The 2021 Formula 1 season continues this weekend as the sport makes its way to Autodromo Nazionale di Monza – the home of the Italian Grand Prix.
As one of the fastest circuits ever seen in F1, featuring high speed curves and long straights, Monza is a unique challenge for drivers.
It has also played host to some of the sport’s most thrilling races.
Here’s five reasons to tune in for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix:
Verstappen v Hamilton continues
The main narrative around the 2021 F1 season has been the battle between Max Verstappen and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton for the World Drivers’ Championship.
The pendulum has swung back and forth. Hamilton won three of the first four races, before Verstappen then won four of the next five.
Things stepped up a gear in the British Grand Prix. Both drivers collided on the first lap at Copse corner, resulting in a Verstappen retirement. His rival went on to win the race, securing 25 points and retaking the championship lead.
Verstappen currently holds the lead, having retaken it following a dominant victory in the Netherlands last weekend. Monza promises to be another chapter in the story.
The new sprint qualifying received a mixed reaction after its inaugural running back at the British Grand Prix. It returns this weekend.
Qualifying will take place in the usual format on Friday evening. Instead of deciding the grid for the main race, however, it will instead determine the sprint qualifying grid.
Sprint qualifying is a shortened race of 18 laps – compared to the usual 53 laps. The results of that race will form the final grid for the race, which will commence as usual on Sunday afternoon.
Will we see a repeat of last year’s shock?
If you’d have been asked to predict the top three for last year’s Italian Grand Prix before the weekend began, probably no-one would have said Pierre Gasly, Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll.
It was a fairytale weekend for Gasly and his AlphaTauri team – not least because their only other race win had come at the same venue in 2008 as Toro Rosso.
On that occasion, future world champion Sebastian Vettel produced a masterful drive in the wet to claim his maiden race victory.
In 2020, a safety car brought out on lap 18 completely changed the race. Lewis Hamilton, who had led from pole, was given a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for pitting whilst the pit lane was closed, essentially ruling him out of contention for the win.
With both Red Bulls and Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas struggling, it was left to Gasly to take the lead of the race.
He crossed the line on lap 53, just 0.4 seconds ahead of Sainz, to claim his first victory in F1. Will we see anything similar this year?
Can Ferrari excel at home Grand Prix?
Whenever you think of cars and Italy, the first word is normally Ferrari.
The Tifosi – Ferrari’s loyal supporters – will be out in force amongst the half capacity of fans allowed into this year’s Grand Prix. And they’ll be hoping for more success than last year.
Neither Ferrari finished the 2020 edition, with Sebastian Vettel retiring due to a brake failure and Charles Leclerc crashing heavily at Parabolica. Even without those crashes, though, Ferrari were nursing a speed deficit on the straights.
The team have a much stronger car this year, although it generally isn’t good enough to match Mercedes or Red Bull on pure pace. They’ll certainly be looking for a good result this weekend.
Can Perez return to form?
It’s been a tough few weeks for Red Bull’s Sergio Perez. Since finishing fourth at the Styrian Grand Prix back in June, the Mexican has since failed to break into the top five.
At Silverstone, he span off in the sprint race, causing a difficult Sunday afternoon and a situation that made it difficult to overtake. He retired on the first lap at Hungary after he was hit by Valtteri Bottas. At Spa, he crashed on the way to the grid and, with the official race being fully held behind the safety car, was stranded in 19th place. Finally, he was knocked out in Q1 last week due to traffic problems, but bounced back to finish eighth place in the race.
On a track that could well suit the Red Bulls more than the Mercedes, Perez and Max Verstappen could be in for a strong weekend.
Featured Image Credit: Getty