Formula 1 rolls into Italy this weekend for the final European round of the season at the famed Autodromo Nazionale Monza on the outskirts of Milan.
The days of racing around the famous banking may be long gone, but Monza still remains one of the most fearsome and unique challenges on the F1 calendar thanks to its high-speed straights and challenge corners such as Parabolica and the two Lesmos.
In spite of its history, the future of the Italian Grand Prix has come into question over the past year. The sport’s pursuit of new markets has left many of its traditional homes playing catch up, leaving Monza in the lurch.
Nevertheless, a booming crowd will make the visit to the track this weekend, with the majority set to sport the scarlet red of Ferrari. At its home grand prix, the team’s loyal Tifosi fan club will create an atmosphere rivalled by few other races.
On-track, Lewis Hamilton will be chasing his third victory at Monza this weekend. Following his dominant display in the Belgian Grand Prix, the Briton remains the man to beat, now enjoying a 28-point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship with eight races to go.
Here is our full preview of this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.
2015 Italian Grand Prix – Talking Points
Hamilton looks to widen the gulf to Rosberg
How quickly things change in F1. With five laps to go in Hungary, Nico Rosberg was on the cusp of taking the lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time in 2015. Just 48 racing laps later though, he’s 28 points down on Hamilton at the top in what is becoming an increasingly ominous title fight.
Cast your mind back to last year. Monza was where Rosberg cracked not once, but twice, under pressure. It was the first of six wins in the final seven races of the year for Hamilton as he turned the screw in the title battle. This year, Rosberg has an even bigger mountain to climb. Another win for Hamilton on Sunday could make it game over.
Vettel arrives at Monza a Ferrari man for the first time
Seven years on from his shock maiden grand prix victory at Monza, Sebastian Vettel will arrive at the track this weekend as a Ferrari driver for the first time. Fernando Alonso may have been the standard-bearer in recent years, but now, all eyes will be on Vettel as Ferrari’s resurgence in 2015 continues.
It will be something of an emotional weekend for Vettel, who had always dreamed of racing for Ferrari. Alonso’s first Monza race for Ferrari ended in victory, setting the benchmark high for any predecessors. Vettel may struggle to beat the Mercedes drivers this weekend, but will certainly be keen to bounce back from his tire blowout at Spa in the best-possible fashion.
Attention on Pirelli and its tires
The fall-out from said tire blowout is only set to continue this weekend at Monza. In the aftermath of the race, Vettel launched into an irate tirade against Pirelli, whilst the tire supplier pointed the finger back at Ferrari, claiming its strategy was what caused the failure.
The FIA has issued a statement confirming that the wear on Vettel’s tires did make his tires more susceptible to cuts at Spa, and said that it was satisfied with Pirelli’s investigation. Nevertheless, the focus will be on the tires this weekend in case of a repeat.
Business as usual for Lotus
The financial mire that is currently engulfing Lotus has been well documented in recent weeks, and although a rescue package from Renault does appear to be on its way, until a deal is struck, uncertainty will remain.
Romain Grosjean’s third place finish at Spa gave the team plenty to smile about, though. The Frenchman believes that the E23 Hybrid car will be better-suited to Monza than it was to Spa, suggesting that another good result could be on the cards. Even at this dark time, the Enstone spirit is continuing to shine through.
Grid penalties galore, again
In a flurry of déjà vu, we look set to have another weekend beset by grid penalties. Toro Rosso has already confirmed that Carlos Sainz Jr. will have to take a grip drop due to a change on his power unit, whilst Red Bull and – of course – McLaren are also likely to follow suit.
This should open up a few opportunities for the drivers in the midfield like it did at Spa. With the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat dropping further back, keep an eye out for Grosjean, Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg and the Williams duo to pick up the pieces and score some good points.
2015 Italian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures
Track: Autodromo Nazionale Monza
Lap Record: Rubens Barrichello 1:21.046 (Ferrari, 2004)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2014 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2014 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:24.109
2014 Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:28.004
DRS Zone: Main Straight (T11 to T1); T7 to T8
2015 Italian Grand Prix – TV Times
Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 4am ET 9/4
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 8am ET 9/4
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 5am ET 9/5
Qualifying: NBCSN 8am ET 9/5
Race: NBCSN 7:30am ET 9/6