Verstappen can rain on Ferrari’s Monza parade

Italy’s Monza circuit celebrates its 100th anniversary this weekend with Ferrari under pressure to perform in front of a packed home crowd and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen ready to spoil the party.

Formula One’s most successful team have again flattered to deceive this season, revving up the fans with a quick car and early wins before strategic errors, driver mistakes and technical failures took a toll.

Verstappen, meanwhile, will be going for his fifth win in a row on Sunday to take his tally to 11 victories from 16 races.

The race at the super-fast Autodromo Nazionale, the “Pista Magica”, ends the European season and a gruelling triple header with teams arriving from the Netherlands after Belgium the weekend before.

“Monza has historically been a tougher circuit for us,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner, whose team last won at Monza with four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel in 2013 — before Verstappen came on the scene.

“But based on our performance at higher speed circuits this year I’m actually quite looking forward to going to Monza this year.”

Verstappen was dominant at Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps, another high-speed track that played to the Red Bull’s straight-line strengths, and he arrives with a 109-point lead over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

TITLE RIVAL

Last year the Dutch driver collided with seven-times world champion and title rival Lewis Hamilton, with the Red Bull ending up on top of the Mercedes and both retiring. read more

Leclerc won in 2019, the Italian team’s first home victory since Fernando Alonso in 2010, but the two most recent winners at the circuit outside Milan were surprising.

It was Australian Daniel Ricciardo last year, taking McLaren’s first victory since 2012 in a one-two with Lando Norris after a Saturday sprint to set the grid. Frenchman Pierre Gasly won for AlphaTauri in 2020.

“On paper, it’s not our best track, unfortunately,” said Leclerc, who finished third last weekend in Verstappen’s home Dutch Grand Prix.

“We always have a massive amount of support and for that, I’m really looking forward to it. But I think the performance on paper will be a bit more difficult.”

Spanish team mate Carlos Sainz looked forward to the atmosphere.

“Full crowd, fighting with a competitive Ferrari, I think is the best possible scenario that you can have as a racing driver,” he told reporters.

Some 125,000 fans are expected on Sunday with a total weekend attendance of 315,000 compared to the last unrestricted pre-COVID crowd of 200,000 over three days in 2019.

The Ferrari drivers will be wearing yellow race suits with the F1-75 car also sporting a yellow touch as the team celebrate their 75th anniversary.

Victory at Monza in any car is a career highlight but Ricciardo, out of both form and a job at McLaren at the end of the year, is unlikely to repeat it.

“Monza will always have a special place in my heart. Whilst another one-two isn’t really on the cards this time around, hopefully we can still bring you a little bit of Italian magic,” he said.

Another milestone will be reached with Alpine’s double world champion Alonso, 41, equalling Kimi Raikkonen’s record for most starts. The Spaniard, who has won twice at Monza, will be making his 349th.

He will also equal Brazilian former Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello, who started 19 Italian Grands Prix, for most appearances at Monza.

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