MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Italian GP

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Formula 1 ventures to the spiritual home of motorsport in Italy this weekend at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, based on the outskirts of Milan.

This race is one of the most famous in the history of the sport, having appeared on all but one of the F1 schedules since 1950. It will also see the loyal Tifosi come through its gates to cheer on the Ferrari team, even if its hopes of claiming the race win on Sunday may be shot down by two Silver Arrows.

Following their public fall-out at Monza, will Lewis Hamilton and championship leader Nico Rosberg patch things up? Or could it get out of hand on track for the second weekend in a row? Here’s what the MotorSportsTalk writing team had to say on the matter ahead of F1’s return to ‘la pista magica’ – ‘the magic track’, Monza.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. It’s a toss of a coin picking between Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg once again. Both will be charged up to hit back following a nightmarish weekend at Spa, but you can expect Hamilton to dial his car in and gun for a second victory at Monza.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. As we saw at Spa, Kimi’s still got it. He may not say much, but the flying Finn still has the same fire and pace that won him the title back in 2007. Ferrari must impress at its home race, but it isn’t all about Fernando Alonso, you know…

Most to prove: Mercedes. Quite simply: “Did you drivers listen to you when you said ‘no more contact’?” If the answer is no, we will find out at the first chicane on Sunday at Monza. The battle of Spa may be over, but the war has only just begun.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Mercedes has lost two in a row and it’s not going to be three at a track where power is everything. Rosberg puts the drama of the last two weeks since Spa behind him and returns to the top.

Surprising finish: Fernando Alonso. Alonso’s giant-killing ability with the Ferrari chassis continues to be a storyline, and what better way for him to continue his season than with a podium at the spiritual home of the Scuderia. A win would rank up with Ferrari’s 1988 Monza triumph in the pantheon of upsets… it also has about as much chance happening as that 1988 race. And Jean-Louis Schlesser isn’t making a comeback…

Most to prove: Pastor Maldonado. If for no other reason than you seem to read about him crashing at least once every race weekend. Yes, points are unlikely for Lotus this weekend, but a simple, trouble-free weekend would be nice to see.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. The Brit won’t be lacking motivation this weekend at Monza, that’s for sure. And having not won since Silverstone, he’s due as well. The World Championship battle between he and Rosberg will tighten up a bit again.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. A fourth place result at Belgium was promising, but now Raikkonen must make the tifosi happy at Ferrari’s spiritual home. Many expect teammate Fernando Alonso to lead the Scuderia’s charge here, but I have a feeling that Raikkonen will finally earn his first podium of 2014.

Most to prove: Sebastian Vettel. Mercedes dominated the headlines even though they didn’t win. And the guy that did win was Vettel’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo – who’s now up 3-0 on victories this season. The German’s been missing from the podium since Canada – he needs to get back on it this weekend and reclaim some of the spotlight for himself.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard could finally break through with his first win of the season this week. He’ll have a tough battle with points leaders Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, but this one goes to Alonso. It doesn’t hurt that he’s in a Ferrari and in the red horse’s home country, either.

Surprising finish: Jenson Button. JB has had an uncharacteristically and surprisingly dismal campaign in 2014. At this point, we would thought he’d have had a better year than he has had. He’s due for a decent finish, and this weekend could finally give him that. It may not be a podium finish, but it’ll be close.

Most to prove: Lewis Hamilton. Being ranked second in the standings, you’d think Lewis Hamilton would have very little to prove. But if has hopes of still winning the F1 title, he has to overtake Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by season’s end. To do that, Hamilton has to get moving – and moving fast.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.