Hamil­ton: Ital­ian fans want me at Fer­rari

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Tennis - By Philip Dun­can in Monza

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 that the Ital­ian sup­port­ers, who are likely to boo him, have pleaded for him to join their team.

Sit­ting in his Mercedes’ cock­pit yes­ter­day, Hamil­ton will have seen the soli­tary “Team LH” Union Flag among the swathes of Fer­rari flags adorn­ing the pit straight.

British novices Lando Nor­ris and Ge­orge Rus­sell will have been stunned by the manic greet­ing they re­ceived upon leav­ing the pad­dock last night. The lat­ter, who is yet to score a sin­gle point in For­mula One, was mobbed like a rock star. The Wil­liams driver 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, 12 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 – paid £36mil­lion each year to end their ti­tle drought – has not won a race in more than a year.

In con­trast, Hamil­ton is this year well-placed to close out his sixth world cham­pi­onship, mov­ing to within one of Fer­rari hero Michael Schu­macher. He would usurp Schu­macher as the master of Monza with an­other tri­umph to­mor­row af­ter win­ning four of his past five races at the “Cathe­dral of Speed”.

“I have a very good Ital­ian fol­low­ing,” said Hamil­ton, who is 65 points clear of se­cond-placed Valt­teri Bot­tas in the cham­pi­onship. “I stand on top of the podium in Monza and more than 90 per cent 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 £40mil­liona-sea­son Mercedes deal.

“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 0.07sec in prac­tice yes­ter­day. 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.”

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