By Alan Baldwin
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen can chalk up a record 10th Formula One win in a row on Sunday but those hoping against hope for a different winner at Monza can still find some comfort in history.
The Dutch driver, 138 points clear of team mate Sergio Perez after 13 of 22 races, won at home in Zandvoort last Sunday to equal Sebastian Vettel’s 2013 nine streak, also with Red Bull.
Verstappen won the Italian Grand Prix from seventh on the starting grid last year with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on pole but finishing second.
Red Bull have won every race so far this season, 14 in a row including the 2022 finale in Abu Dhabi, and are again favourites at Monza’s fast layout.
No team have ever gone unbeaten through a season of more than 10 races, however.
Monza proved the stumbling block for McLaren in 1988, a year in which they won 15 of 16, when Austrian Gerhard Berger led Ferrari team mate Michele Alboreto in an emotional one-two four weeks after the death of Enzo Ferrari.
Since Lewis Hamilton’s fifth Italian GP win with Mercedes in 2018 no driver has managed a repeat victory in the former royal park outside Milan.
Leclerc won in 2019 and crashed in 2020. Pierre Gasly triumphed in 2020 and retired after three laps in 2021 while Daniel Ricciardo, absent this time through injury, won in 2021 and failed to finish in 2022.
Talk of a ‘Monza jinx’ may be premature but this is a season where straws are being clutched more desperately.
Gasly and Ricciardo both won at the ‘Temple of Speed’ against the odds, with Verstappen retiring in 2020 (engine problem) and 2021 (collision with Hamilton), and the track can always spring surprises.
Until last year, Verstappen had never finished on the podium there.
The race will be a first Italian Grand Prix as Ferrari principal for Fred Vasseur and the team will be racing with a special livery paying tribute to this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours victory, the relationship with Monza and Ferrari’s ‘racing DNA’.
Ferrari got only one car to the finish at Zandvoort, with Carlos Sainz finishing fifth, and they will be determined to give the ‘tifosi’ something to cheer.
“We want to execute the weekend perfectly from every point of view so that the drivers can get everything there is to be had out of our package,” said Vasseur.
The weekend will be the second trial of the ‘Alternative Tyre Allocation’ format with teams having only 11 sets of tyres per driver — three hard and four each of the medium and soft.
The last European race before a swing through Asia, the Americas and Middle East, Monza is also the first in Italy this year after Imola was cancelled in May due to flooding.
It is likely to be a familiar battle behind Red Bull to be best of the rest, with Aston Martin, McLaren, Mercedes and Alpine also in the mix.
“Monza has been a good track for us in the past, so it’s a special place for me,” said McLaren’s Lando Norris.
For Gasly, who lives in Milan, it is effectively a home race and one with a special place in his heart.
“It will be a challenging weekend but we have some confidence and momentum right now,” the Frenchman said after finishing third in Zandvoort behind Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.