Hi everybody...

F1 arrives in Italy this weekend and I think it is going to be an exciting event. There has been a lot of controversy in the lead up to the race with the tyre situation and the championship is as close as it can be between the three main runners.

It's also going to be interesting to see if Ferrari pulls something out of the bag in every department, especially at its home race, to deliver a win, because, in my view, they need a win and a second for Rubens Barrichello to make things really count.

Monza itself is a great track - it is one of those circuits you walk into and is a bit of a spine-chiller, because it is just steeped in history. It's got a really unique atmosphere as the circuit is inside a royal park and is therefore a little bit different from that side of things.

As always, you've got some great corners - Parabolica is a fantastic corner and the Ascari chicane is also great - it's just an incredible circuit to drive. It's not quite as pure as it once was, what with the Lesmos having changed, but it's still a great circuit.

The crowd is second to none too and, if there is a Formula One crowd that you want to go and watch and feel the atmosphere with and enjoy their passion, then go to Italy. The tifosi are fantastic.

All the teams tested at this circuit last week and that should help them all to an extent this weekend. It's good for them to be able to run at the track in such close proximity to the actual race but, at the same time, it's a relative deal and everybody will probably have made the most of it. They will certainly hope to learn from what they got there and use it on Sunday.

At Hungary three weeks ago, Renault took its first win since returning to F1, and Fernando Alonso broke his duck. I'd like to point out that I actually predicted that result in Autosport, that Renault and Alonso would deliver the goods and do the job - it's just a shame I didn't put a bet on it!

As for this weekend - and I'd like to be able to predict another race winner and get it right - I think Renault will struggle to do the same. They simply don't have enough in the power stakes for a high-speed track like Monza and, as good as a package the R23 is, I think the Hungaroring suited the team to a tee. Here, I think the big boys, in terms of power, are going to be more in contention.

Renault should still be capable of getting a top six finish, just not the win. Alonso should certainly be pumped up and confident as ever following his first F1 victory and Jarno Trulli will be as determined as ever to make things count. The lack of power though will hurt them though.

Ferrari, if it can pull something out of the bag, will likely be right up there. Nine times out of ten, the team rolls up with something a little bit better and that should help along the way.

Michael Schumacher will certainly need to capitalise on what he has got - but that isn't very much at the moment in the way of a margin in the championship. He needs to make sure everything counts. He can't afford a mistake, and the same goes for Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen. If any of them do slip up, it could well end their run for the title. There's a lot of pressure then on these three guys, but Michael knows what it takes. He has done the job five times already.

Rubens Barrichello, meanwhile, will be playing very much a support role. If he runs with it and wins in front of the home crowd, then Ferrari can't ask for much more. But it will be tough.

Williams will also be right up there and Montoya will be all out to get the job done. He knows how to win championships too. He has done it in CART and he has also won the Indy 500, so don't expect him to crack under pressure. He also has BMW power behind him, which should be a big boost.

Ralf Schumacher is coming off the back of a knock - what with his high speed crash last week in testing. I don't think there will be any issues there though. As a driver, you have to accept that things like that can happen and, while you don't want it to, you have to be able to put them behind you and get on with it. The day a professional race driver still has issues from an accident, is the day he or she hangs up his helmets and gloves.

The same goes for Ralph Firman as well, who crashed heavily in practice at the Hungaroring. Neither will have any problems, and Schumacher could well have won in Budapest if he hadn't spun at the start. He was certainly on the pace and, if it wasn't for that mistake, he could have been right up there with Alonso. I'm sure that would have resulted in an incredible battle.

Kimi Raikkonen has got to fight for everything he can if he is to beat Michael and JPM and, if McLaren produce the goods, then I'm sure the 'Iceman' can have a good qualifying and race.

David Coulthard, meanwhile, has been boosted by news he has been re-signed for 2004. Such stability should help him and it takes a lot of the pressure away. Hopefully, that will allow him to get back on it in qualifying and let him focus on what needs to be done.

The big issue between all of those teams at the top, though, is what the tyres are going to be doing and what's going to be on the cars to be measured at the end of the race. That could be a completely different story and one we won't know about until it is all over...

The tyre row has been a difficult one to assess. Like you, I have only read the so-called facts but, as far as I understand it, the Michelin tyres have been the same all season and now there is this issue with how they finish a grand prix. Why hasn't it been highlighted earlier? I really don't know.

What's been said in terms of performance gain makes a lot of sense. If the tyre is expanding, and the contact patch with the road is growing, then I can see how this would be an advantage. However, the timing seems a little bit strange and the way things have been carried out also seems a bit unusual. From an outside perspective, it is odd that the FIA goes to one competitor, sits there and then a decision is made on that kind of process. How this will affect the Michelin runners remains to be seen, however early indications are that it won't affect them that much. They are still pretty confident.

Of the rest, the battle for fifth place in the constructors' table - between Toyota, Jaguar and BAR - is really intensifying. It's tough to say how that will shape up this weekend.

Toyota has been progressing and knocking in points, and Jaguar has definitely been pulling in healthy points and making steady progress in the middle to latter part of the season. BAR, though, is the weaker of the three, and seems to be having a bit of a tough time. There are a number of issues there that don't seem to be getting sorted.

In my mind, if I had to pick who is likely to come out on top this time, I would opt for Jaguar. Mark Webber's drive at the 'Ring was fantastic. One thing is for sure, though, the next two to three races can make hell of a difference - and all of them have got something to aim for and a lot, potentially, to gain.

Sauber and Jordan, meanwhile, can't really be considered to be in contention for this battle for fifth. Both have seemingly lost direction and are 'much of a muchness'.

The Sauber team is one of the biggest disappointments of the season, especially in view of how it has performed the last two years. Jordan also seems to be on a downward slope - it's a shame how things are deteriorating there. I guess it's just a sign of the times though.

The team got a fair bit of attention in Budapest, when it gave Zsolt Baumgartner his debut. I think he did okay - it's not easy to jump in car with the whole of country behind you. He had had hardly any mileage and therefore didn't do himself any injustice. He certainly treated the thing with respect and did a sensible job with what was available. You can take much away from that.

Minardi - what can I say? It's the same old story. It's amazing the team stays afloat. It always seems to be on the brink and I just take my hat off that they all keep going - ten out of ten for trying.

So to sum up, I reckon Montoya will take the pole and the victory. Kimi Raikkonen will come in second, with Michael Schumacher third. Then maybe DC, Ralf, Trulli - in fourth, fifth and sixth - with Alonso and Mark Webber rounding off the top eight.

Enjoy the race... and place a bet on JPM!

MB.

 

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