Formula 1: Hope for Fernando Alonso and Other Italian Grand Prix Predictions
The Formula One Italian Grand Prix takes place this Sunday at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, close to Milan. Sebastian Vettel takes a huge championship lead into the weekend, and his main challenger appears to be Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
It could be argued that this is the home of F1's most passionate and devoted fans, and there's no question who the Tifosi will be backing on race day.
But will Alonso turn their dreams into reality? Can Lewis Hamilton breathe new life into his own title chances?
Or will Vettel get the opportunity to find out what booing really sounds like?
Here's what I think will happen.
A Better Weekend for Mercedes
Mercedes didn't do well at Spa. They didn't get the setup right, were visibly horrible through Eau Rouge/Raidillon and were not quick enough elsewhere.
But luck was on their side. The wet weather in qualifying handed them first and fourth on the grid, far better than they'd have managed in the dry.
Then Lotus also performed badly, Mark Webber got his customary poor start and Felipe Massa was pootling around about a second a lap slower than his teammate.
Third and fourth at the end was great damage-limitation.
Spa and Monza are both low-downforce circuits, but while the former is full of corners, the latter only has three (excluding Curva Grande, which is more like a curved straight) that aren't chicanes.
That means less compromise in the setup and more benefit from just being ridiculously quick down the straights. And straight-line speed is a Mercedes speciality.
A win looks unlikely—the car just isn't as competitive with low downforce—but they should be closer to the leader's pace at Monza.
There are five rookies on the grid, but it's really a battle between Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Gutierrez.
Sauber's Gutierrez came home seven seconds ahead of Bottas in Belgium to claim the prize (and they should have a prize for top rookie) there. Impressively, he was only 12 seconds down on his highly-regarded teammate Nico Hulkenberg.
Monza is all about bouncing over kerbs and powering down straights. In Canada, which has a similar lack of corners and lots of time spent on the throttle, Williams and Sauber looked very closely matched.
Expect the same this weekend.
Picking a winner for this one is tricky, but I'll go with Gutierrez—because the Sauber-Ferrari combo should have an edge over the Williams-Renault*.
* Long-time devotees of the sport will note that even after 15 years, that sentence still looks ridiculous.
Caterham or Marussia?
Following a great effort in qualifying, Giedo van der Garde took the honours in Belgium. He also came home ahead of his rivals in Hungary, so after a difficult start to his F1 career, he's suddenly the form horse.
Marussia have slipped back after kicking off the season ahead, and their Cosworth engine is probably the weakest in the field (though not by much).
The fight in Monza should be between van der Garde and his teammate, Charles Pic.
The Frenchman—Caterham's de facto team leader—will be keen to reassert his authority, and I fancy him to be the best of the worst on Sunday.
Lewis Hamilton must have been delighted when it rained during Q3 at Spa—in the dry, he probably wouldn't have started higher than fourth.
His Mercedes team should go better in Monza, and the fight for pole looks set to be between them and Red Bull.
But Hamilton's run of four poles in a row will come to an end. Red Bull seem to have really nailed the low-downforce configuration, and in Sebastian Vettel, they have one of the best qualifiers in the sport.
He'll take his first pole since Canada, with one of the two Mercedes beside him on the front row.
Red Bull had the best car by a country mile at Spa, but after the race Sebastian Vettel didn't sound overly enthusiastic about his chances for Monza.
"It was a very good afternoon for us and obviously looking forward to Monza where we don’t expect, maybe, to be that strong. But let’s see," he told David Tremayne of The Independent.
He doesn't mean he expects to struggle badly—a "bad circuit" for Red Bull means they're only the same speed as the other front-runners. But the car might have an Achilles heel—its engine.
The Renault is considered to be a tiny bit behind the Mercedes and Ferrari in terms of raw power, and it's down the long straights of Monza that the difference should be most keenly felt.
And following a much-improved showing in a low-downforce configuration at Spa, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso will be in the best position to capitalise.
It's unlikely he'll qualify on the front row, because his Ferrari is a bit of a dog when it comes to one-lap pace. But in the race, the red car should come alive.
It'll probably be the class of the field on Sunday, so with an acceptable starting position—say, fourth or fifth—Alonso has a great chance of coming through the field to win.
Disclaimer—this slide may be influenced by the desire to see a closer end to the championship. And the engine difference is very small.
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