Mercedes are the clear favourite for victory at the Italian Grand Prix, ahead of main rival Red Bull, but Felipe Massa doubts that the weekend will play a significant part in deciding the winner of the 2021 F1 title.
Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will form the front row of the grid for Saturday's 100km Sprint Qualifying race at Monza, with championship leader and Red Bull driver Max Verstappen lining up third.
However, Bottas is set to drop to the back of the grid for Sunday's main event, having taken on a fourth power unit of the season, meaning Verstappen has an opportunity to limit any damage potentially inflicted by Hamilton.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with RacingNews365.com, Massa made clear that he fully expects Mercedes to continue to dominate at Monza, but reckons the event will have little influence on Verstappen's season, given the unique nature of the circuit, and the Dutchman's recent run of form.
"At the Dutch Grand Prix, Verstappen was the best, and at Spa he won as well," said 11-time Grand Prix winner Massa.
"This time, however, the coin seems to have flipped in favour of Mercedes and Hamilton.
"Mercedes are looking incredibly strong at Monza, judging by qualifying. Therefore, I expect Mercedes to take the win this weekend, but that should not make much difference to Verstappen's title chances."
Massa believes that Verstappen should play the long game at Monza, with eight more races to follow this season.
"The battle will go on for a long time and it's about being on top at the end of the season," Massa added.
"Although Max has a difficult race ahead of him, that doesn't mean anything about his chances of winning the title this year. If he loses here it's only a few points, provided he doesn't make a mistake, and he might make up for it in the next race."
Verstappen, bidding for his first F1 title, currently leads seven-time World Champion Hamilton by three points in the standings.
Follow Rudy van Buren as he takes you on a flying lap around the home of Italian motorsport, the historic 'Temple of Speed' at Monza.