Max Verstappen is hopeful that his six-race podium run can continue this weekend at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, but he expects the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team to be the ones to beat again.
The Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver has only failed to finish on the podium once in 2020, which came in the opening race of the season when he retired early from the Austrian Grand Prix.
On paper, Monza appears to be tricky for the Honda-powered team, but Verstappen is confident that they can be competitive like they were in 2019, albeit without the grid penalty they had last year for unscheduled engine component changes.
“It is difficult to say at the moment as it isn’t normally our best track with all the long straights but last year in practice we were quite competitive in practice before taking a penalty so let’s hope that it is going to be the same again this year,” said Verstappen.
“Spa was my sixth podium in a row so hopefully we can keep this streak going and soon fight for first instead of second and third but that might not be the case here. Of course, we keep pushing and we don’t give up but we have to be realistic that Mercedes are still the favourites.
“Monza is super-fast which makes it great fun to drive but it can also be a challenge for us. High-speed corners are always exciting and especially the last corner, Parabolica, which is really nice. Monza is such a historic track which I always look forward to going to and unfortunately there are of course no fans this year, but we’ll still try and make it an exciting race!”
Verstappen has downplayed the possibility of the Renault DP World F1 Team being a genuine threat to Red Bull at Monza, even on the back of their strong pace during the Belgian Grand Prix that yielded a fourth and fifth place finish for Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon.
“I think where there are a lot of long straights Renault seem to have quite a good balance on the car and a good trade-off between top speed and cornering but we will see,” said the Dutchman. “Overall, I don’t think they are a massive threat, maybe at Monza they will be close again but we will see when we are out on track.”
This weekend also marks the first race where the FIA’s recently enforced regulation about engine modes is implemented, but Verstappen remains cautious to just how the new rules will affect the teams in the paddock, although he does hope it tightens up the field.
“I don’t want to talk too much about the engine qualifying modes as we really don’t know how it will affect us and other teams,” he said. “I hope it will bring everyone a little closer together but there is no point in guessing.”
“We saw last year just how hectic qualifying can be” – Alexander Albon
Team-mate Alexander Albon heads to Monza aiming to build on the progress he made last weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, although the Thai driver is still striving for his first Formula 1 podium finish.
Albon started fifth and finished sixth in Belgium after a gamble to switch to the medium compound during his pit stop failed to pay off, but heading to Monza, he is aiming for a better race result.
Twelve months ago, Albon failed to set a time in Q3 as he found himself stuck in a pack of cars that did not want to lead the pack, with the chequered flag falling before he reached the start line, and he will be looking to avoid a similar fate this year even if the effect of the slipstream is likely to be strong.
“Monza is obviously a very historic track,” said Albon. “It’s super-fast and I think it’s good for racing. We saw last year just how hectic qualifying can be – I didn’t even set a lap in Q3! But that’s part of it and the thing that makes Monza really special is the passion of the Tifosi and unfortunately, it’s going to be a little different this year.
“Turn One is tricky on this circuit because it’s such a long straight and you can get a tow down to the first corner. There’s a lot of time to think and then you have to pick your turn in point perfectly.
“At most circuits there’s a little bit of give and take with racing lines but at Monza there’s only really one line you can take. So, you’ve got to be precise, good on the brakes and more importantly get a good slipstream!”