferrari, like all the Italians in Australia,” he said. “Although things have changed now that I’m with Red Bull.”
Ricciardo is third in the standings, a distant 64 points behind Rosberg, and doesn’t expect to close the gap too much this weekend considering how fast the Monza track is.
“I don’t see who can give Mercedes any bother,” Ricciardo told the Gazzetta.
Andrew Dampf can be followed at www.twitter.com/asdampf