The increasingly tense battle for the 2014 Formula One Drivers’ Championship continues at this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 13:00 BST, live on BBC and Sky F1).
Daniel Ricciardo was the winner in Belgium two weeks ago, profiting from an early collision between title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to secure his third victory of the season for Red Bull. Rosberg finished second and Hamilton retired due to gearbox failure.
The accident was the latest incident in an escalating internecine rivalry at Mercedes. Rosberg currently enjoys a 29-point advantage over Hamilton in the championship and as we enter the final stretch of the season, the competition between them is becoming more fierce, and is starting to cost the team points.
Valtteri Bottas came in third for Williams for his fourth podium finish in the last five races. Kimi Raikkonen secured his best finish of the season for Ferrari in fourth, beating teammate Fernando Alonso (seventh) for the first time. Sebastian Vettel finished fifth for Red Bull, ahead of the McLaren of Jenson Button
Daniel Kyvat finished in an impressive ninth for Toro Rosso, sandwiched by the Force India’s of Sergio Perez (eighth) and 10th-placed Nico Hulkenberg (pictured). It was Force India’s sixth double-points finish of the year and saw them close to within two points of McLaren in the race for fifth in the Constructors’ Championship, currently headed by Mercedes.
Monza hosted the second ever Italian Grand Prix in 1922 and has been the venue for all but one of the 63 Italian Grand Prix held under the auspices of the Formula One World Championship. The modern circuit is essentially four straights of varying length separated by chicanes, a couple of medium-speed corners and the famous Parabolica curve.
The circuit requires a low-downforce setup and many teams will use body parts specifically designed for Monza. Pirelli will bring their medium and hard compound tyres. Sauber, for one, are concerned that it will be difficult to get sufficient heat into the hard compound.
Current weather forecasts suggest it will be a sunny weekend, with temperatures in the mid-20s.
Tensions between the two drivers and sporadic cases of unreliability make it difficult to suggest backing either of the Mercedes drivers to take victory on Sunday. The odds are far more attractive than earlier in the season, but this still remains a risky market. Qualifying is, however, largely immune to these factors, rendering it a more attractive proposition.
Rosberg has taken pole position in each of the last four races. In total, he has out-qualified Hamilton in eight of the 12 races this season, despite Hamilton having a reputation as a strong qualifier. Hamilton has the better qualifying record at Monza, including two pole positions, but Rosberg out-qualified him last year in their first season as teammates.
Hamilton will be keen to assert himself early in the weekend by taking pole position on Saturday, but Rosberg has been dominant in qualifying in recent races and should be considered the more likely of the pair to head the grid this weekend.
Williams should be very quick this weekend. They have been the best-performing of the customer Mercedes teams throughout the season and have run especially well at circuits at which engine performance plays a key role, such as in Austria and Germany. They are confident that their special, Monza-tuned aero package will produce a strong result.
Bottas has enjoyed an excellent year. He sits fifth in the drivers’ championship, having finished in the top eight in all but one of the 12 races to date. Mercedes are rumoured to be keeping a close eye on his progress following his five podium finishes in the last six races.
The Finnish driver can be fancied to bolster his growing reputation with another top-three finish on Sunday.
McLaren showed solid pace last time out in Belgium. Both cars qualified in the top 10 and finished the race in the points, only for Kevin Magnussen to drop down to 12th after receiving a 20-second penalty for blocking Alonso. Like Williams, they will benefit from the power of the Mercedes engine and can be expected to run well this weekend.
Button has never won at Monza, but did secure three consecutive podium finishes at the circuit between 2010 and 2012, and finished in the points in a slower McLaren last year. Magnussen finished second in both races at Monza during his successful World Series by Renault campaign last year.
With this in mind, McLaren look well placed to secure a double points finish this weekend.
Romain Grosjean has failed to finish six races so far this season, including each of the last three. His Lotus has suffered five mechanical failures, while Grosjean was himself at fault for the spin that ended his Hungarian Grand Prix. Between their two drivers, Lotus have had five engine failures this year – a part of the car that will be tested to its limit at Monza.
The likelihood is that Grosjean will fail to finish for the fourth race in a row.
F1 Italian Grand Prix Betting Tips Verdict
- Back Nico Rosberg to take pole position @ best odds of 11/8 with SkyBet, William Hill, Betfred, BetVictor, Ladbrokes.
- Bet on Valtteri Bottas to finish on the podium @ 13/8 with BetVictor, Ladbrokes, Coral, William Hill.
- Back McLaren to achieve a double points finish @ evens with BetVictor.
- Bet on Romain Grosjean not to finish @ 5/4 with Bet365.