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Italian GP Preview: Ferrari on home turf but Mercedes set to spoil party

Written by  Aug 31, 2017

Perhaps the most enjoyable 10 days of the Formula 1 season will conclude on Sunday as, fresh from the sights of cars flying around Spa-Francorchamps, they head to the 'Temple of Speed' at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix.

Ahead of the race at F1's most historic venue, there's an extra buzz in the air as the Tifosi head to the Autodromo with genuine hopes that the wait to see a red car cross the finish line and take the chequered flag in victory can be over after seven years.

That's right, Fernando Alonso in 2010 was the last time Ferrari won their home Grand Prix but an impressive showing in Belgium last weekend has the Scuderia's large army of fans hopeful that Sebastian Vettel can get one over Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes this time.

The problem facing the fabled Maranello outfit is there's potentially less in their arsenal to fire at the Silver Arrows at Monza and Mercedes strengths will likely be even more on show on the fastest layout on the calendar.

At Spa, Ferrari had the tyres in their favour, the Ultrasoft has been a friend all season long and the concerns about degradation allowed their race pace to be stronger. This weekend, not only is the Supersoft the softest compound available but tyre wear is usually minimal due to the lack of high-speed corners.

That means Ferrari will have to depend on pure speed to beat Mercedes which is unlikely around a pure power circuit like Monza. The Brackley team also got a further boost this week when it was confirmed they would be allowed to use a higher oil burn rate in the engine they introduced at Spa which may not impact this race, unless Ferrari does bring an upgrade, but will do later in the year.

There is some hope from the advantage Ferrari has had both under braking and with traction in slow corners which will help through the chicanes, but will that be enough to keep up? We'll have to wait and see.

As for Mercedes, Hamilton heads to what will be enemy territory looking to take the lead in the Drivers' standings alone for the first time this year with a seven-point gap between himself and Vettel.

There is also now growing pressure within the team to back the Briton's title bid by implementing team orders but his teammate Valtteri Bottas remains adamant he can still be a championship contender. 

More broadly, many will be happy simply to be at Monza this year, following the three-year deal that was confirmed last year and the optimism of Liberty Media wanting to ensure the survival of embattled historic races like Italy.

Also, though it doesn't feel like three-and-a-half months since the cars lined up in Spain, Monza once again signals the end of the European season with the championship likely to head into the final flyaways even closer than it began.

Behind the top two, Red Bull is readying for could be their toughest weekend of the season as they face a large threat from an embattled Force India team and also from within as Max Verstappen becomes ever more disenchanted by a lack of reliability and performance.

What may help in the internal situation at Force India where Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon have to abide a new team policy on racing following the events in Belgium. Though efforts have been made to put their coming together behind them, don't be surprised if the new policy and their relationship is tested again in Italy.

One team heading to Monza desperate for a strong performance is Williams, Felipe Massa may have saved them with an eighth place at Spa but these are difficult times for the British team following a double Q1 elimination in qualifying.

If there's any circuit their car can shine on it's this one and with Mercedes power likely to dominate the midfield if they don't at least battle with Force India their slim hopes of fourth in the Constructors' Championship are done. 

Renault continued their recent rise at Spa with Nico Hulkenberg claiming top honours behind the top three teams. Jolyon Palmer also showed signs that he is prepared to fight for his seat next season before yet more bad luck interfered.

It is engine reliability, however, that continues to hold all three teams them back and at the hardest race of the year for power units, the French manufacturer faces a stern challenge.

Haas will look to use the Ferrari factor for a strong race at Monza and could well be in the fight with Renault and Williams for the final Q3 and points places. At F1's other Italian team, Toro Rosso, Carlos Sainz has the unenviable task of leading their charge at a circuit they claimed their only victory at nine years ago but will struggle for competitiveness this year.  

Their problem may not be as great as McLaren's, however, on a week where rumours of a split with Honda are growing and Fernando Alonso, already exacerbated from the miserable race at Spa, faces starting at the back of the grid with only the Sauber's to play with, as the Swiss team falls further and further back.

Plenty to watch out for and with rain forecast for Friday and possibly Saturday, a difficult weekend for the teams in terms of setup and other race preparation could await.

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