MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Italian GP

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The European leg of the 2013 season comes to a close at Monza this weekend with the Italian Grand Prix, a mainstay on the calendar ever since the first Formula One world championship in 1950. With the loyal Tifosi cheering on Ferrari, the Scuderia will be hoping to win for a third time in 2013 this weekend, but with Sebastian Vettel laying down an ominous pace during practice today, it appears that the German driver could enter his favored Asian leg of the calendar with a lead equivalent to more than two race wins.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Even though he has won here twice previously, Monza isn’t usually a track that favors the Red Bull since so much is about top-end speed. That said, still on fine form after his Belgian win and a win to conclude the European season would surprise almost no one.

Surprising finish: Nico Hulkenberg. Sauber won’t be able to match its surprise podium repeat achieved by Sergio Perez a year ago but Hulkenberg’s due for a good race at a track that will mask the car’s aero deficiencies and is all about power. The Ferrari-engined Sauber could be in the eighth or ninth place range.

Most to prove: Felipe Massa. Job on the line and in front of the tifosi, a must for Massa to have a clean, high-points scoring weekend in Italy.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Fernando Alonso. Monza’s famed “tifosi” demand nothing less than victory from Ferrari, and it’ll likely be up to Alonso to get the job done for them. Considering his strong run last time out at Spa – like Monza, a low-downforce track – he stands a chance of coming through with a critical win for his title hopes.

Surprising finish: Mark Webber. Through eleven starts at Monza in his Formula One career, Webber has yet to hit the podium. It’d be great to see him finally break through at “La Pista Magica” as he continues his farewell tour of F1 before heading off to the sports cars next season.

Most to prove: Jean-Eric Vergne. His Toro Rosso teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, has punched a ticket to the big time with his ascension to Mark Webber’s Red Bull seat for 2014. With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an extra-motivated “JEV” for the rest of the season starting in Italy.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. The Briton has been relentless in qualifying so far this season, chasing his fifth in a row at Monza this weekend. Given that five of the past six winners in Italy have started from pole, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him bag P1 on Saturday and simply keep it ahead of Vettel on Sunday, just as he did in Hungary.

Surprising finish: Jenson Button. McLaren appear to be on the cusp of something good in Italy, having also ran well at the Belgian Grand Prix last month. Button could be poised to claim the team’s best result of 2013 so far this weekend.

Most to prove: Daniel Ricciardo. Essentially, he needs to say “here’s why Red Bull hired me” at Monza.

Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes have usually been handy around Monza. Hamilton’s on a run of four consecutive pole positions and he’s got a good chance of repeating his win from last year.

Surprising finish: Sergio Perez. Something of a Monza specialist – he scored two remarkable wins in his F3 days at this track from 14th on the grid, and took an excellent second here last year.

Most to prove: Pastor Maldonado. He needs to erase memories of the blunder that ended his race at Spa.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.