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My Italian Grand Prix predictions

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Jonathan Legard | 08:15 UK time, Saturday, 12 September 2009

First of all, if you managed to pick the top three in Spa, congratulations because most of the Formula 1 community were completely surprised and taken aback.

The Italian Grand Prix at Monza promises to continue the Spa formbook because this is another unique track with its own unique challenges.

Without a circuit like Montreal on the F1 calendar, which also demands a lot of the cars in terms of power, the teams are coming here entering hugely different territory.

Up to 70% of the lap at Monza is spent at full throttle, another 15% is spent braking and the ban on in-season testing means they have not had the chance to test the low downforce set-up required here in the build-up to the race weekend.

The key to Monza is finding the optimum compromise between drag and downforce. Each team will have a specific front and rear wing package designed for the Italian race and all the teams I have spoken to told me they are learning all the time.

The track is getting faster as more rubber goes down with each session - although heavy rain on Friday evening will have washed most of it away.

And that leads us to another variable; the weather. A chance of rain is forecast for Sunday when it is also expected to be another 5C cooler.

Having said all that I will predict that, at a track where power and braking is so crucial, we will see the first power-boost Kers whitewash on the podium of 2009.

Here are my top eight finishers:

1. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
2. Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren)
3. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
4. Adrian Sutil (Force India)
5. Fernando Alonso (Renault)
6. Rubens Barrichello (Brawn GP)
7. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
8. Jenson Button (Brawn GP)

The conspiracy theories will say that the Monza authorities have done their best to help Ferrari win in front of their home fans by raising some of kerbs to 15cm at the first two chicanes; the Rettifilo and Roggia.

Ferrari find it difficult to ride the kerbs but now no-one will attempt it because they are so mountainously high they will damage the underbelly of the cars.


Nonetheless, I'm going for Lewis Hamilton to lead home the first McLaren one-two since Monza 2007 when Alonso was followed home by his English team-mate.

If there is one team who seems to have found a way to ride the kerbs successfully it is the McLarens.

The Mercedes Kers system will also be a huge help in qualifying and during the race, particularly at the first corner. The power boost effect at Monza could be worth four tenths of a second per lap and around 15m in distance gain.

Raikkonen was hugely positive before his victory at the Belgium Grand Prix and that seems to be the case again here in Monza.

The safety car helped him enormously in getting past pole-sitter Giancarlo Fisichella's Force India in Belgium but Kers should help him reap rewards on Ferrari's home patch.

As it is, Raikkonen is still going to be more motivated by the challenge of driving than he is by performing in front of the tifosi.

If Adrian Sutil can drive like his former team-mate Fisichella, who has become Raikkonen's third partner of the season, then he could threaten for a podium.

Force India are on such a high at the moment after scoring their first ever points in Spa that Sutil probably thinks he could ride a bike round just as quick.

Team insiders say they are targeting the third qualifying session and a definite points finish without daring to dream of a repeat podium performance.

For Tonio Liuzzi, who is back in F1 as Fisichella's replacement, a solid qualifying performance has to be his goal.

Despite all their off-track tensions, Renault finished strongly in Friday's second practice with Romain Grosjean second ahead of Fernando Alonso.

I suspect that was based on lighter fuel loads but they did some long runs too as they try to understand how to reintegrate Kers back into their car this weekend.

The signs are that Alonso is set to move to Ferrari at the end of the season and what better way to prepare the ground for his arrival than for him to turn it on in front of the tifosi?

The championship battle has almost got lost amidst the drama of Spa and the charge of the Kers cars.

Brawn enjoyed a more effective practice concentrating on long runs whereas rivals Red Bull had an electrical problem with Mark Webber's car and Sebastian Vettel turned his revs down to help conserve his dwindling engine quota.

Rubens Barrichello's experienced head could make all the difference at Monza, where he has won twice in the past.

The Brazilian seems to be much happier with the balance of his Brawn than Jenson Button so, out of all the championship contenders, I pick him to score the most points in sixth.

I wonder if Webber is unravelling; two ninth places and limited mileage in Monza could see him leave Vettel and Button to tidy up the rest of the points on offer.

One final prediction: I expect, just like in Spa, this will be another weekend where Button will see his championship lead shrink but he will still be the man to beat as the season races to its conclusion.


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