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Hamilton braced for hostile reception from Ferrari fans in Monza
The Mercedes driver is bidding for a sixth victory at the circuit.
Lewis Hamilton is braced for a hostile reception when he goes in search of a record sixth triumph at Ferrari’s home but the world champion has revealed the Italian supporters, who are likely to boo him, have pleaded that he joins their team.
Sitting in his Mercedes’ cockpit on Friday, Hamilton will have observed the solitary “Team LH” Union Jack which sat among the swathes of Ferrari flags adorning the pit straight as the carnival atmosphere builds ahead of tomorrow’s race.
British novices Lando Norris and George Russell will have been stunned by the manic, bordering on farcical, greeting they received upon leaving the paddock on Thursday night. The latter, who is yet to score a single point in Formula One, was mobbed like a rockstar. He required three security guards to keep the selfie brigade at bay.
Yet, the fanatical Tifosi have been starved of success in recent times. Kimi Raikkonen was the last driver dressed in red to win a world championship, a dozen years ago. A Ferrari car has not won at Monza since 2010. And while Charles Leclerc finally ended Ferrari’s winless run in Belgium last weekend, Sebastian Vettel, the man paid £36million each year to end their title drought, has not stood on the top step of a podium in more than a year.
In contrast, the all-conquering Hamilton is this year poised to close out his sixth world championship, moving to within one of Ferrari hero Michael Schumacher. He will usurp Schumacher as the Master of Monza with another triumph on Sunday after going behind enemy lines to win in four of his last five appearances at the Cathedral of Speed.
“I am lucky because I have a very good Italian following,” said Hamilton, 65 points clear of Valtteri Bottas in the championship standings.
“I stand on top of the podium in Monza and more than 90 percent of the fans are following Ferrari. You have this incredible fan base which creates one of the craziest atmospheres of the season. Often, I have made the weekend not very good for them.
“But when I arrive at this race, a lot of Ferrari fans have asked me to go to Ferrari. I wasn’t expecting that. Ferrari have not had a championship since 2007 so there is that yearning of seeing their favourite team succeed. I am sure they are relating to the fact that I have won the title for the last few years.”
Hamilton is receptive to the idea of joining Ferrari, possibly ending his career with the Italian giants. The 34-year-old Briton has one more year to run on his £40m-a-season Mercedes deal.
With a sixth title almost inevitable, and a record-equalling seventh on the cards in 2020, might Hamilton be tempted to join Ferrari in his quest to become the most successful Formula One driver who has ever lived, and, in turn, ending the Scuderia’s barren streak?
“If there is a point in my life where I need to decide I want to change teams, then Ferrari could be an option,” added Hamilton, who trailed Leclerc by just seven-hundredths of a second in practice. Vettel finished third.
“But how would I feel if I ended my career without driving for them? When you drive for Mercedes you are part of the family forever. That is important to me and so is loyalty.”