The dust has barely settled after a dramatic Belgian Grand Prix and the back-to-back schedule leaves little breathing space for the teams. Here are five things to look out for at the Italian Grand Prix.
5. The slowest out-laps of the season
Pirelli came under scrutiny at the Belgian Grand Prix after demanding that teams run abnormally high tyre pressures over the weekend. This demand suggests that Pirelli aren’t confidant in the durability of their compounds, and after announcing that they will bring a “safer” compound to the Malaysian Grand Prix later on, there are big questions being asked.
The abnormally high tyre pressures that teams will also be running here create what has been dubbed “balloon tyres”, given that the result is an unfortunate decline in mechanical grip. This move decreases the chances of the tyres blowing out, but if anything, aggravates degradation. Teams will try to get around this issue by overheating the tyres in their heat blankets and running incredibly slow out-laps before their Quali hot-laps. Both methods reduce tyre pressure fractionally, giving the driver a bit more of that well-needed mechanical grip.
Expect a lot of drifting around Parabolica!
4. Hawk-eyed Stewards on Verstappen
I think the game will be up this weekend for Verstappen. Undoubtedly one of the best drivers on the grid, a future World Champion if all is to be believed. Last time out in Belgium, I was surprised that there was more conversation around turn-one than there was regarding the last-millisecond direction change on the Kemmel straight as a DRS-induced Raikkonen looked to pass the Dutchman.
The first lap crash between the Ferrari’s and Max looked like a racing incident. Vettel didn’t cite Max on the other side of his team-mate, so was unaware that Raikkonen didn’t have the luxury of too much track. The Iceman was pincered and Verstappen was unlucky to damage his front-wing.
The Ferrari’s got the better start and given that Max was on the supersofts, coming out of the first corner of the first lap in 2nd or 4th seemed strategically irrelevant given that he would have been coming into the pits around lap-4 anyway.
As for his defense on Kimi later on, I don’t think he’ll be given the benefit of the doubt this weekend.
3.Force India Podium
Force India go into the weekend in 4th in the Constructors and I think they’ll build on the 2-point lead over Williams here. In these high-degradation times, it pays to have a driver who masters the rubber, drives to an extent that he is in charge of the stint length. Sergio Perez has tuned his driving style perfectly to the current conditions.
When he was at Sauber, and later McLaren, he was considered an aggressive, offensive driver. He still has those elements in his locker, but Checo has developed a smoothness over the years. I think he’ll do well here, and the VJM09 is a proven podium finisher this season – why not at a track that will really suit them?
2. Manor racing through the speed trap
It’s great that 2016 seems to be the year that Manor shed their back-marker status. A bumpy road since the team was entered as Virgin Racing in 2010 has seen potential collapses and umpteen finishes around the back.
The high-speed, 70% full-throttle Monza circuit will suit the car massively. They’ve been impressive through the speed traps all season but this weekend could see the team score a few more points. Wehrlein and Ocon seem to be top class drivers. We put Verstappen in a league of his own as he drives around at the top in a Red Bull, but these two will definitely be his rivals of the future.
1. Hamilton versus Rosberg
It will mean a great deal to Hamilton if he secures pole this weekend as it will see him match Ayrton Senna’s tally. If he does, I think he’ll have the psychological impetus to be faultless throughout the weekend.
Rosberg will be lifted by the reduction in Hamilton’s lead in the driver standings to 9-points, but the Brit’s record around here is simply too good to ignore. He has been victories on three occasions here. I think tyre issues will keep Mercedes within touching distance of the rest of the pack, but the win will ultimately be fought out between the Silver Arrows team-mates.