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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Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.