Monza (Italy), September 9: A frantic spell has followed Formula One's mid-season break, with a number of noteworthy moves this week squeezed in ahead of the third leg of a triple-header.
Max Verstappen and Red Bull have two wins from two since the campaign resumed, but Mercedes have responded by firming up their 2022 plans.
George Russell is in, with Valtteri Bottas out, replacing Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo. Raikkonen's final F1 season has been slowed by a positive coronavirus that continues to keep him out.
Alex Albon will get another chance in Russell's place at Williams, meanwhile.
But all thoughts of next year must now be put on the backburner as the series heads to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix.
Verstappen leads the way again, three points clear, but second-placed Lewis Hamilton has fond memories of this event, with seven pole positions, seven fastest laps and five wins – all records, the latter shared with Michael Schumacher.
A sixth victory is badly needed, preventing Verstappen from building up a head of steam again.
The Dutchman is looking for his eighth triumph of the year, a tally that only Hamilton himself in 2016 (10 wins) has reached without ending the year as world champion.
Monza vibes, incoming pic.twitter.com/yhCA0EhEWX— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) September 8, 2021
LAST TIME OUT
It was routine for Verstappen at Zandvoort as he became the first home winner of the returning Dutch GP.
The Red Bull superstar took pole comfortably and capitalised on a track that makes overtaking extremely difficult.
With Mercedes also running a slower car, Hamilton's only hope was a strategic triumph.
But Verstappen followed his rival in the first two times he pitted, wiping out any advantage, and the Briton ultimately settled for pitting a third time to pursue the fastest lap.
Ahead of his big move, it was a weekend to forget for Russell, who crashed in Q2 and then endured difficulties on race day, also speeding in the pit lane to end any chance of a points finish.
ɴᴏ ᴡᴏʀᴅs 🔥 I’m so happy to win my home Grand Prix and the Orange Army, just incredible 🙌 🧡 It was an amazing team performance, thanks a lot, @redbullracing and @HondaRacingF1 🤘 A day to remember #KeepPushing 🇳🇱 #DutchGP pic.twitter.com/WI1gDEkVUI— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) September 5, 2021
WHAT TO EXPECT IN ITALY
Sprint qualifying returns after a mixed reception at Silverstone, where Hamilton took pole for the shorter race but was beaten by Verstappen in the Saturday dash.
In a championship as tight as this, the extra points on offer could prove crucial.
The race will be of primary concern, though, and Mercedes need a result at a circuit Hamilton enjoys. The defending champion last week acknowledged Red Bull had pulled clear again in the second half of the season.
But the Austrian outfit will also want a better display from Sergio Perez, their second man.
His underwhelming performance in the Netherlands left Verstappen all alone against Hamilton and Bottas, who will want to bow out with a fifth constructors' title.
TOP FIVE OPTA FACTS
Fixture on the calendar – This will be the 70th grand prix at Monza, a record that explains why so many F1 benchmarks have been set in Italy. Schumacher's 247.6 km/h in 2003 stands as the fastest average speed from a race winner, while an unsurpassed eight different drivers led the 1971 edition.
Ferrari frustration – Although Ferrari have recorded 19 wins and 21 pole positions at Monza, neither Scuderia driver finished their previous home race. Not 1970 to 1972 have Ferrari had both men fail to finish consecutive Italian GPs.
Another Lewis landmark – On 3,999.5 points, Hamilton will aim to become the first F1 driver to reach 4,000. He is almost 1,000 clear of his nearest rival Sebastian Vettel, who has 3,053.
Latest Honda hero – Verstappen's next victory will be his 13th with a Honda engine, matching Nigel Mansell's tally. The pair trail only Ayrton Senna (32) in that regard.
A day to remember – Verstappen and Hamilton will be hoping to add this to the list of famous September 12 races: Fernando Alonso's only Monza win with Ferrari in 2010, Niki Lauda's 1976 return after his Nurburgring crash and Jackie Stewart's breakthrough 1965 triumph.
1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 224.5
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 221.5
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 123
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 114
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) – 108
1. Mercedes – 344.5
2. Red Bull – 332.5
3. Ferrari – 181.5
4. McLaren – 170
5. Alpine – 90