By Neil Leverett
- Round 14 of the Formula 1 season moves to Monza this weekend for the Italian Grand Prix
- Max Verstappen again leads World Drivers’ Championship after successive race wins
- Sprint format returns to schedule after debut at Silverstone earlier this season
MONZA, ITALY – As Formula 1 completes its three-race spin this weekend, can Max Verstappen make it a clean sweep at the Italian Grand Prix?
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‘Temple of Speed’ set to thrill again
Autodromo Nazionale di Monza. Four words set to leave Formula 1 fans in a lather once more this weekend as the ‘Temple of Speed’ hosts the Italian Grand Prix.
The historic circuit in Lombardy, situated north of Milan, has hosted the Italian leg on the F1 calendar every year since 1949, with the exception of the 1980 edition, which relocated to Imola as a one-off with Monza being upgraded.
As the tifosi pack the stands for the first time in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Italian fans will be treated to two special liveries this weekend, with both Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin bedecking their cars with the colours of Il Tricolore, the country’s national flag.
One of the fastest races on the calendar, Monza has shown in the past it can thrill like no other race, as last season’s winner Pierre Gasly can attest.
The Frenchman sealed his maiden F1 victory during last season’s race, but what lies in store for the 2021 edition?
Verstappen eyes clean sweep
And so the see-saw campaign rolls on.
At the resumption of the campaign after F1’s summer break only a fortnight ago, it was Lewis Hamilton who appeared to be holding the aces.
Yet after trips to Belgium and The Netherlands, it is now Max Verstappen leading the World Drivers’ Championship once more, just as he did before Hungary back at the start of August.
With back-to-back wins under his belt, both Dutchman and Red Bull appear to have returned to their dominant ways, but next Verstappen must crack a circuit he has never won at.
Conversely, Hamilton has won here five times alongside Michael Schumacher. Indeed the big names of F1 down the years have all claimed top spot on the podium; Ayrton Senna, Nika Lauda, Alain Prost, Juan Manuel Fangio, all have a Monza win to their name. Verstappen is long overdue to do the same.
A much needed break welcomes the paddock next weekend before a trip to Sochi in Russia at the end of the month, but with just three points the difference in the title race, all the marbles are again on the line.
Sprint could shake things up
Without a win on the famed tarmac in Lombardy then, the return of the Sprint race could also seriously derail Verstappen’s plans.
Having debuted at Silverstone earlier this summer, the move to Friday for initial qualifying saw Hamilton take P1 at the front of the grid, before Verstappen leapfrogged his rival to take the sprint win on Saturday.
What followed then of course was their much-publicised incident at Turn 9 of the opening lap, which saw Verstappen forced to retire whilst Hamilton continued – much to the chagrin of Team boss Christian Horner – and who timed his effort to perfection despite car damage, overtaking Charles Leclerc over the closing laps.
Throwing a large spanner in Red Bull’s five-race victory, Sergio Perez‘ crash in the sprint race also triggered a run of two races, where the Milton Keynes outfit took just a single point for their rather forlorn efforts.
The maiden voyage of the new race format was a hit with fans due to its unpredictability, and both Verstappen and Red Bull will be acutely aware of how quickly the F1 landscape can and could change again.
F1 merry-go-round kicks in early
The other underlying narrative in Italy this weekend will be the further shake-up of the grid set to take place next season, headlined by George Russell‘s now confirmed switch to Mercedes in 2022.
Perhaps the worst kept secret in the paddock in recent weeks, as next year heralds a new era in F1, Mercedes will for the first time have an all-British make-up to it, but the ripple effect is already in motion.
With one drive at Williams set to be vacated, the British manufacturer have not wasted any time in naming Russell’s replacement, electing to bring back former Red Bull driver Alex Albon, who they believe will be hungry to prove his critics wrong.
The latest two switches in the paddock come after Kimi Raikkonen – still absent this weekend due to a positive coronavirus test last Friday – announced his retirement at the end of the season at Zandvoort last time out, with Valtteri Bottas now expected to take the Finn’s spot at Alfa Romeo.
One man set to stay with his team for now however, is Yuki Tsunoda, after impressing during his debut season with AlphaTauri.
Though these moves will only be made official come December, it is more than likely though, that their impact will start to be felt this weekend.
And what better place to do it, than Monza?
The 2021 Formula 1 Heineken Italian Grand Prix takes place this weekend at Monza.
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