The Italian Grand Prix at Monza traditionally acts as sign that the end of the Formula 1 season is within sight.
As the final European round of the year, the teams will say goodbye to their motorhomes until next season and prepare for the exhausting run of flyaway races that are to follow.
Nico Rosberg revived his fading hopes of a maiden drivers’ championship by taking a clinical victory in Belgium last weekend, charging from lights to flag.
However, a similar charge was offered by Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton. By going from 21st on the grid to finish the race third, the Briton ensured he still leads the standings by nine points ahead of the Italian Grand Prix weekend.
Monza was the site of significant blows to Rosberg’s title bids in both 2014 and 2015. Can he rectify things this weekend?
Here is our full preview of the Italian Grand Prix.
2016 Italian Grand Prix – Talking Points
Rosberg primed for late-season charge
Victory in Belgium last weekend may have been served up to Rosberg on a plate, but taking full advantage of the opportunity was crucial. Having seen Hamilton overturn huge grid penalties in 2014, when Rosberg looked in his mirrors under the safety car and saw a Silver Arrow glinting in fifth place, he would have been forgiven for thinking ‘oh no, not again’.
Alas, Rosberg did all he could. In 2014 and 2015, his title tilts fell apart in the second half of the season, so to start on the right foot at Spa was significant. With his tail up once again, he’ll know that another victory at Monza to move to within two points of Hamilton (assuming Hamilton finishes second, of course) would gain him plenty of momentum.
Hamilton chases Monza hat-trick
Following his charge from the back of the grid in Belgium, Lewis Hamilton will have arrived in Italy feeling like he dodged a bullet. Not only did he leave Spa with his championship lead intact, but he also now has enough power units to get to the end of the season with no further penalties.
Hamilton can now get his head down without the cloud of a grid penalty hanging heavy. The only thing separating him and Rosberg now is nine points – and if Hamilton’s late-season form from 2014 and 2015 is anything to go by, that may be set to escalate fast.
Victory at Monza this weekend would be Hamilton’s third on the bounce at the historic circuit, as well as being his fourth overall – a tally only beaten by Michael Schumacher. It would also be his 50th in F1. Significant territory.
More home heartbreak for Ferrari?
The Italian Grand Prix has always been significant for Ferrari. Tens of thousands of fans draped in red will descend on Monza, hopeful of seeing their heroes climb to the top step of the podium. Yet the way things are at the moment, even reaching the podium would be an achievement for Ferrari.
Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen both had miserable races in Belgium, largely thanks to a first-corner clash with Max Verstappen – his reception will be frosty – and need to fight back. Will Mercedes and Red Bull rain on Ferrari’s homecoming? It’s looking likely…
Monza set for contract extension
To the relief of pretty much everyone, the Italian Grand Prix looks poised to remain at Monza for another three years after much uncertainty. With Imola apparently lobbying to take over the race and Bernie Ecclestone seeking a better deal for F1, it looked possible that the sport could leave ‘La Pista Magica’ after this year – thankfully, it doesn’t seem we will be.
We should still not take Monza for granted. It’s presence on the calendar amid a litany of new-built venues its as a reminder of the past, of where F1 has come from. History is important.
Silly season prepares to step up a gear
After cooling off earlier this year following Max Verstappen’s early promotion into a Red Bull seat and Ferrari’s decision to retain Kimi Raikkonen, ‘silly season’ now looks ready to step up a gear at Monza. Felipe Massa announced in a press conference on Thursday that he would be retiring at the end of the year, setting the wheels in motion for 2017.
Other drivers holding the keys to the market include Sergio Perez (linked with Williams and Renault), Felipe Nasr (linked with Williams) and Jenson Button (also linked with, surprise surprise, Williams). The dominoes are ready to fall…
2016 Italian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures
Track: Autodromo Nazionale Monza
Lap Record: Rubens Barrichello 1:21.046 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Medium/Soft/Super-Soft
2015 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2015 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:23.397
2015 Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:26.672
DRS Zones: T11 to T1, T7 to T8
2016 Italian Grand Prix – TV Times
Free Practice 1: NBC Sports App 4am ET 9/2
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 8am ET 9/2
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports App 5am ET 9/3
Qualifying: NBCSN 8am ET 9/3
Race: NBCSN 7am ET 9/4