No laughing matter as Hamilton strives to close the gap

Lewis Hamilton has vowed to wipe the smile off rival Sebastian Vettel's face as he steps behind enemy lines for the Italian Grand Prix.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain walks in the paddock, at Monza racetrack. Picture: AP/Luca Bruno

Hamilton would take the lead in this season’s Formula 1 championship for the first time with victory at the home of the Tifosi after moving to within seven points of Vettel.

The Englishman has been in an unforgiving mood since the sport’s summer break, following his brilliant victory at Spa-Francorchamps with the fastest time in opening practice yesterday.

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And although he was pipped to the top of the time sheets by Valtteri Bottas in the day’s second running at Monza, Hamilton will start as favourite to seal his fourth consecutive pole position.

CATCH ME IF YOUC AN: Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel is in Lewis Hailton's sights. Picture: AP/Luca Bruno

Such an accomplishment would see Hamilton stand alone as the sport’s all-time record pole-setter after matching Michael Schumacher’s tally of 68 in Belgium last weekend. But of more pressing concern for Hamilton is that of dealing a psychological blow in Vettel’s direction at his Ferrari team’s home race.

“This weekend the ultimate goal is obviously to win, and to put a dent in that lead that he’s had all season,” said Hamilton.

“He’s had that smile on his face all year long, being that he’s had that title lead. So I’m looking forward to turning that upside down.”

Hamilton, who found time between yesterday’s two practice sessions to write a poem, titled “England’s Rose”, in tribute to Princess Diana on the 20th anniversary of her death, is set to sign a new contract with Mercedes.

CATCH ME IF YOUC AN: Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel is in Lewis Hailton's sights. Picture: AP/Luca Bruno

Hamilton has spoken of his desire to race for Ferrari, but he will seemingly have to wait before he gets the chance to don the famous red overalls after Vettel committed his long-term future to the Italian team.

“I have in the past felt that I was in the enemy’s back garden in Monza,” said Hamilton, 32. “But I would say that for the last four or five years I’ve had such a great welcome here, even from the Ferrari fans.Every time I come I feel at home. I love it here. When you turn up and see the fans at the gate, there’s a lot of Ferrari fans there but at least 50 per cent of them say ‘Forza Ferrari, come to Ferrari’. It’s a compliment.”

Hamilton’s title rival Vettel has spearheaded the Italian team’s revival this year and victory tomorrow will ensure he becomes the first Ferrari driver to win in front of the Tifosi since Fernando Alonso’s triumph back in 2010.

“You hear left and right that you have to win, and if you do win here you are the hero,” said Vettel.

“I don’t feel that. Everything that is positive around the Monza weekend is fantastic. It’s very special to be here, to wear red and, even more, to drive the car.”