The Italian Grand Prix weekend has been one of ‘goodbyes’ thus far.
As we prepare to say goodbye to Europe for the remainder of the 2016 Formula 1 season, we’ve also learned that both Felipe Massa and Jenson Button won’t be on the grid next year, kick-starting the driver market ‘silly season’.
Alas, keeping things in the present, there is still plenty to be fought for in today’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg prepare to enter battle one again.
Hamilton dominated qualifying on Saturday for Mercedes, finishing almost half a second clear of title rival and teammate Rosberg in Q3 to capture a record-equalling fifth pole at Monza.
Hamilton now enters Sunday’s race on the cusp of a third straight win at the track known as ‘La Pista Magica’ – doing so would see him regain the momentum lost at Spa when Rosberg returned to the top step of the podium.
You can watch the Italian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 7am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.
Here’s what to watch for in today’s race.
2016 Italian Grand Prix – What To Watch For
Monza hat-trick the goal for Lewis
By taking his fifth Italian Grand Prix pole at Monza on Saturday, Lewis Hamilton emulated five-time F1 world champion Juan Manuel Fangio as well as his own personal hero, Ayrton Senna.
Hamilton now heads into Sunday’s race with the chance to match Fangio once again. Victory for the Briton would be his third in a row at Monza, equalling Fangio’s streak from 1953 to 1955 – another key record.
The biggest thing for Hamilton will be re-establishing his points lead and – perhaps more crucially – his psychological advantage over Rosberg. Despite fighting back at Spa last weekend, Rosberg was still able to end his winless run and cut the points gap.
Monza has been the site of Rosberg’s downfall each of the past two years – will Lady Luck smile more favorably this time around?
Ferrari looks to give the Tifosi comfort, if not celebrations
Tens of thousands of Italian fans will descend on Monza today draped in the scarlet red of Ferrari, eager to catch a glimpse of drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. This year, it’s highly unlikely either will stand on the top step of the podium – frankly, just being on the rostrum would be an achievement.
Monza is a key part of Ferrari’s season, a place where the year run thus far is reflected upon and analyzed. President Sergio Marchionne made no secret of his disappointment on Saturday, saying Ferrari has “failed” to meet its targets this year – which, really, is putting it mildly.
The engine update is doing the tricky and Ferrari should claw back into Red Bull’s advantage in the constructors’ championship today – but dreams of a first home win since 2010 should be put on ice.
Can Williams’ revival continue?
Much like Ferrari, Williams has found itself losing more and more ground in recent races. After entering the year hopeful of dicing with the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull, the British team has slipped back into the clutches of Force India over the past few months, falling to fifth in the constructors’ championship in the process.
However, a glimmer of a revival was present in qualifying on Saturday as Valtteri Bottas charged to fifth place on the grid, beating not only the Force Indias but also both Red Bulls. It was an impressive display that the Finn will be keen to repeat today.
The battle for P4 in the constructors’ championship may seem unimportant for those believing that only winners get remembered, but that is wrong. Here, it means many millions of dollars in prize money, making it key for privateer teams. A strong run today at Monza could be crucial for Williams come the end of the season.
Gutierrez hopes to capitalize on Q3 run
Esteban Gutierrez scored another breakthrough for Haas during qualifying on Saturday at Monza by chalking up the team’s first Q3 appearance, sticking his VF-16 car 10th on the grid.
Gutierrez’s points drought is approaching three years, his last top-10 finish coming at the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix. With the updated Ferrari power unit in the back of his Haas, the Mexican stands every chance of ending that today, relying he can keep his cool in the midfield battle.
Teammate Romain Grosjean may start P17, but he too will be hopeful of reaching the top 10 with a charge through the pack. Stick him on an alternate strategy, and who knows what will happen?
Tire strategies aplenty at Monza
Mercedes pulled an interesting move in qualifying on Saturday, getting both Hamilton and Rosberg through Q2 on the soft tire that ensures both can go longer in their first stint today. With the cars around them all on super-softs, Mercedes may not have such a big pace advantage to begin with, but it should make a one-stop strategy very possible for the Silver Arrows.
Otherwise, most will be expecting a two-stop race at Monza, which with a mix of super-softs, softs and mediums all available from Pirelli could be completed in a variety of different ways. Keep an eye on those trying to make a one-stop work, particularly the tire-savvy drivers such as Sergio Perez.
2016 Italian Grand Prix – Starting Grid
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
4. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
5. Valtteri Bottas Williams
6. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
7. Max Verstappen Red Bull
8. Sergio Perez Force India
9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
10. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
11. Felipe Massa Williams
12. Fernando Alonso McLaren
13. Pascal Wehrlein Manor
14. Jenson Button McLaren
15. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
16. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
17. Romain Grosjean Haas
18. Felipe Nasr Sauber
19. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
20. Jolyon Palmer Renault
21. Kevin Magnussen Renault
22. Esteban Ocon Manor