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Italian Grand Prix 2021

Italian GP Preview: Can Verstappen win three in a row and make Mercedes miserable?

All the momentum is with Max Verstappen as he aims to make it three wins in a row this weekend. Can Mercedes stop him from pulling away at Monza?

Column
To news overview © Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool

The second triple-header of the year has come and (almost) gone in a flash, with the summer break now a distant memory. After the disaster that was the Belgian Grand Prix, the Dutch Grand Prix proved to be a huge success and provided one of the most atmospheric races in recent memory.

Onwards, then, to Monza and the Italian Grand Prix. Alongside the British Grand Prix, this is the only race that has been on the calendar every single year since the championship began in 1950, and Monza continues to provide a unique spectacle for fans, whether at the track or watching on television.

Despite the modern chicanes that stop the drivers hurtling through Curva Grande flat out or from taking the first Lesmo at a huge speed, Monza remains the fastest track in Formula 1 in terms of average speed over a lap. Kimi Raikkonen's pole position lap in 2018 was the fastest average lap speed ever seen in qualifying, only for Lewis Hamilton to beat that record with an average of 164.267mph last year.

The fastest average lap speeds also apply to the races themselves, although we have to go back to 2003 for the fastest ever. Michael Schumacher's win that year was set at an average pace of 153.843mph and resulted in the shortest ever F1 race (without a red flag) at just 1 hour 14 minutes.

Quite simply, Monza is still F1's 'Temple of Speed' and provides unique challenges in the form of low downforce sweeps through the fast Ascari chicane as well as through the newly-renamed Curva Alboreto, the former Parabolica.

It's also set to be a unique weekend at Monza, given that the 2021 Italian Grand Prix will play host to the second 'Sprint Qualifying' event, introducing another element of the unknown.

Last year's race provided one of the feel-good stories of the year as AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly won his first race in Formula 1, but this came about as a result of a penalty for Hamilton, who looked set to dominate the event otherwise.

Is it a case of damage limitation for Red Bull?

Having re-taken the lead in the Drivers' Championship by winning at Zandvoort to follow up his 'victory' in Belgium, Monza looks like a tough ask for Max Verstappen and Red Bull.

Despite the gains made by Honda this year, Mercedes continue to lead the way in outright engine power and, at a track where this is king, together with ample DRS zones, Monza represents Mercedes' best opportunity for a dominant win against Red Bull for the first time since Spain.

If Red Bull suspect this track may not suit them and that the win is out of reach, a decision could be taken to take the pain of a new engine and get that particular plaster ripped off. Having taken the opportunity to put a fourth engine into Sergio Perez's pool last time out at Zandvoort, Verstappen still needs to get his own fourth engine into play.

Monza is a reasonably straightforward track to overtake at, provided you've got enough engine power, and a new engine would allow Verstappen to push a little harder than usual. However, the case is that any penalties would be applied to the starting grid order for the Grand Prix itself, not for the Sprint Qualifying grid order. This would mean a hard Sunday's work for Verstappen, as well as plenty of risk, with the intent of trying to come home in second or third place. But if that's where Red Bull foresee their weekend going anyway, it may be worth taking that risk this weekend at a track where overtaking is possible.

Of course, it's not a decision that will be made lightly, given that Verstappen has the opportunity to win three in a row and open up a gap over Hamilton after the disruption to his campaign at Silverstone and Budapest.

It's advantage Hamilton for the Italian Grand Prix, given the straight line speed that the Mercedes seems to enjoy, even without DRS intervention.

It was questionable, even in Zandvoort, whether it was the Mercedes or Red Bull that was the quicker car, given that Verstappen was never able to pull away significantly from the chasing Hamilton. Had it been the British driver out front instead of the Dutchman, would Verstappen have been able to keep pace?

The good news for Red Bull is that, even if they are beaten this weekend by Mercedes, Monza is an idiosyncratic track with specific demands that don't apply to any of the remaining circuits on the calendar.

Ferrari returning home with some pride

Ferrari must have been thrilled that last year's Italian Grand Prix was held behind closed doors, given that Monza was almost the nadir of an already dreadful year.

Qualifying 13th and 17th on true pace last year at Monza, Sebastian Vettel was out of the race after just six laps with spontaneously combusting brakes, while Charles Leclerc made it to Lap 23 before crashing out at the Parabolica.

With no tifosi in the stands to mock their remarkable efforts, Ferrari return to Monza in a much better position 12 months later and ready to welcome cheers, rather than jeers.

Capitalising on a poor weekend from McLaren last time out in the Netherlands, Ferrari are now 11.5 points clear of their main rival in the Constructors' Championship and, with both drivers performing well, it looks as though the momentum will be behind them in the closing stages of this season.

It's difficult to gauge just how competitive Ferrari might be at Monza. While McLaren have the advantage of Mercedes power, the Ferrari power unit has come on in leaps and bounds this year. Although the new updates to the engine won't be ready for introduction this weekend, the power unit isn't a particular weakness. This is borne out by Leclerc's pole position in Azerbaijan, a track with the longest straight in Formula 1 making up the third sector.

If it turns out that Red Bull do opt to take a grid penalty for Sunday's race, it's possible that Ferrari might be able to fend for third spot on the podium. Without those circumstances, it's likely Monza will be more of the same for Ferrari as they battle for best of the rest with McLaren.

F1 TV

One way to watch the Italian Grand Prix in certain countries is through F1 TV, F1's own digital streaming platform that helps you get inside the pit lane while accessing real-time statistics and timing, along with historical content.

Users can live stream every track session for every one of the Grands Prix, along with access to all the onboard cameras and team radios for your favourite drivers.

In addition to Formula 1 content, you can also get the F2, F3, and Porsche Supercup action as well. Find out more here.

F1 Podcast: Can Mercedes stop Verstappen hat-trick after Dutch dreams come true at Zandvoort?

It's time for the latest episode of our new Formula 1 podcast, with F1 journalists Dieter Rencken, Thomas Maher and Mike Seymour chatting about Max Verstappen's dream weekend at home in Zandvoort!

RN365 News dossier F1 2021 Italian Grand Prix

The latest news about the Italian Grand Prix straight from Monza.

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