Vettel and Ricciardo ready for challenge of Monza

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Red Bull drivers Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo are both relishing the challenge posed by the Autodromo Nazionale Monza for next weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.

The circuit on the outskirts of Milan is one of the most famous in racing, having featured in all but one F1 championship in 1950. Although Ricciardo may struggle to secure his third straight victory next Sunday, he is still hoping to stand on the podium for the first time in Italy.

“There’s something about flashing through those trees in front of that massive crowd that definitely gets the pulse all the way up,” he said in Red Bull’s grand prix preview. “The crowd in Monza is wild. Obviously it’s full-on Ferrari but in the past they’ve always been very generous to me. I’d love to get the opportunity to stand on that brilliant podium and find out!

“The biggest challenges at Monza nowadays are the braking zones. The first chicane is the ultimate example: you’re coming down to that first chicane at the highest speed an F1 car will reach all year and you’re braking into one of the tightest corners you’ll take all year.

“Added to that you’re doing this with the least amount of downforce you’ll have all year – which means the car tends to slide around quite a bit as well as taking longer to stop.”

Teammate Sebastian Vettel will return to the site of his first ever win in Formula 1 next weekend, and he has a lot of good memories from racing in Italy throughout his career. He won the 2008 race for Scuderia Toro Rosso in torrential rain, which to this day stands as the team’s only victory.

“I have some friends in Italy from the karting days and also Toro Rosso so it is nice to go back there,” the German said. “For me one of the best places is obviously Monza for the race circuit, which is one of the fastest tracks we go to.

“The track has brutal deceleration points, is especially tough on the brakes and the tires are also heavily loaded, especially in the fast corners such as the Curva Grande and Parabolica.

“It is extremely difficult in Monza to get a perfect lap because it is almost impossible to hit every curve and every chicane in the way you want.”

Vettel has stood on the top step of the podium at the Italian Grand Prix on three occasions, with his latest victory coming last season as the second in a sequence of nine straight wins.

F1 2017 driver review: Sebastian Vettel

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Sebastian Vettel

Team: Scuderia Ferrari
Car No.: 5
Races: 20
Wins: 5
Podiums (excluding wins): 8
Pole Positions: 4
Fastest Laps: 5
Points: 317
Laps Led: 286
Championship Position: 2nd

2017 was supposed to be the year Sebastian Vettel finally fulfilled his ambition of emulating Michael Schumacher by returning Ferrari to its championship-winning heyday.

Instead, it ended in disappointment and frustration – once again.

Ferrari arguably made a greater step across the change in technical regulations for 2017 than any other team, living up to its pre-season tag as favorite by winning the opening round in Australia in fashion.

Vettel and Ferrari led their respective championships following the Monaco Grand Prix as the German ended a 16-year win drought for the Prancing Horse in the principality, and even heading into the summer break, a shot at both championships was looking good.

However, cracks had started to appear. Vettel’s remarkable antics behind the safety car in Baku sparked controversy after driving into Hamilton, suggesting the tension of the title fight was beginning to take its toll on the German.

The final run of flyaways was where things really fell apart for Vettel, though. Singapore looked to be a slam-dunk win, only for a start-line crash also involving teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen to put 25 free points in Hamilton’s pocket.

Reliability woes then struck in Malaysia and Japan – two more races Vettel could realistically have won – to make it game over in the title race, with Hamilton wrapping things up in Mexico.

Vettel only finished the year 46 points back from Hamilton, proving the impact the three bad races in Asia had. Realistically, this was a title race that should have gone down to the wire in Abu Dhabi. Instead, Vettel remains a four-time champion, level with Hamilton, who had just one to his name back in 2013 when his rival secured his fourth.

Ferrari’s internal issues will come under the microscope over the off-season, and Vettel himself knows there is plenty to work on. Staying cool under pressure and not letting things boil over as in Baku is the most obvious area for improvement.

But there is reason for hope. If Ferrari can keep up with Mercedes and repeat its impressive step into 2017 through the upcoming off-season, we may well be treated to another Vettel/Hamilton scrap at the front of the field, perhaps settling once and for all who is the greatest driver of the post-Schumacher era.

Season High: A crucial win in Hungary despite battling with a broken steering column.

Season Low: Letting tensions flare in Baku and hitting Hamilton behind the safety car.