The momentum is with the Mercedes man

The European leg of the Formula One season is almost over. After the crowds dispersed from Monza on Sunday, the Grand Prix circus bid goodbye to the continent until next year. Singapore, the United States and Abu Dhabi, among others, will witness the climax of the 2017 race.

Up next is the Italian Grand Prix. We asked Iain Spragg to preview this one…

Seven to go

What is yet to be decided is in what frame of mind – and crucially where in the drivers’ standings – Messrs Hamilton and Vettel will be when they say ciao to Italy. With only seven races remaining after Monza, either man could be top of the pops, but a mechanical mishap or an ill-judged corner could see either lose significant.

Hamilton led from start to finish at Spa-Francorchamps, in Belgium, a week ago. At times the reigning champion could feel Vettel’s breath on the back of his neck, but he held him off to celebrate his 200th Grand Prix start in style and, more importantly, cut his lead at the F1 summit to a distinctly slender seven points.

There’s no argument that Hamilton has been the faster of the two protagonists this year. Of the 12 Grand Prix so far, the British driver has claimed seven pole positions – the seventh in Belgium last weekend equalling Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 – and he’s registered six fastest laps. In contrast, Vettel boasts a pair of poles and only two quickest laps.

Good news then for Hamilton and Mercedes fans, but the legions of flag-waving Tifosi – who will turn Monza red this weekend – will point out the Brit has yet to record back-to-back victories in 2017. Five times he has taken the chequered flag, and five times he has failed to repeat the trick next time out.

Hamilton vs Vettel

Curiously, Vettel’s four wins this season have also been followed by the relative disappointment of not finishing top of the podium in the next race.

The momentum however seems firmly with the Mercedes man. Hamilton knows victory in Italy – the fourth of his career – will at the very least leave him level on points with Vettel, even if the German comes safely home in second. A Hamilton victory and anything less than the 18 points on offer to the runner-up for his rival and the Brit goes clear for the first time this season.

Hamilton is the firm favourite to take the honours in Italy at 11/20, with Vettel a long way back at 13/4 to extend his lead at the top of the championship. The potential gooseberry is Mercedes Valterri Bottas, at 9/2, to secure his second win of the season after he took the spoils in Russia in April.

Five of this year’s round dozen of races have ended with a one-two for F1’s heavyweight pair, and the chances of a Hamilton-Vettel finish in Italy is rated 6/4. A reverse of that order is 21/10. The prospect of Bottas gatecrashing the party and following Hamilton home for a third Mercedes one-two of the season is 21/10.

The scrap for fourth place

The scrap for fourth place in the championship remains exclusively between Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen, with a mere four points separating the rival Red Bull and Ferrari drivers. Ricciardo is the man with his nose in front, but it’s Raikkonen (12/1) who’s favourite to make a big move at Monza.

A fascinating subplot this weekend will see the Force India pair of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez renew hostilities after their 180mph contretemps in Belgium. Ocon later accused his team-mate of trying “to kill” him, and with a mere nine points between them in seventh and eighth in the standings, peace may or may not break out between the worst-of-friends in Monza.

There was dangerously little to separate them on the track at Spa-Francorchamps when they almost crashed on Lap 29, and there’s absolutely nothing to choose between in the betting for the Italian GP; both men are 500/1 shots to record a shock victory.

 

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