F1 Raceweek: Leclerc relights Ferrari fire to Hamilton's frustration

By Sports Desk September 09, 2019

Is Lewis Hamilton finally feeling the heat again in Formula One?

After an incident with Charles Leclerc at Sunday's Italian Grand Prix, it certainly appeared the Briton had been riled. 

"It seems like the new generation get away with a lot more in that area, in that space, with how they manoeuvre their car compared to the more experienced drivers," said the defending world champion.

And he added an ominous warning to his rivals: "But it's good knowledge. Now I know... I look forward to the next one."

Such has been the ease of Hamilton's dominance, the Mercedes superstar has been able to politely assess the merits of the other supposed contenders.

Hamilton has defended Sebastian Vettel, a shadow of the opponent he once was, and praised the German's Ferrari deputy Leclerc – young and talented, but winless through 12 rounds and therefore posing no danger to his supremacy.

Ferrari, the greatest name in motorsport, should be a threat to any man hoping to take the Formula One title. Hamilton has swatted aside Vettel, Leclerc and questions about the possibility of himself joining the Scuderia, unseating one of those two drivers.

Until Belgium.

After a promising but painful start to life in the famous red car, including two retirements and a late collapse in Bahrain, Leclerc finally got his breakthrough victory at Spa.

The early season issues with engine trouble or peculiar team tactics were seemingly behind the 21-year-old as he exploited the speed of his SF90 and then took that form to Monza for Ferrari's home race.

Full of confidence, Leclerc delivered again, winning again, and nudged in front of team-mate Vettel in the drivers' standings, fourth – although surely not in the title race – and suddenly a serious competitor.

Hamilton will almost certainly defend his championship this season but he has belatedly been given something to think about heading into 2020.

Max Verstappen has won twice this term, but while it has been relatively small victories for him, Hamilton has landed title after title – and the Red Bull man himself acknowledged, coming out of the mid-season break, he would have to pick and choose his battles.

Hamilton has always been the man to emerge revitalised from the rest in the middle of the year, yet it is Leclerc this time with the bit between his teeth.

There have been congratulatory remarks from the champion over the past two weeks, but there was also an edge to Hamilton's words at Monza as he discussed a near-collision when Leclerc defended the track.

It was not the type of move one might expect from a title rival, a tussle seen time and again between Ferrari and Mercedes drivers.

"It was maybe a little bit over the edge," said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff.

In a dismal, aimless campaign from Vettel, Ferrari's main man, it might be that was exactly what the Italian outfit needed.

"If I feel like I'm ready to be challenging for world titles, at the end, I have the car and team for it," Leclerc said last week, before proving his credentials again. "I feel ready."

Next year, there might be a real title battle on the cards – and that can surely only bring the best out of Hamilton, too.

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    Japan were not given a prayer in the opening Pool B match given Zimbabwe were the only team they had previously beaten in a World Cup match – and that win was way back in 1991.

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