MONZA, Italy (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton says he is ready to wipe the smile from Sebastian Vettel’s face in front of Ferrari fans this weekend.
The Mercedes driver is seven points behind Ferrari’s championship leader but can take over at the top by winning at Monza, the Italian “Temple of Speed”.
“This weekend the ultimate goal is obviously to win, to put a dent in that lead that he’s had all season,” Hamilton told reporters.
“He’s had that smile on his face all year long ... so I’m looking forward to turning that upside down.”
Hamilton has started the last three Italian Grands Prix on pole position, winning two of them and finishing second last year to now-retired team mate and eventual title winner Nico Rosberg. He also won in 2012 with McLaren.
Another pole position on Saturday would be a Formula One record, after Hamilton equaled former Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher’s 68 in Belgium last weekend, and looks highly likely.
British bookmakers William Hill have Hamilton as favorite for the race, with odds of 1/3 to take pole and 2/5 to win.
Vettel is third favorite for pole, at 6/1 and joint second favorite with Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas to win at 9/2.
Ferrari have not won a drivers’ championship for a decade, with Vettel’s current team mate Kimi Raikkonen the last in 2007. Vettel took his four with Red Bull.
He is the first Ferrari driver to lead the championship at Monza since Fernando Alonso in 2012.
If most of the crowd will be cheering for Vettel and Raikkonen, Hamilton was unconcerned.
”I have in the past, many years ago, felt that I was in the enemy’s back garden,“ he said. ”But in the last four or five years I’ve had such a great welcome here even from the Ferrari fans. It’s much appreciated. 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 percent of them say ‘Forza Ferrari, come to Ferrari’. I just say thank you. It’s a compliment.
“If it‘s a battle of how much support you have, I have no problems.”
With Vettel signing a new deal until 2020, and Hamilton set to extend his contract, there is no imminent prospect of seeing the Briton in red overalls.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Larry King