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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Italian GP talking points: Hamilton's golden chance to take title lead, Verstappen's blessing in disguise

As Formula One arrives at Monza, Graham Caygill looks at the big storylines set to play out this weekend.

Sebastian Vettel, and Lewis Hamilton, are the two favourites for the Italian Grand Prix, and both men are looking to end respective streaks at Monza. Valdrin Xhemaj / EPA
Sebastian Vettel, and Lewis Hamilton, are the two favourites for the Italian Grand Prix, and both men are looking to end respective streaks at Monza. Valdrin Xhemaj / EPA

Rarity of back-to-back wins

Lewis Hamilton acknowledged in Belgium that the reason he is trailing Sebastian Vettel in the drivers’ standings is the fact the German has been more consistent.

That may be true, with Vettel only finishing outside the podium places three times, and each occasion having mitigating circumstances, but neither he nor Hamilton, despite winning nine races between them this year, have actually won back-to-back races.

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It is a mark of how competitive this season has been, but Hamilton has a great chance to end that statistic this weekend as well as taking the championship lead for the first time in 2017.

Monza rewards straightline speed, and the Mercedes power unit, even though Ferrari have closed up greatly this year, still has the edge particularly in qualifying.

Track position is still crucial in F1 and Hamilton will feel, like in Belgium, that if he can get pole and lead at the start, a sixth win of 2017 will guarantee he leapfrogs Vettel, who he trails by seven points going into the race.

Hamilton has won at Monza three times in the past in 2012, 2014 and 2015 and a fourth time on the podium's top step will boost his hopes of being crowned world champion after the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 26.

A post shared by Lewis Hamilton (@lewishamilton) on

Ferrari's home drought

Not since 2010 has Ferrari experienced victory at their home race.

On that occasion it was Fernando Alonso who was the victor, and arguably that was the last time the team were genuinely competitive in a championship fight.

Granted, Alonso's title challenge in 2012 went to the last race, but that was largely down to the skills of the Spaniard, allied to a freakish season in which the race wins were spread out between a number of drivers allowing for a title challenge despite not having the quickest package.

Vettel and Ferrari are seriously quick this year and are worthy title contenders.

A victory at Monza would underline their credentials further. Hamilton and Mercedes will be formidable opponents, but Vettel’s strong form in Belgium on Sunday should indicate he should not be discounted.

Good time for penalties for Verstappen

Belgium was the sixth retirement in 12 races for Max Verstappen and the Dutch teenager is having little luck.

Due to his mechanical problems at Spa he is due to have grid penalties in Italy for new components to be fitted to his Red Bull Racing car.

That might not be a bad thing. The long straights are unlikely to suit the Renault engine, which still lacks grunt compared to Mercedes and Ferrari, and if Verstappen is going to have the pain of starting towards the back of the grid, he may as well have it at a track he is likely to struggle on.

Singapore on September 17 should suit him and Red Bull a lot more so if he can escape from Monza with a few points, that could set him up for a possible push for a first win of 2017 at the Marina Bay Circuit given the strong aerodynamics of the Austrian car.

Encouraging from Palmer

Verstappen has had a lot of bad luck this season, but right up there alongside him is Jolyon Palmer.

The Renault driver has yet to score a point and has largely been outclassed by his more experienced teammate Nico Hulkenberg all year.

But in Belgium he was in great form, quicker then Hulkenberg throughout practice, and was on the pace in qualifying too until a car problem slowed him in the top-10 shoot-out and he did not end up setting a lap.

What, given his previous speed in practice, should have been seventh or eighth, ended up being 10th place. A subsequent grid penalty for a gearbox change meant the Briton started 14th and finished 13th, while his teammate was sixth.

Palmer is facing a tall order to keep his drive for 2018, but more performances like at Spa in practice, over the remaining races, starting in Italy, will certainly give him a chance.

A post shared by Jolyon Palmer (@jolyon_palmer) on