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F1 Preview: 2018 Italian Grand Prix

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The final race of the European portion of the 2018 Formula 1 season comes this weekend with the Italian Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza…or just “Monza” for short.

Recent history at Monza, perhaps the fastest track on the calendar, has favored Mercedes, who have produced the fastest car since 2014, and their entries have always been well-suited to the high speeds of Monza – Mercedes has won every race at Monza since 2014.

The 2018 go-round could be much different however, given the prowess of Ferrari, especially at power tracks – Sebastian Vettel won at Spa-Francorchamps last week, a power circuit similar in nature to Monza.

As such, Mercedes could see its first Monza defeat since 2013. By coincidence, Vettel won that year, with Red Bull Racing, and he is likely the best positioned driver to unseat Mercedes.

Talking points ahead of the Italian Grand Prix are below.

Ferrari Looks To Reclaim Home-Soil Glory

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 12: Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the Italian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on September 12, 2010 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

The last time Ferrari won in front of the loyal tifosi was in 2010 – Fernando Alonso beat then McLaren driver Jenson Button, with Alonso’s Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa finishing third to put both Ferraris on the podium.

However, a home victory has eluded them ever since, with Mercedes winning every Italian Grand Prix since 2014.

Lewis Hamilton has three of the last four races in Italy, and four of the last six dating back to 2012. He also enters this weekend with a 17-point lead over Sebastian Vettel.

However, Vettel’s victory in last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix was a needed momentum boost for Ferrari after tough outings in Germany and Hungary saw Hamilton distance himself somewhat.

Vettel is unlikely to regain the championship lead in Italy unless Hamilton falters, but a Ferrari triumph at its home track would not only continue their momentum but also send a further message to Mercedes.

Ferrari’s extra speed at Spa-Francorchamps got Hamilton’s attention, and though the brief war of words between them was quickly extinguished, Mercedes’ reign as the dominant team in F1 is very much in jeopardy.

If Ferrari can return to Victory Lane on home soil, then it could give them the momentum they need for the remaining fly-away races.

Red Bull’s Top-Speed a Real “Drag?”

SPA, BELGIUM – AUGUST 26: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2018 in Spa, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Top end speed has long been the weak area for Red Bull Racing, and their combative technique against to help was on full display at Belgium – their RB14 sported the smallest of rear wings to reduce drag and increase straight-line speed.

Monza should see a similar concept for the Red Bull outfit, though they still may be vulnerable to the top teams in the midfield. Haas has been fast all year, even though the results don’t necessarily show it. And the newly renamed Racing Point Force India squad is coming off their best weekend of the season, with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon finished fifth and sixth after qualifying third (Ocon) and fourth (Perez) respectively.

To make matters worse, Daniel Ricciardo is due to receive a grid penalty and will start at the back of the grid, per Formula 1’s website – Ricciardo will be using the latest Renault “Spec C” engine.

As such, Red Bull’s status behind Mercedes and Ferrari could be threatened at Monza.

Misc.

  • McLaren will look for better results after a dismal outing in Belgium saw both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne fail to advance out of Q1. Vandoorne finished 15th, while Alonso recorded a DNF after being collected in a Lap 1 crash with Charles Leclerc and Nico Hulkenberg.
  • The futures of Williams and Force India will be interesting side stories to keep track of this weekend. The consortium that now runs Force India is headed by Lawrence Stroll, father of Williams driver Lance Stroll. Rumors suggest that Lance could move to Force India, possibly as early as this season, displacing Esteban Ocon. Announcements about their future are unlikely to come during the weekend, but it will remain a noteworthy story to follow in the coming weeks.

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Dakar Stage 8 Highlights: Ricky Brabec blows engine, retires

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The motorcycle class of the Dakar Rally has been a seesaw affair through seven stages, but Ricky Brabec seemed poised to win the class for the USA. Until he blew an engine in Stage 8 that is – and gave up a more-than seven second lead. He was the second rider to retire after starting the stage as the leader. Joan Barreda retired in Stage 3.

Brabec was looking to become the first American rider to win in 27 years, but his fate was eerily similar to last year. Three days from the end of the stage, he retired about 50 kilometers into the stage, which is precisely when and where he retired in 2018.

With Brabec’s trouble, Toby Price leapfrogged from third to second in class despite riding with a metal pin in his wrist. In the world’s most grueling endurance event, it has never been more obvious that it isn’t over till it’s over.

Meanwhile, Nasser Al-Attiyah continues to run a consistent rally. With a 46 minute advantage over Nani Roma and Sebastien Loeb, all he needs to do is stay error free for the final two stages to win his third Dakar.

Here are some of the other highlights:

In the cars class, Sebastien Loeb scored his fifth stage win of the Rally by seven minutes over Nasser Al-Attiyah, but problems in Stage 3 have kept him from being competitive for the overall lead. … Jakub Przygonski earned his third podium of the Rally. All of these have been third-place finishes.

Class Leaders: Al-Attiyah holds an advantage of 46:29 over Roma and 46:45 over Loeb.

In motorcycles, Ricky Brabec’s blown engine opened up the class once more. … Matthias Walkner narrowly edged Pablo Quintanilla by 45 seconds. … But it was Toby Price’s third-place finish that helped elevate him to the class lead. … Sam Sunderland was supposed to blaze the path for the riders, but a malfunctioning navigation system kept him from rolling off first. Blazing the trail is a disadvantage and officials adjudged him to have tampered with his system to avoid that fate. Sunderland was penalized an hour to finish 35th on the stage. He dropped to ninth in class.

Class Leaders: Price inherited the lead over Quintanilla by 1:03 and 6:35 over Walkner

In side by sides, Francisco Lopez Contardo scored the victory over Cristian Baumgart by 4:47. … Gerard Farres Guell rounded out the top three.

Class Leaders: Contardo holds an advantage 0f 54:10 over Rodrigo Piazolli and one hour, 08:09 over Guell

In quads, there was no surprise in Nicolas Cavigliasso winning his seventh stage of the season. … He padded his overall advantage over Gustavo Gallego by more than nine minutes. … Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli finished third.

Class Leaders: Cavigliasso holds and advantage of one hour, 24:52 over Ferioli and one hour, 44:04 over Gallego

In trucks, Dmitry Sotnikov won the stage to take over the class lead. He beat Ton Van Genugten by 22:01. … Siarhei Viazovich rounded out the top three. … Eduard Nikolaev lost the class lead by finishing eighth – nearly one hour behind Sotnikov.

Class Leaders: Sotnikov holds an advantage of 26:49 over and one hour, 7:43 over Gerard de Rooy

Stage Wins

Motorcycles
Sam Sunderland [2] (Stage 5 and 7), Matthias Walkner [2] (Stage 2 and 8), Joan Barreda [1] (Stage 1), Xavier de Soultrait [1] (Stage 3), Ricky Brabec [1] (Stage 4) and Pablo Quintanilla [1] (Stage 6)

Quads
Nicolas Cavigliasso [7] (Stage 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8) and Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli [1] (Stage 3)

Cars
Sebastien Loeb [4] (Stage 2, 5, 6 and 8), Nasser Al-Attiyah [2] (Stage 1 and 4) and Stephane Peterhansel [2] (Stage 3 and 7)

Side-by-sides
Francisco Lopez Contardo [4] (Stage 2, 6, 7 and 8), Reinaldo Varela [1] (Stage 1), Gerard Farres Guell [1] (Stage 3), Sergei Kariakin [1] (Stage 4) and Rodrigo Piazzoli [1] (Stage 5)

Trucks
Eduard Nikolaev [3] (Stage 1, 2 and 5), Andrey Karginov [2] (Stage 3 and 4), Dmitry Sotnikov [2] (Stage 6 and 8) and Gerard de Rooy [1] (Stage 7)

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