Lewis Hamilton goes into Sunday's Italian Grand Prix driving as well as he ever has in his short career in Formula One.
Hamilton is fast and flawless this season
Lewis Hamilton goes into Sunday's Italian Grand Prix driving as well as he ever has in his short career in Formula One. He has cut out the mistakes that he made in his first three years, including 2008 when he was world champion, and he has driven with great maturity this season. I cannot recall him making a mistake in a race this campaign. That has been a pleasing aspect of this season - Hamilton and Mark Webber, two drivers who have improved the most, are the main contenders for the championship.
Obviously Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button, the world champion, and Fernando Alonso still have a chance. But it looks as if the championship is going to be between Hamilton, racing for McLaren-Mercedes, and Webber, the Red Bull-Renault driver. Hamilton has always had the raw pace. Since he came into Formula One in 2007, he has been a racer who always pushes to the limit and will try to overtake. He still has that speed, but he is now using his brain more and has driven sensibly.
More often than not, the Red Bull has been the quicker car - they have taken pole position in 12 of the 13 races. But Hamilton has never tried to over-exert himself and has pushed the machinery at his disposal to the limit, but never beyond it. The long straights at Monza should suit McLaren and Hamilton. They have been fast in a straight line all season, their F-duct proving a big factor in this.
There is speculation that McLaren will not use the F-duct this weekend. There is reportedly little gain to be had from using such a low aerodynamic wing setting on a track with a layout like Monza, which is basically a number of straights with some chicanes to break them up. But I would be surprised if they ditched it as it has been so important to them until now. Renault and Robert Kubica were back on the pace after using their F-duct design for the first time in Belgium; you can expect the French team to be a threat to the championship contenders.
Webber has done a great job and has driven consistently. He will look to score as many points as he can at a track that will not suit his package, and try to stay as close to Hamilton as he can for the final four races of the season. ¿¿¿ The Italian Grand Prix is always one of the best on the calendar for atmosphere as the locals cheer Ferrari. Having escaped with a fine on Wednesday after the controversy of the team orders incident in Germany - when Felipe Massa moved aside for Fernando Alonso - Ferrari will be anxious to move on with a strong display on home turf.
They will not be wanting in support as the tifosi, the noisy Italian fans, are there from Thursday, cheering on the Ferrari cars. The grandstand opposite the pits is packed and there is always a huge roar when a Ferrari comes out on to the track in front of them. They build up their support throughout the weekend, climaxing with the race. Of course Italy is one of the few tracks where the fans are allowed on the track after the race.
In 1995, when I won the race, I remember walking out on to the podium to see thousands of fans lining up on the main straight, and there was this huge Ferrari flag, almost the size of a football pitch, stretched out over their heads. It was a great sight. I had not been sure what reaction we would get as I had won after Jean Alesi had been forced to stop while leading in the Ferrari, but I got a terrific reception.
The fact that I was driving for Benetton, and had an Italian in charge of it in the shape of Flavio Briatore, may have helped, but it was still a great feeling standing on the podium looking out at a sea of red below me. Johnny Herbert is a former Formula One driver who competed in 161 races. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org