Can Lewis Hamilton pull off the Italian job at Monza?
Although a classic F1 venue, Monza hasn't produced a classic race for a few seasons - could this be the British driver's chance to electrify the tifosi? Ross Shepherd previews the race...
As the paddock arrives at F1's most glorious and prestigious track, Ferrari's adoring tifosi must surely be braced for another - yet another - disappointing weekend. Although Alonso continues to prove his ability to drag points from an under-performing car, with Monza being one of the great power orientated circuits, everyone is expecting an easy Mercedes one-two.
In fact, this should have been how the last race ended, had it not been for the now well-discussed contact between the silver arrows. With Rosberg fresh from his wrist slapping at Brackley last week and Hamilton putting out his now very familiar ‘I can win at all odds' rhetoric via social media, will we actually see any notable change from the ultra-tense bitterness of Belgium? As the Championship moves on and the races run out, it seems unlikely that the relationship in the Merc camp will get much better.
Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe are dividing opinion in the paddock over their management techniques. After last weeks disciplinary action, they're promising the Mercedes drivers will be allowed to race 'hard' for the remainder if the Championship. It's certainly what we all want to see, however the track at Monza is notoriously difficult to pass on, so if Mercedes find themselves with their drivers duking it out once more it will be interesting to see if any team orders do emerge.
But what can Hamilton do to get back on a par with Rosberg? Well, putting together a clean weekend should be his first priority. Early on in the season, romping to pole and running away from the pack (not including his ever present teammate) came as standard. The Hamilton we saw dominate proceedings from Sepang to Barcelona is who we need to see this weekend if he's going to have any chance of getting back on top. Consistency in those races seemed effortless; from Monaco onwards something has gone wrong at some stage of every weekend for Lewis. Granted, the appalling reliability suffered in qualifying for the German and Hungarian Grand Prix were completely out of his hands... as was his teammates flawed decision to 'prove a point' last time out.
More like this
Where Hamilton finds himself now will actually seem very familiar this season - on the back foot with it all to do, some 30 points behind. He's come back from a similar deficit twice earlier in the year, so if anyone can do it, surely he is the man for the job.
The other man to watch will be the ever-impressive Daniel Ricardo. With Monza being F1's fastest track, and top speeds this year expected to reach an all time high, it may be that the power limited Renault engine deprives Ricardo of his now regular appearance on the podium. Regardless of his finishing position, one man keen to finish in front of him will be teammate Sebastian Vettel.
12 months ago we were experiencing the start of Vettel's Groundhog Day-like finish to last season. Winning everything, including his prestigious fourth Championship - the thought of a teammate beating him to the level we're now seeing with Ricardo would have seemed far fetched. But the Aussie is making it happen for himself and as we arrive in Monza, Sebastian needs to set about turning the tables if he's to keep his reputation in tact.
Although a classic venue, Monza hasn't actually delivered a truly thrilling race for a few seasons and hopefully Sunday’s event will remedy this. Vettel's maiden win at the rain-soaked 2008 event was a stand out in recent history, as was 2010's Alonso victory in his first appearance for Ferrari on home soil. Hamilton dominated in a lights-to-flag affair in 2012, which he will be hoping to emulate this weekend. Rosberg has no notable history at the track, although this can be said for much of his career pre 2014. Both Mercedes drivers will be looking to take advantage of the seemingly unbeatable car they have this season.
It's going to be fascinating to see who comes out on top in this latest instalment of an intense battle for the Formula 1 Championship.
You can watch the Monza Grand Prix live on BBC1 and Sky Sports F1 on Sunday at 1pm