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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Italian GP talking points: Lewis Hamilton after two in a row for first time in 2017, Sebastian Vettel out to end Ferrari's victory drought at Monza and Max Verstappen faces grid penalties

The 13th round of the Formula One season takes place on Sunday, with a number of dramas up and down the grid to be resolved in the 53-lap race.

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 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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Lewis Hamilton wins the Belgian Grand Prix ahead of Sebastian Vettel

It is a mark of how competitive this season has been that is the case, 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 if he triumphs.

Monza rewards straightline speed, and the Mercedes power unit, even though Ferrari have closed up greatly in 2017, 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 there three times in the past in 2012, 2014 and 2015 and a fourth time on the top step of the podium will boost his hopes of being the man who will leave Yas Marina Circuit after the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 26 as the world champion again.

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Ferrari's home drought

You have to go back to 2010 for the last time that a Ferrari was victorious at its 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.

Yes, Alonso went to the last race of the 2012 season, but that was largely 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 is arguably not a bad thing in that the long straights are unlikely to suit the Renault engine, which still lacks grunt compared to Mercedes and Ferrari, and if you are going to have the pain of starting towards the back of the grid, you may as well have it at a track you were going to struggle on.

Singapore on September 17 should suit him and Red Bull a lot more so if 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 he will be driving.

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 this season 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 and then a subsequent grid penalty for a gearbox change and the Briton ended up starting 14th and finishing 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