The 2008 Formula One calendar is such that there is barely any time for the dust to settle - and a lot was kicked up - after the Belgian Grand Prix before the circus heads to another of the year's iconic circuits, Monza, for the final European round of the season.

Back-to-back grand prix weekends cause enough of a headache for the teams without any sort of fall-out to deal with, but the F1 world will arrive in Italy still coming to grips with the post-race goings-on that rocked Spa-Francorchamps even after the drama of the final five laps.

For the first time in five rounds, championship leader Lewis Hamilton arrives at a race weekend having not increased his advantage over the field, but thanks only to the stewards' decision to demote him to third once the podium celebrations were over and done with at Spa.

Hamilton's 'crime' was to miss the second part of the remodelled Bus Stop chicane in the heat of battle with long-time race leader Kimi Raikkonen. Although he subsequently allowed the Finn to regain the advantage before re-passing him at La Source, the officials decreed that Hamilton had gained too much of an advantage from his detour and added 25 seconds to his race time.

That was enough to demote him to the bottom step of the podium but, more importantly, elevated Felipe Massa - a distant third for most of the race - to the position of victor, allowing the Brazilian to slash what would have been an eight-point deficit to just two heading to Ferrari's home race. McLaren has, as expected, appealed against the decision, but the outcome will not be known before Monza, leaving the true championship picture to remain clouded throughout the weekend.

Hamilton, for his part, appeared out-classed at Spa until, late in the race, both he and Raikkonen were on the harder Bridgestone tyres, whereupon he closed in on the Finn to set up the nail-biting denouement. The gap in general terms, however, was less than it had been in 2007, underlining the parity between the top two teams.

The Briton finished second on his Monza F1 debut last season, as McLaren took a 1-2 result to upset the tifosi, and is expected to be frustrating the Ferrari fans again in 2008 as McLaren shows that its MP4-23 is pretty well suited to any circuit. The outcome, however, will rely as much upon what developments the title contenders produce for the fastest circuit on the schedule, a specific test for which was held in the week before Spa, and whether the Italian temperatures play ball as far as the F2008's tyre usage is concerned.

Although BMW Sauber ended up with the fastest time in testing, both McLaren and Ferrari were in the thick of it, with Hamilton, rear-gunner Heikki Kovalainen, Raikkonen and Massa all in the top seven across the three days. The Brazilian's fortune in Belgium means that he has now 'won' the past two rounds, and probably went some way to making up for the disappointment of Hungary, where he was perhaps the most dominant anyone has been all season but ended up on the sidelines three laps from home.

Last year's trip to Monza will not be one that Massa remembers fondly, as he retired after just ten laps with a 'rear suspension' problem related to some development dampers, but the Brazilian must surely be Ferrari's focus of attention as Raikkonen slips even further adrift in the championship chase. The Scuderia is not confirming that it will back Massa with five races to go, but his two-point deficit compared to Raikkonen's 19 must begin to focus minds at Maranello before too long.

Indeed, Raikkonen's unfortunate trip into the Fagnes wall after such an exemplary race dropped him behind BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica in the overall picture, and further damage could be inflicted this weekend if the Germano-Swiss team lives up to its own belief that Monza could be the ideal venue to get back to the front of the pack. The team has fallen away somewhat since Kubica won in Montreal, angering the Pole more than a little in the process, but is optimistic that it can bounce back in Italy.

Kubica, a podium finisher at Monza in just his third GP, only tested on the final day of the group test and consequently languished down in 17th place on the timesheets, but team-mate Heidfeld showed what the F1.08 could be capable of in low-downforce Monza trim by heading the pack by a couple of tenths. The German's form has been up and down in recent weeks, with poor qualifying performances interspersed with trips to the podium. He underlined his reputation for being among F1's better 'passers' at Silverstone and, in similarly tricky conditions, forced the message home by making use of an inspired late tyre change to go from ninth to third in the final two laps, a performance that was later 'rewarded' with promotion to second.

Heidfeld's move from outside the points, allied to Kubica's quieter sixth spot, allowed BMW-Sauber to open out a 66-point cushion back to fourth place, cooling Fernando Alonso's claims that Renault could become the third-best team in F1 before the end of the season. The regie continues to be involved in a tight scrap for fourth overall, but the Spaniard's surprise podium at Spa allowed it to halve the gap between it and main protagonist Toyota after Timo Glock was removed from eighth by the ever-attentive stewards.

Alonso goes to Monza as reigning Italian GP 'champion', having turned in a stubborn performance to see off Hamilton and Ferrari two races after the '07 season boiled over in Budapest. Qualifying on pole after going fastest in two of the three free practice sessions - Raikkonen boosted the tifosiearly on Friday - and then dominating Saturday's three-phase knock-out session, the Spaniard celebrated his 100th grand prix by leading from lights to flag.

Sadly, a repeat is unlikely this weekend, but the Spaniard appears rejuvenated by getting his teeth into the battle for fourth, and could even be feeding off the ongoing speculation as to his whereabouts for 2009. A three-year deal with BMW-Sauber was being mooted in the Spa paddock, but no-one is confirming that, or the apparent chances of him going to Honda ......or Ferrari.

Rookie team-mate Nelsinho Piquet could be a crucial factor in the destiny of fourth overall, especially as Glock now looks to be a regular contributor to the Toyota cause alongside Jarno Trulli. The young Brazilian missed the cut in qualifying at Spa, and then paid the penalty with a heavy fuel load and spin, but is looking forward to returning to a track where he enjoyed race success in GP2. Glock, too, has good memories of the royal parklands where, a year after being dumped out of proceedings, he set himself up for the GP2 title with a brace of podium finishes, including a win.

Trulli, meanwhile, is on home soil and hoping that Toyota's low downforce set-up will allow him to start sufficiently high up the grid that he does not have to repeat his Spa start-line heroics. Belgium, incidentally, was only the second time this season, after Canada, that both the TF108s missed the top ten in qualifying.

Renault heads to Monza encouraged by its pace - and that of customer team Red Bull Racing - at Spa, especially after the dismal weekend in Valencia, where accusations of falling behind in the engine race abounded.

After not scoring for four straight F1 weekends, Mark Webber should have joined Alonso in the points, but had his event hampered by Kovalainen's clumsy attempts to make up ground early on. Even that, however, would not have prevented the 'works' Red Bull team - which also has not scored since Magny-Cours - from being overshadowed by its supposedly inferior sister, as Scuderia Toro Rosso produced its best performance of a steadily-improving season.

Both Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Bourdais made it through to the top ten for the second event running, clearly happy with their Ferrari power, and then managed to sustain the performance through the 44 laps. Bourdais even appeared to be on for a career-best third when Raikkonen went out, but was jumped in the final stages by the likes of Heidfeld and Alonso, before dropping back to an eventual seventh. Vettel, however, claimed fifth to lift the team into a points tie with Williams.

Toyota's customer team has not managed to pull itself out of the trough into which it slipped mid-season - Nico Rosberg's point in Valencia notwithstanding - but will head to Monza encouraged by the German's second place in testing. The proud Grove outfit has already labelled its Spa showing as 'an embarrassment' after failing to better twelfth place, and that should be a sufficient kick in the nether regions for all concerned as it aims to record its 500th grand prix start.

Toro Rosso's recent run of point-scoring finishes has lifted it clear of Honda in the constructors' championship, and the Brackley team showed few signs of being able to compete at Spa. At the foot of the timesheets throughout practice, both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello departed at the earliest opportunity in qualifying and the Briton's 15th place result was almost as poor as Barrichello's mid-race exit. If power is an issue, there will be more of the same this weekend for a team counting the days until 2009.

Barrichello's podium finish at Silverstone has gone a long way to ensuring that Honda will not be overtaken by one freak result for the battling Force India squad but, in truth, that looks unlikely in a season where reliability has been good. Even the odd wet race - and they have been odd at times - has not offered too many glimmers of hope for Vijay Mallya's operation - Adrian Sutil's Monaco performance aside - but the team will continue to plug away, especially with lead driver Giancarlo Fisichella on home soil this weekend. FIF1's seamless shift 'box does appear to have moved it closer to its immediate rivals, however, and it will be interesting to see if it can capitalise on Honda's malaise - and even that of Williams - at Monza, especially with Ferrari horses under the hood.

More than anywhere, those horses are required at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, to give the venue its full name, where the 5.793km layout remains a mix of high-speed straight and low-speed, high kerbed chicanes that make finding the right aero balance something of a nightmare for the engineers. Drivers will be on the throttle for a longer percentage of the lap than at any other circuit but, although it could be a case of engine power winning, the lack of grip at corners such as Curva di Lesmo, Curva Parabolica and the Variante Ascari and Curva Grande means that the race can be won and lost in the slow stuff.

Traction out of the slow corners is a particular demand at Monza, and rear tyres, in particular, suffer a harsh workout. With temperatures likely to be higher in Italy - and therefore playing towards the home team - tyre blistering can be a problem, leading Bridgestone to bring its hard and medium compound tyres.

The action at Monza used to be blistering too, particularly pre-chicanes, when slipstreaming was the order of the day. Whether this year will be as hot remains to be seen. It could all depend on the stewards.....