Verstappen-Hamilton rivalry resumed? Five talking points for the 2022 Italian GP · RaceFans

The Italian Grand Prix this weekend in Monza sees Formula 1 return to the scene of one of the most dramatic moments in recent memory, at a point where Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes appear to have overtaken Ferrari as the closest competitors to Max Verstappen and Red Bull.

But with Red Bull having such an advantage at low-downforce circuits this season, can Verstappen and Hamilton be expected to resume their on-track rivalry once again this weekend?

Here are the top talking points for the Italian Grand Prix.

Rivalry revival

One year ago at Monza, the season-long world championship duel between Verstappen and Hamilton saw one of its most dramatic moments. While battling for position on track with Hamilton having left the pit lane following a stop, the two championship contenders ran side-by-side into the Rettifilo chicane and collided, sending the Red Bull on top of the Mercedes and both into retirement.

It was the second major clash between the pair during the 2021 season, following their high-speed tangle at Silverstone, which served to fan the flames of the rivalry that built until the dramatic season finale in Abu Dhabi.

Verstappen and Hamilton clashed controversially last year

But while 2022 has seen the two champions rarely fighting on-track, with Mercedes unable to match the Red Bull for performance throughout the season, that changed last weekend in Zandvoort where Hamilton and Mercedes pushed Verstappen harder than at any point since that notorious Yas Marina showdown. Verstappen may have overtaken Hamilton to secure yet another victory, but Mercedes’ race pace left Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto admitting that Mercedes were now likely ahead of them in terms of overall performance on the track.

Whether that will be the case this weekend remains to be seen. Monza is the ultimate low-downforce circuit, and Mercedes produced one of their worst performances of the season relative to Red Bull at the last similar track, Spa-Francorchamps.

But the W13 has proven a mysterious creature, being unexpectedly competitive at some circuits and underperforming at tracks Mercedes did not expect to do as well at. If Mercedes can keep up with Red Bull this weekend, it could be Hamilton who is Verstappen’s closest adversary once again.

No excuses for Ferrari

Ferrari’s continued slide away from championship contention has been one of the outstanding stories of the 2022 season – not just for how they have lost touch with Verstappen and Red Bull in the standings, but the sometimes shambolic way in which they’ve done so.

Carlos Sainz Jr and Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Circuit Zandvoort, 2022
Ferrari will face huge expectations at their home race

From baffling strategy calls to seemingly basic errors of operation, such as Carlos Sainz Jnr being left with only three wheels on his car during his first pit stop last Sunday, it has been a challenging and embarrassing few months for the Italian team as their title aspirations have evaporated into the air like the flare smoke from the Zandvoort grandstands.

Heading to Monza, Ferrari’s home race, the team know they will enjoy as much partisan support from the fans in attendance as Verstappen enjoyed last weekend. But the Tifosi’s support comes laden with high expectations and the Scuderia’s supporters will not be shy to voice their disapproval if Ferrari put in another lacklustre weekend.

However, given the Italian Grand Prix is such a special event for Ferrari, it’s unsurprising that the team have plans to introduce new, low-downforce upgrades for this weekend – particularly in the form of a new rear wing. With Red Bull holding a significant top speed advantage that has allowed them to breeze past their rivals in races and be virtually unbeatable in qualifying sessions around high speed circuits, any upgrades to address that deficit will be most welcome around Monza. As long as the team do not commit more unforced errors on Sunday.

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Can Ricciardo find some form?

Already in the knowledge he will not be racing with McLaren for next season, Daniel Ricciardo endured yet another barren weekend of performance at Zandvoort, qualifying ten places behind team mate Lando Norris and almost being lapped by him on his way to finishing second to last of all 18 cars that were running at the chequered flag.

Ricciardo won for McLaren at this track last year

As the outgoing driver continues to consider his limited options for 2023, he is keen to see off his time at Woking the best way he possibly can. With that in mind, there is perhaps no better race to be up next in the calendar than Monza – scene of Ricciardo’s remarkable and unexpected victory here just 12 months ago.

While McLaren’s first victory in nearly a decade was largely helped by Verstappen and Hamilton taking each other out of the running, it came during a weekend where Ricciardo felt the most at ease with his 2021 McLaren all that season and was not simply the result of a chaotic combination of circumstances. The win also came after he had spent the year struggling to get up to speed with his car and he had to hold off team mate Lando Norris in order to take the chequered flag first.

McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl was quick to play down any suggestions that his team may be able to repeat their achievement last year during this weekend’s event, but even having Ricciardo able to run close to his team mate and help secure important points in their battle with Alpine for fourth in the constructors’ championship will certainly go a long way to helping Ricciardo end his time with the team on a positive note.

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Return of Antonio

Antonio Giovinazzi, Ferrari, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
There will be an Italian driver on-track this weekend

For a nation whose history in Formula 1 is richer than almost any other, it’s remarkable to think that there are no Italian drivers currently on the grid. In fact, only Antonio Giovinazzi has represented Italy as a driver in the last decade, before he lost his drive at Alfa Romeo at the conclusion of last season.

However, the racer of 62 grands prix will return to a Formula 1 session on Friday when he steps in for Mick Schumacher in the Haas VF-22 during first practice – his first outing in a Formula 1 car since last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and his very first time behind the wheel of a new ground effect F1 car.

After a season spent struggling with ill-optimised machinery in Formula E, Giovinazzi’s runs in Monza and in Austin next month will be a crucial opportunity for Giovinazzi to stake his claim for a return to Formula 1 for 2023. With Schumacher’s future surrounded by question marks and Haas’s close connection with Ferrari, the Italian driver could have a golden chance at a second wind in F1 – much like Haas handed Magnussen at the start of the season.

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Mr America

With McLaren securing the right to run Oscar Piastri in their team for 2023, it appeared as if an avenue for the highly touted American IndyCar driver Colton Herta to be given an opportunity to race in Formula 1 was closed. However, Red Bull admitted that Herta was very much under consideration for their junior team AlphaTauri in 2023, making the prospect of an American racer in Formula 1 more possible than it has seemed for almost two decades.

Colton Herta, Andretti, Indianapolis Grand Prix, 2022
Will Red Bull succees in bringing Herta into F1?

AlphaTauri may be a Red Bull team, but they are based in Italy in Faenza – a legacy of their original guise as Minardi back in days before Red Bull began dramatically ramping up their involvement in Formula 1. Famously, the team have taken two victories in their history – both here at Monza. First with Sebastian Vettel under the team’s previous guise of Toro Rosso in 2008, before Pierre Gasly claimed a shock victory in 2020 for the team he is still contracted to race with in 2023.

The prospect of Gasly seeing out his contract with AlphaTauri next year has come into question with Fernando Alonso’s move to Aston Martin leaving an empty seat at Alpine that will now definitely not be filled by Piastri. Despite Esteban Ocon’s lobbying for Schumacher to be offered the seat, a second French driver at the only French team on the grid seems a likelier fit and an opportunity for Gasly to depart from the Red Bull ecosystem and try and forge an identity elsewhere.

All that stands in the way of Herta’s move to Formula 1 is his superlicence eligibility. Despite his wealth of experience and success in IndyCar, he currently does not meet the threshold of points to qualify him to race in Formula 1. If Red Bull can successfully lobby the FIA to offer Herta dispensation to earn a superlicence, then we could see the announcement of Formula 1’s long-awaited newest American driver sooner than many would have expected.

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Are you going to the Italian Grand Prix?

If you’re heading to Italy for this weekend’s race, we want to hear from you:

Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Italian Grand Prix? Have your say below.

And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:

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