2020 Italian Grand Prix race preview: The qualifying party is over


The Mercedes show marches into Monza without the hostility this year with empty grandstands, something Ferrari might actually be happy about with the Italian team well off the leading pace

Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, 2020 Belgian GP

Will the new technical directives shake-up the order?

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The banks of Tifosi that descend on Monza annually will not be present at this year’s Italian Grand Prix, which will give one of the most popular races on the calendar an altogether different feel.

After Charles Leclerc broke the Mercedes dominance around the famous circuit last season, Ferrari finds itself mired in a downward spiral and look nothing like the team that conquered its German rivals at home a year ago.

Those in the Scuderia camp might be thankful that there will be empty grandstands as after its showing at Spa last weekend, any repeat would have likely led to riots.

Up at the front though, and the usual suspects will be contending once again. Lewis Hamilton is in imperious form, and save for Red Bull and Max Verstappen pulling out a show-stopping performance, it looks like it should be smooth sailing for the championship leader once more.

Valtteri Bottas appears to have no answers for his team-mate at the moment but did get the better of Hamilton last season around Monza.

Here is the team-by-team preview ahead of the 2020 Italian Grand Prix.




Who can stop Mercedes?

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One-two yet again for Mercedes as the team made amends for 2018 and ’19 around Spa without Ferrari on pace to challenge and Red Bull kept at arm’s length.

The team has maintained that its advantage will not suddenly end with new technical directives surrounding engine modes coming into effect this weekend.

Hamilton and Bottas have been comfortably quicker than the rest of the field on a Saturday all season, and no special ‘party modes’ are unlikely to change this at Monza.

Red Bull will be running the lower-downforce configuration versus Spa and the decision kept Bottas safe in second position versus Verstappen behind without a better top-end speed. Merc will need to find a sweet spot in setting up their cars to remain unthreatened from behind.

With every passing race, it feels less and less likely Bottas can stamp any form of authority in the title race, with his best chance of beating his team-mate coming at the first corner and being unable to make a good start count.

As Monza has one of the longer runs to Turn One, can the Finn steal the march on Hamilton off the line? Or will we see something similar to the Belgian Grand Prix with Hamilton driving away into the distance?

The race wins need to happen and happen quickly if Bottas is to recover his 2020 season having slipped behind Verstappen in the title race.


Red Bull


Verstappen could be there once again at Monza this weekend

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Another case of close but no cigar for Red Bull although it may have had a few worries over tyre life similar to Mercedes.

The team’s decision to run with a slightly higher downforce configuration gave Mercedes the wiggle room it needed to keep its tyres in shape, but coming into Monza, Red Bull may have learned its lessons and go aggressive once more.

Honda F1 boss Toyoharu Tanabe says the Honda-powered teams have already begun preparations for this weekend with no extra engine modes available during qualifying, something that Red Bull will hope brings Mercedes that little bit closer on race day.

Renault will likely play a factor in the race on Sunday should everything play out normally in qualifying, with the French team expected to be even quicker than last weekend at Spa.

Alex Albon could be fighting the Yellow cars once again but will be eager to make amends, having lost out on fifth position on the final lap in Belgium to Esteban Ocon.

Daniel Ricciardo‘s pace prevented Verstappen rolling the dice and making a second stop in order to catch Mercedes out, and the Milton Keynes team may have to bite the bullet and overtake on track on an alternative strategy if it hopes to outfox the championship leaders.




Renault has found the sweet spot with its R.S.20

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Aside from Mercedes, Renault will have left Spa-Francorchamps the happiest team in the paddock.

It’s R.S.20 thrived in the low downforce configuration used last weekend and will be eagerly anticipating more of the same come Sunday at Monza.

Ricciardo was one of the star performers in Belgium, with a superb drive to fourth place at a pace that would have had the leaders sweating had the race gone on for much longer.

His scything stint at the end of the Belgian Grand Prix to cut a 15sec gap to the podium down to three in a matter of laps showed just how genuine Renault’s pace was with a trimmed-out car.

“This was a good track for us last year and Monza was even better,” the Australian said after Spa.

“We’ll see what happens, but we can go there with a lot of confidence.”


Racing Point


Racing Point and Sergio Perez made an unorthodox strategy work at Spa


Something didn’t quite click for Racing Point around Spa and the team will need to get on top of any issues quickly with Monza next up.

Sergio Perez‘s drive back through the field on a strategy the Mexican says he didn’t quite understand was a positive for the team on a weekend where it looked well away from third-best on the grid.

With Renault expected to be up the order once more, a battle with McLaren is on the cards and it was Racing Point that lost last weekend by a fair margin, with Lance Stroll the best-placed pink car almost 10sec behind the sole remaining McLaren of Lando Norris.

“We need to make sure we come back stronger at Monza next weekend,” Perez said after the race at Spa.

“It’s a track that should suit us, and I’m hopeful we can score good points there.”




Norris has had the lion’s share of luck in 2020 at McLaren


Just as it seemed that Carlos Sainz‘s luck had turned a corner, the Spaniard was reduced to a spectator before the lights could even go out following an engine issue and eventual broken exhaust.

Norris flew the McLaren flag well to finish in the points but the Woking squad will be bracing itself for another tough weekend with rivals Renault expected to go even better around Monza.

“The unique high-speed Monza circuit will make it necessary to bring a low-downforce package again,” team principal Andreas Seidl said ahead of the weekend.

“It’s up to us in the race team to extract the maximum performance from the car in what will be a tight battle for strong points finishes.

“The intensity in the midfield is keeping us sharply focused on the task at hand. We’re aware that one bad race can drop a team from third in the Constructors’ Championship to sixth, so our strategy, operations and performance need to be at consistently high levels.

“With the narrow performance gap between four or five teams, we should be in for an exciting and enjoyable race.”



Sebastian Vettel, 2020 Belgian GP

Ferrari might be thankful the Tifosi isn’t in attendance

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Down on power and driving with an inefficient aerodynamic design, Ferrari could be privately pleased that there are no fans in attendance this weekend to witness what will surely be the most painful race of its disappointing season.

Spa showed that the power advantage it enjoyed in 2019 is a long distant memory and equally, the long straights of Monza are likely to only compound its undercooked power unit.

Both Leclerc and Vettel could not help but laugh at their qualifying performances in Belgium, ending up 12th and 13th on the grid and on race day. Both may well have been scrapping with George Russell had the Williams man avoided an errant wheel from the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi.

“On a track that requires aerodynamic efficiency and power, we were severely lacking in both. Charles and Sebastian did their very best, both yesterday in qualifying and today in the race, but we couldn’t even get into the points,” boss Mattia Binotto said on Sunday in Belgium.

“We are disappointed and angry, as indeed are our fans and with good reason. It’s a difficult moment in a season that we knew from the start would be a tough one.”

A difficult season may well become outright embarrassing for Ferrari over the next few weeks if it can’t bring any improvements on track or find a shred of form.




Pierre Gasly’s strong performances have been made to look even better as Alex Albon struggles at Red Bull

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While one driver enjoyed a brilliant drive on Sunday at Spa, the other AlphaTauri struggled and the recent trend of Pierre Gasly thriving as Daniil Kvyat is left behind continued at Spa.

The Russian was forced out of the Italian Grand Prix last year in the early stages but will be hoping for better fortunes this time around as his team-mate gets the attention.

“I love racing in Italy so I’m really happy about it! At Monza, it’s the usual story of finding the right balance between downforce for the corners and good straight-line speed,” he said.

“Again, it’s all about getting it right on Friday.”

As questions swirl around Red Bull and AlphaTauri’s potential driver line-up changes for 2021, a timely performance is needed from Kvyat who has put in a solid but not quite spectacular season so far.

Kvyat last outscored Gasly at the second Silverstone race and has just two points all season versus his team-mates 18.


Alfa Romeo


Räikkönen finished an impressive 12th for Alfa Romeo on a weekend where Ferrari-powered cars struggled

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Antonio Giovinazzi will be hoping to bounce back after his mistake at Spa put him out of the race early on. Monza is a circuit he likes but the Ferrari engine may hold the team back on the straights.

“Last year I drove one of my best races here, finishing in the points, and it would be great to have a similar result,” the Italian said.

“We saw last weekend that we seem to have made a step forward as a team, so hopefully we can fight in the midfield this weekend as well.”

Team principal Fréd Vasseur believes the team can continue to build on Spa with Kimi Räikkönen‘s 12th place a strong result considering its weaknesses versus rivals.

“We have shown some positive signs in Belgium and we intend to keep on pushing in this direction. We know some tracks will suit us better than others between now and the end of the season but our objective remains the same – maximising the performance of our package in every round.”




Williams will be hoping to take better advantage of Ferrari-powered rivals’ woes


Williams was genuinely competing with Ferrari in Belgium and it will hope that, at a circuit that has hardly been kind to it in recent years, it will be hoping it can continue that form this weekend in Italy.

Had Russell not been taken out in Giovinazzi’s crash, he may have fought with Leclerc and Vettel on track for position. Williams is hopeful that it can replicate that speed, even if engine modes might hurt performance on Sunday.

“We had a difficult race in Spa and felt unable to demonstrate our true race pace on Sunday,” head of vehicle performance Dave Robson said.

“Fortunately, a lot of what we learnt in Spa carries forward to Monza. There will be a strong emphasis on reducing drag and maximising end-of-straight speed, but at the same time, the signature corners in Monza cannot be treated lightly and require good levels of downforce and balance.

“A recent clarification to the F1 regulations means that engine modes will be a little different this weekend, with engine power having to remain consistent throughout qualifying and the race.

“While this may have an impact on our relative pace in qualifying and the race, we expect the effect to be small and we are totally confident that our partners at Mercedes will continue to maximise the potential of their exceptional power unit.”




It could be another long weekend for Haas at Monza


Haas had a torrid weekend in Belgium, missing over an hour and a half of on-track time due to a power unit issue and suffered on Sunday with a weak Ferrari power unit.

With Monza up next it is hardly surprising that Haas has low expectations coming into the weekend, with the team still having to work hard to make it out of the first qualifying session.

“Realistically we’ll be fighting to get out of Q1,” team principal Guenther Steiner said ahead of the weekend.

“That is the real expectation but that’s what we’ll be working towards – making it out of Q1. You need to have a target, but it needs to be realistic.

“There’s no point dreaming about getting into Q3. If we can get out of Q1, especially on high speed tracks like Spa and Monza, that’s good. We’ll fight hard but we know we’ve got one arm tied behind our back.”