Two weeks after Sebastian Vettel’s (pictured) comfortable victory in Belgium, the Formula One paddock reconvenes for the final European race of the season, the Italian Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 13:00 BST, live on BBC / Sky Sports F1) at the historic Monza circuit in Northern Italy.
Vettel overtook pole sitter Lewis Hamilton on the first lap in Belgium and dominated thereafter, enjoying an incident free race that saw him extend his lead in the championship to 46 points with eight races remaining.
Fernando Alonso is currently Vettel’s closest challenger after recovering from a disappointing qualifying performance to finish second at Spa. He leapfrogged Kimi Raikonnen in the championship standings after the Finn suffered his first mechanical failure since returning to the sport last year.
Hamilton also moved ahead of Raikonnen after finishing third, but Mercedes were some way off the ultimate pace in race conditions. They will use a revised low-downforce package at Monza and need a strong weekend if Hamilton is to stay in the championship fight.
Further back, McLaren’s Jenson Button secured a third consecutive points finish with a strong run to sixth, while Daniel Ricciardo, who this week has been confirmed as Red Bull’s second driver for 2014, came home in 10th for his fourth points finish of the season.
The teams all utilised relatively low-downforce set ups in Belgium, but Monza requires even less downforce. The circuit is essentially four long straights connected by three chicanes and the long, sweeping Curva Parabolica. The teams who succeed will be those who are good in a straight line but also over the kerbs.
The weather forecast for this weekend’s race shows a good chance of rain on both Saturday and Sunday, which has the potential to mix up the expected order.
Hamilton extended his run of consecutive pole positions to four by qualifying at the head of the field in Belgium, but a closer examination of the numbers suggests that Vettel is well placed to end that run this weekend.
Hamilton may have set the fastest time on a drying track in the final qualifying session, but it was Vettel who was fastest on a fully dry track in the second session, and it was the Red Bull drivers who were quicker in a straight line. Vettel’s speed trap reading was 299.5 kph, some 8.4 kph quicker than Hamilton.
Red Bull have traditionally struggled at the lower downforce circuits, but pole position and victory in Canada and second on the grid and victory in Belgium suggest they have overcome their achilles heel. On the lowest of the low-downforce circuits, Vettel is the favourite for pole position.
Another team who excelled on straight line speed in Belgium were Force India. Although Paul Di Resta’s impressive fifth place in qualifying had more to do with astute decision making in changeable conditions than outright pace, he has an opportunity to shine again this weekend.
Di Resta has out qualified his teammate Adrian Sutil in six of the 11 races this season and achieved a superb fourth on the grid at Monza last year. His car was the second quickest through the speed trap in Belgium and a top 10 qualifying place will be his minimum goal on Saturday.
Vettel scored his first ever Formula One win at Monza back in 2008, dominating a wet race at the wheel of a Toro Rosso. He also took victory for Red Bull in 2011, elevating him to a position alongside Alonso as one of only two drivers on the current grid to have recorded a pair of victories at the circuit.
Vettel has proved himself adept at dealing with changeable conditions in the past and with rain currently forecast he could get an opportunity to show off those skills on Sunday. Rain or shine, there are few better than Vettel at converting pole position into victory.
Sergio Perez was one of the stars of last year’s Italian Grand Prix, successfully implementing a contrary tyre strategy to rise from 12th on the grid to second by the end of the race. Given a few more laps, he may even have been in a position to challenge Hamilton for victory.
That result contributed towards Perez being chosen to replace Hamilton at McLaren. Despite the failings of this year’s car, Perez has done a solid job, finishing in the points on five occasions and on the cusp of the top 10 a further four times.
McLaren had hoped that their update for Belgium would see them in a position to challenge for podiums, but despite that not being the case, it still allowed Perez’s teammate Button to finish in a credible sixth place, while Perez finished just outside the points in 11th.
Perez will hope to go at least one better at Monza and with Button in the midst of a run of successive points finishes, McLaren have a good chance of getting both cars in the points on Sunday.
Italian Grand Prix Betting Tips Verdict
- Back Sebastian Vettel to take pole position @ 2/1 with Betfred, Coral or SkyBet.
- Bet on Paul Di Resta to reach qualifying session three @ 5/4 with Ladbrokes.
- Back Sebastian Vettel to win the race @ 7/4 with Bet365, Stan James or William Hill.
- Bet on McLaren to secure a double points finish @ best odds of 2/1 with Paddy Power.