x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Behind enemy lines

Lewis Hamilton will stride into the famous old motor racing amphitheatre that is the Autodromo di Monza.

MONZA // Lewis Hamilton will stride into the famous old motor racing amphitheatre that is the Autodromo di Monza aware he could not have chosen a better setting to correct a perceived injustice. Last Sunday at the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa, Hamilton was on the receiving end of a dubious call by the race stewards that saw him stripped of a win two hours after taking the chequered flag.

Hamilton was handed a 25-second drive-through penalty for "cutting a corner and claiming an advantage" that relegated him from first to third, reducing his championship lead to a meagre two points. McLaren have lodged an official appeal with the sport's governing body, the FIA, and the matter is now due to be debated by lawyers at an International Court of Appeal hearing in the next fortnight. As far as Hamilton is concerned, whilst there might be a degree of anger burning away inside, he has to let the matter rest and take the championship situation as read going into this Sunday's Italian Grand Prix.

If an appeal is initially admissible, and then McLaren do manage to win their protest, that is for another day, and Hamilton can go on to celebrate that at the appropriate time. But with just five races remaining, Belgium has gone, and Hamilton has Ferrari's Felipe Massa breathing down his neck in a title race threatening to become a bitter battle. It is what the paying public demand - at least those who have not become disenchanted by thoughts of conspiracy and bias and are fast refusing to believe what they see with their own eyes.

But in Ferrari's venerated backyard, Hamilton has an opportunity to silence the Tifosi - the madcap Prancing Horse fraternity who drape themselves from head to toe in scarlet, such is their adoration for their beloved racing team. It is almost certain there will be boos and jeers directed the way of Hamilton, 23, by the fans who will believe his punishment was just after inappropriately claiming the lead off their hero, Kimi Raikkonen, regardless of whether he immediately gave back the position. Hamilton, though, should heed his own words spoken in the immediate aftermath of a win he thought was his, and prior to the stewards intervening.

When asked as to how he felt about the remainder of the season, he replied: "It is just going to be a very tough fight. "But I will do everything I can to make sure I go to the next race just as strong, if not stronger. "I know I can get stronger, as we the team are going to, and we are going to keep on improving." Hamilton will certainly need to find that strength, in particular mentally, if he is to come through another searching examination of his character and championship credentials. * PA Sport