Sebastian Vettel can close the gap, or even overhaul it, when he takes on championship leader Lewis Hamilton again this weekend in what should be a supercharged Italian Grand Prix.
Just days after his convincing victory in Belgium, where Hamilton admitted his Mercedes was “blown away” by the power and straight-line speed of Vettel’s Ferrari, Vettel should enjoy the scarlet scuderia’s homecoming.
On Ferrari’s local track and in front of the tifosi, at the famous old Autodromo Nazionale, the four-time champion German can also equal Stirling Moss’s 1950s record of winning at Monza with three different teams if he delivers Ferrari’s first home win since 2010.
Monza holds special memories for Vettel after his wins with Toro Rosso in 2008 and then Red Bull in 2011 and 2013. His maiden win in torrential rain a decade ago remains Toro Rosso’s greatest hour and the moment that signalled he was a future champion.
Another victory this weekend would draw him level with Hamilton on four wins and, if the Briton suffers ill fortune, could also catapult Vettel into the lead of the drivers’ championship.
Hamilton, who has been on pole at Monza for the last four years and five in six, is ahead by 17 points, but it is Vettel who has the confidence and momentum.
“I think we’ve done everything right at Spa, but I think it’s a huge compliment if people praise our engine now because for the last five years people didn’t praise anything other than Mercedes engines,” said Vettel. “Now, we have a good car that seems to work everywhere so, hopefully, we can carry that momentum and speed to Monza.”
“It’s nice to have a change and I think all this makes Maranello and all the Ferraristi and our engine department very happy.”
Vettel has finished on the podium at Monza three times as a Ferrari driver – second in 2015 and third in 2016 and 2017 – and said he has cherished the atmosphere as the fans invade the track.
“If you are dressed in the right colour – which I am – then I think Monza is always an absolute highlight,” added Vettel. “As a racing driver, I don’t think it gets any better than that.
“There are so many families and support from our own people there, but the main thing obviously is all the fans, the Ferrari fans.”
A Ferrari win this weekend would not only reinforce their charge toward the title, but also end four years of Mercedes domination at the fastest track on the F1 calendar.
A Vettel victory would further deflate Hamilton’s bid for a fifth title as the defending champion conceded in Belgium where he said.
“The next race, with the kind of performance they have on straights, we might struggle to match them.”
Hamilton ‘not worried’
Hamilton’s concerns are not shared by his Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff.
“Spa was always a bit of a tricky one for us,” he said.
“Monza was a good one. So I am very curious to see how it’s going to go – last year we were very much in control of the whole weekend and Ferrari had their worst of the season. So, performance-wise, I’m not worried.”
Rivals Red Bull will hope they can stay in touch with their Renault engine, but expect to be a greater threat to the front-runners in Singapore at the end of September. Daniel Ricciardo will take a new power unit and penalties that leave him at the back of the grid.
Of the rest, most interest will centre on the reborn Force India team as they seek a repeat of their Spa form and a possible drivers’ line-up change that may see Lance Stroll, son of new Force India owner Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, move from Williams to race for the Silverstone-based team.