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Italy preview - can Ferrari muster some Monza magic?

01 Sep 2016

No team will be under greater pressure to perform than Ferrari this weekend, as the Scuderia take to their home turf still chasing a first victory of the season. Theirs has been a story of unfulfilled potential in recent races - but on the high-speed curves of Monza, can the Prancing Horse surge once more?

Ferrari hoping for home soil boost

The expected victories are yet to arrive for Ferrari in 2016, but there could be no better venue on which to turn their fortunes around than the legendary Monza circuit. 

There is a feeling within the camp that the team have made significant progress since Hockenheim. Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene, for example, suggested they would have proved how far they'd come had Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen not collided at the opening turn at Spa last weekend. Even with the damage sustained, both men fought back into the points - prompting Vettel to say a double podium was within the team's grasp.

"The positives we can take is that, despite extensive damage, our car proved fast and resilient throughout,” Arrivabene says. "We turn a page, we look forward to Monza with some positive information."

There are reasons to be positive too. Ferrari might not have won here since 2010, but they did crack the front row in qualifying last season - only for Raikkonen's terrible getaway to blow any hopes of victory.

But there is also pressure - not least in the form of Red Bull, and the fact Ferrari are now 22 points adrift in the fight for second in the constructors' championship. Arrivabene, though, insists such forces have helped pull the team together, adding: "We are all united here. We are working all together and looking forward to having a good race in the Italian Grand Prix."


Magnussen cleared to race

Despite his huge accident in Belgium - estimated to have generated forces of 40G - Renault's Kevin Magnussen is set to be back in the cockpit this weekend.

After initial checks at the circuit’s medical centre, examination in a local hospital in Verviers revealed that he had sustained heavy bruising to his left ankle but no fracture or serious injury. Further checks in Denmark suggested he would be fit to race, but the real test came on Thursday when he had an assessment with the FIA doctors - which Renault were happy to report had been successfully completed.

"I'm feeling much better, which is very good news," the Dane says. "We were running in the top 10 in Belgium and I’m very motivated to repeat this again in Italy.
 

Verstappen set for lively drivers' meeting

Following his ebullient defensive tactics at Spa, Max Verstappen is expected to get a rough ride from some of his peers in the drivers’ meeting at Monza.

Raikkonen, involved in the two most notable incidents with Verstappen in Belgium, was the most outspoken last weekend, saying that he and the Dutchman would have had a 'massive accident' had he not jumped onto the brakes along the Kemmel Straight. "I'm sure it will happen sooner or later," Raikkonen added, "if this doesn't change..."

Being one of the grid's elder drivers, and also one of the less outspoken, Raikkonen's words hold a certain gravitas and sway with the rest of the field - indeed Lewis Hamilton intimated that if Verstappen's driving had angered Raikkonen, it more than likely crossed the line between acceptable and dangerous. 

Vettel, though, says he will take a different approach by trying to talk to the young Red Bull driver face to face. "I'm not a fan of penalising people, it's not the way to educate," he says. "We need to talk to each other, we need to have respect. The best way to educate is to talk rather than create a fuss in the media. We are men and it is best to stand in front of each other and talk to each other.”

The man himself was unrepentant and goes to Monza with no intention of being browbeaten into changing his style, which the stewards at Spa deemed hard but fair and just the right side of the law.

"I was a victim in the first corner, you could see clearly I was on the inside, almost 90 percent," he told reporters at Spa. "I didn't lock a tyre, so it didn't show I was diving up the inside, I was just trying to make my corner."

Red Bull boss Christian Horner agreed that his driver pushed the limits, but added: "It was firm, it was on the edge and he got away with it today and the stewards were happy with it. If there was an issue, or it contravened any rules, Danny Sullivan is a pretty experienced guy and he would have called them up or Charlie Whiting would have reported it to the stewards.”


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Title fight - and tyre woes - for Mercedes?

After Mercedes struggled to get their tyres into the right operating window at Spa, team boss Toto Wolff admits they could have further concerns this weekend. 

Pirelli’s insistence on mandated pressures caused many teams problems in achieving their expected levels of grip, and exacerbated degradation - both of which could come into play again this weekend as Nico Rosberg looks to make further inroads into Lewis Hamilton's 9-point championship lead.

"We are blowing them (the tyres) up like balloons, which hurts," Wolff says. "I understand why Pirelli does it, (but) all our development and all our simulations are being hurt by a tyre that is completely different in its behaviour than we were expecting.

"Having a contact patch that is half the size that was expected, it is very difficult. But I don't want to put blame on anybody, because it is the same for everybody.”

Fresh from his unexpected podium slot at Spa, points leader Hamilton is ready to repeat last year’s Italian victory.

"Spa was about as good as damage limitation can get, I think! It was a fantastic result for me and for the team," he smiles. "Now we go to Monza - a track I know well from so many racing categories throughout my career and one it's impossible not to love. Standing on that amazing podium, looking out over a sea of fans on the straight, has to be up there as of the most incredible experiences a sportsman can have."

For Rosberg, meanwhile, momentum is the name of the game - although he is yet to triumph at the Italian venue. "This is a race I really enjoy and one I'd really love to master. The tifosi create such an incredible atmosphere every single time, no matter who wins the race. Last year obviously didn't end so well for me there, so I'm hoping for a bit more luck and a little less fire this time... . For me, I'm taking every race like a cup final."


Don't write off Red Bull

Last year the Italian Grand Prix was something of a nightmare for Red Bull - they cracked the top 10 just once in the build up to the race (Daniel Ricciardo was seventh fastest in FP1), took several grid penalties for engine changes, and wound up with a solitary points score as the Australian came home eighth, one lap down.

Expect this year to be very different. Red Bull have traditionally struggled on power circuits like Monza in recent seasons, but last weekend's race at Spa proved just how far the team and Renault have come. Indeed, Max Verstappen was the third fastest through the speed traps during the race, behind only Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

The likes of Singapore and Suzuka remain more favourable circuits for Red Bull to mount a serious challenge at the front, but even so don't discard Ricciardo or Verstappen this weekend.


Three-stopping unlikely to be in teams' plans

Pirelli have brought the same tyre selections to Monza as they did to Spa - but with tyre wear far less of a factor on this high-speed circuit, where loadings in the corners are less of a factor, don't expect quite the same struggles to preserve tyre life.

"With Monza coming straight after Spa, that’s two epic circuits in the space of just over one week, but for any organisation in Formula One your home race is always the most special of the year,” director of motorsport Paul Hembery says. “It’s going to be a busy weekend for us as a result, and with the supersoft coming to Monza for the first time, we might also see some record top speeds in qualifying especially. Last year we saw the majority of competitors opt for a one-stop strategy, but the arrival of the supersoft could make multi-stop options more attractive this time."

For reference, last year Hamilton started on softs and stopped just once - for mediums - en route to victory.

This year's Grand Prix will run over 53 laps, or 306.72 kilometres, and will start at 1400 hours local time, 1200 GMT.