The 13th round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend at Monza in Italy, and the battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton is set to explode, and likewise between Ferrari and Mercedes with only eight races remaining in the season.
Vettel (220 points) for Ferrari leads by a slender seven point margin over Mercedes driver Hamilton (213 points) as we head towards the most important stages of the season. Both drivers haven’t had to retire from a single race so far in 2017, and have finished inside the points in every single race, and in fact, the lowest finish both drivers have had in 2017 has been a seventh place finish (Vettel at Silverstone, Hamilton at Monaco).
Overall, Hamilton has the most race victories so far in 2017 with five, compared to Vettel’s four, but the Ferrari driver has had more podium finishes with nine, compared with seven for the Mercedes driver.
The teammates of both Hamilton and Vettel, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen look set to be cast into support act roles for the remainder of the season by both Mercedes and Ferrari respectively as both teams focus on the drivers’ world championship, and their lead drivers Hamilton and Vettel.
Bottas (179 points) is third in the championship, 41 points behind Vettel, and 34 points behind teammate Hamilton, and has had a wonderful season, his first season with the Mercedes team, with eight podiums, and two potentially crucial race victories in Russia and Austria when Hamilton was having a difficult weekend, preventing Vettel, who finished second in both of those races, from extending his championship lead to a greater margin.
However, Bottas will likely be deployed as a number two driver for the rest of the season, but has shown that he is very capable of stealing crucial points away from Ferrari, and in particular Vettel in the championship battle.
However, Räikkönen (128 points), who is fifth in the championship, 92 points behind teammate Vettel, and 85 points behind Hamilton, hasn’t been able to show in 2017 that he can get that crucial victory to help his teammate in the championship, and deny Hamilton of vital world championship points, but has had four podiums so far in 2017.
In saying that though, Räikkönen has been deployed by Ferrari as a number two driver throughout most of 2017, but at some point during the last eight races, he is going to be faced with a scenario where he has going to have to win a race when Vettel is in trouble, or having a difficult weekend to potentially deny Hamilton the championship. Whether he can or not remains to be seen in 2017.
However, someone who can spoil Vettel’s or Hamilton’s championship challenge is Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo, who sits fourth in the world championship on 132 points, 88 points behind Vettel, and 81 points behind Hamilton.
Ricciardo has shown that he has that uncanny knack of getting himself into the right place at the right time to pick up a race victory in Azerbaijan, as well as a further five podiums (all third places) in a car not as quick as either the Mercedes or Ferrari, but his teammate Max Verstappen has had lots of reliability issues with his car.
Currently sixth in the world championship on 67 points, Verstappen has had six retirements in the opening 12 races, most of them mechanical, and needs some luck to go his way, as he has generally been quicker than Ricciardo. I think if his car is reliable, Verstappen can win a race in 2017 in the right conditions, and have an impact on the championship battle.
In seventh and eighth position in the world championship are the two Force India drivers, Sergio Pérez (56 points) and Esteban Ocon (47 points), and while this is not a battle for the world championship, it is battle to settle their futures that has erupted out on the track with collisions in Azerbaijan and Belgium in a feud that has threatened to overheated since Canada.
And while you would suspect, due to his Mercedes connection, that Ocon will remain with the team next year, Pérez has got to be very careful because he could end up without a seat in Formula One next year if this feud continues.
In terms of the Constructors’ World Championship, Mercedes (392 points) lead by 44 points over Ferrari (348 points), with Red Bull (199 points) comfortably in third position, ahead of Force India (103 points), who are equally comfortable in fourth position in the constructors’ championship. After them is a tight battle for fifth in the championship, with Williams (45 points), Toro Rosso (40 points), Haas (35 points), and Renault (34 points) separated by just 11 points, with McLaren (11 points) and Sauber (five points) bringing up the rear of the field.
Fernando Alonso, who is currently 15th in the championship on 10 points, is getting increasingly frustrated about the reliability and performance of the Honda, and has been heavily criticised for perhaps retiring the car in Belgium when it had no problem, which was the eighth time in the 11 races he has competed in during 2017 that his car hasn’t seen the chequered flag, although two of the times he has been classified as a finish.
Unless something dramatic happens at McLaren as far as their relationship with Honda is concerned, Alonso looks set to leave the team, and I believe he could well be heading to Williams, and I doubt he will be worried how much he is paid considering the troubles of the last three years.
Looking ahead to who will win the Italian Grand Prix, I sense it is going to be a tight battle between Mercedes and Ferrari, and I think Vettel might get the victory ahead of Hamilton in front of the patriotic Italian crowd in a thriller.
The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 10am and 2pm local time (6pm and 10pm AEST).
The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 11am and 2pm local time (7pm and 10pm AEST).
The 53 lap race is on Sunday from 2pm local time (10pm AEST).