Italian Grand Prix 2016: 5 Bold Predictions for Monza Race
The 14th round of the 2016 Formula One season will take place at this weekend's Italian Grand Prix at Monza, where Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will recommence their fight for the world championship.
Hamilton's grid-drop penalties at the recent Belgian GP meant we were denied a battle between the Mercedes drivers at Spa-Francorchamps, where Rosberg claimed a routine win from pole position.
But after recovering to third place from 21st on the grid, Hamilton—nursing a nine-point lead over Rosberg—told Sky Sports' James Galloway of his desire to have "some good fights" with his team-mate between now and the end of the season.
As Rosberg and Hamilton are set to be reunited at the front of the field this weekend, we're expecting the pair—who haven't collided on track in almost two months—to race each other in the only way they know how at Monza.
With a look at a surprise podium finisher, more misery for Sebastian Vettel in Ferrari's home race, a potentially career-saving result for Haas' No. 2 driver and Toro Rosso's ongoing struggles, here are five predictions for the Italian GP.
Nico Rosberg Will Be Penalised for Pushing Lewis Hamilton Off at Curva Grande
It remains uncertain whether the Italian GP will remain on the calendar beyond 2016, but one thing is for sure: This weekend will be the last time we will see Curva Grande in its current form.
As F1 Fanatic's Keith Collantine reported, the Monza circuit will be ruined tweaked ahead of 2017, when the first chicane will become a flat-out, right-hand bend and the Curva Grande will be morphed into a left-right chicane.
This latest piece of vandalism is aimed at making Monza more suitable for motorcycle racing but will have the knock-on effect of robbing F1 of one of its most iconic corners.
So here's hoping the Curva Grande—the Great Bend—will go out with a bang on Sunday afternoon.
With Hamilton forced to start from the back of the grid in last weekend's Belgian GP for exceeding the engine component-usage regulations, Rosberg would have been hoping—expecting, even—to retake the lead of the drivers' standings at Spa.
The German did everything he needed to do, securing a simple pole-to-flag victory, yet he still climbed out of his car to find Hamilton sat alongside him after his team-mate recovered to third from 21st.
Still nine points adrift of Hamilton with eight races left, Rosberg may need to delve back into his bag of dirty tricks if he is to finally become world champion in 2016.
And Monza, the place where his 2014 and '15 title chances started to seriously fall apart, may be where he causes himself more harm than good.
Rosberg will secure a fourth consecutive pole position on Saturday but will come under huge pressure in the early stages from Hamilton, who will gain a tow on the exit of the first chicane and position his car on the outside of Curva Grande.
Like Fernando Alonso and Vettel in 2011 and '12, respectively, Rosberg will swipe across and ease Hamilton onto the grass on the outside of the circuit, but—as in Austria—he'll do so a little too blatantly.
The stewards will hand Rosberg a penalty for the incident, leaving Hamilton—the winner at Monza in three of the last four seasons—to move one step closer to a fourth title and give Curva Grande a fitting send-off.
Nico Hulkenberg Will Finally Register a Podium Finish
Nico Hulkenberg was so close yet still so very far from claiming that elusive podium finish in the Belgian GP.
The first-corner theatrics between Max Verstappen and the Ferrari drivers had allowed him to jump from seventh to second at the start, and with third-placed Daniel Ricciardo struggling with front-wing damage, Hulkenberg was running comfortably behind Rosberg in the opening laps.
And then the safety car appeared.
Rather than waiting to receive a "free" tyre change during the red-flag stoppage, Force India decided to pit Hulkenberg upon seeing Kevin Magnussen's battered Renault in the barriers.
That stop only cost him one position to Ricciardo, but the fact so many other drivers behind headed for the pits left him restarting with Hamilton breathing down his neck.
There was only going to be one winner from that point, and after finishing fourth—still his best result since the 2013 Korean GP—Hulkenberg told the team's official website he "could have been on the podium" had things "worked out slightly differently."
Thankfully, he will not have to wait too long for his next shot at the top three.
The Italian GP is normally the time of year when Williams come to the fore, but with the Martini-liveried team currently experiencing a wobble, Force India could be the leading Mercedes customer outfit this weekend.
Struggling with an ill-handling chassis, Hulkenberg has finished no higher than seventh in his last two visits to Monza, but his record at the track is promising, having dragged a Sauber to third on the grid three years ago.
The large emphasis on traction should favour team-mate Sergio Perez, who is renowned for his feather-like throttle application, but we're backing Hulkenberg to qualify on the second row of the grid and finally break into the top three this weekend.
And the Monza crowd, who play a huge role in the best podium ceremony in F1, will show him what he's been missing all these years.
Sebastian Vettel Will Become the Latest Driver to Stall on the Monza Grid
With a long run toward the tight first chicane, the starts at Monza are usually among the most fascinating of a given season as the drivers—with plenty of time to think about where to place their cars—jostle for the position.
But over the last two years, the first laps of the Italian GP have been defined by drivers unable to get their cars off the line.
In 2014, Hamilton lost three places in a matter of metres after making a substandard getaway from pole position, while Kimi Raikkonen almost sat still when the five red lights went out last year, instantly falling from second to last and becoming the first major casualty of the revised clutch bite-point rules.
In this most miserable of seasons—the team are still without a win after 13 races and haven't claimed a podium finish in almost two months—the one thing Ferrari can be proud of is their starts.
Vettel's surges from third to first in Australia and Canada remain Ferrari's highlights of 2016, and the four-time world champion enjoyed another impressive launch in Belgium, where he jumped from fourth to second before hitting his team-mate for the second time this season at La Source.
Ferrari's improved performance at Spa, where Raikkonen came within 0.166 seconds of pole and both drivers recovered to score decent points despite suffering damage in the first-lap incident, has lifted their mood ahead of their home race.
Per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, team principal Maurizio Arrivabene insisted Ferrari have "turned the page" on their recent struggles and "look forward to Monza with positive hopes."
It would sum up their season nicely, then, if—in front of the tifosi, with their Italian and Ferrari flags—Vettel were to enjoy his worst start of the season and drop like a stone down the order, ending his chances of a podium finish.
Esteban Gutierrez Will Finally Score a Point and Save His Skin at Haas
When the final series of flyaway races begins with the Singapore GP on September 18, Esteban Gutierrez may find himself without an F1 seat for next season.
As Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde and Noble reported, team principal Guenther Steiner recently insisted Haas will not delay the decision regarding their 2017 driver lineup, confirming an announcement will be made shortly after the Italian GP.
While Romain Grosjean—perhaps the team's most valuable asset, having started the season with two top-six finishes—is almost certain to stay put, huge doubts remain over the future of Gutierrez, who is yet to score a point in 2016.
Gutierrez has risked talking his way out of F1 this season, frequently criticising the team (NSFW language) in public and irritating the likes of Hamilton, Ricciardo and Pascal Wehrlein—who referred to the Mexican as a "f--king idiot" over team radio after a near-miss at Spa—on track.
Aware that his mouth may cost him his seat, he made an attempt to apologise to Haas ahead of the Belgian GP, telling Autosport (h/t Eurosport) he was "a bit aggressive with a few people in the team" and "was a bit too much on certain occasions."
It remains to be seen whether that apology will be enough to save his skin, but a timely first points finish of the season—as he recently admitted, per ESPN F1's Nate Saunders—would make his position within the team far more comfortable ahead of decision time.
Gutierrez's form has improved in recent months, with the 25-year-old outqualifying Grosjean and finishing 11th in Austria and Germany, and a top-10 finish seems close enough to touch.
After an encouraging performance at Spa, the underdeveloped, Ferrari-powered VF-16 chassis should perform respectably at Monza, where Gutierrez will score his first point in almost three years and save his skin in the nick of time.
Both Toro Rosso Drivers Will Spin Out as Engine Frustration Grows
If Toro Rosso thought the German and Belgian grands prix were bad, things will only get worse in their home event this weekend.
Hindered by their undeveloped, year-old Ferrari engines, the Red Bull B-team have been anonymous in the last two races at power-dependent tracks, with F1's so-called Temple of Speed only set to further expose their biggest weakness.
With McLaren-Honda, Renault, Manor and Sauber competing with much-improved, current-specification powertrains, there is a real risk both Toro Rosso cars will fail to progress from the first segment of qualifying.
That will place an emphasis on Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr.—who recently told Autosport (h/t Eurosport) how Toro Rosso's perennial power deficit has made him a better, more consistent driver—to make up for their team's shortcomings with their performances on track.
But with their lack of straight-line speed being so debilitating, the pair—aggressive with their inputs at the best of times—could quickly become frustrated and lured into the trap of overdriving.
After making up seven places with "one of the best starts of [his] life" at Spa, as Sainz told the team's official website, the opening lap will again represent their best chance of keeping up with faster cars, and one driver will cause a race-ending collision at either the first or second chicane.
The other, meanwhile, will evade the first-lap chaos to run on the fringes of the top 10 for a time but will eventually spin out while trying too hard to keep the pace, bringing an end to Toro Rosso's most difficult spell of the season.