Three to go...

With a mere three races left in the F1 season it couldn't be closer in the drivers' title race; Michael Schumacher sits atop the pile on 72 points whilst snapping at his heels are Juan Pablo Montoya on 71 points and Kimi Raikkonen on 70. With tyre controversy clouding the issue it couldn't be more of a nail-biter for the season's conclusion.

Tyres have been the main issue since the Hungarian GP, where Renault's Fernando Alonso took his maiden F1 win. The Michelin's are seemingly too wide and the Bridgestone runners don't like it. The FIA has been forced to intervene and the Michelin runners will race with revised rubber this weekend; how it affects their performance remains to be seen.

The Monza circuit is a corker, right in the heart of Italy with plenty of cheering their cars on. Ferrari normally produce something special at home, whether they can produce enough at the last race in Europe should be interesting.

Team Talk

Renault provided a real fillip to their season with Fernando Alonso's splendid win in Hungary, at a track that was always going to suit their chassis, whilst Williams continued to show their strength despite a couple of mistakes. Ferrari are at home this weekend, and that usually means something special is pulled out of the bag.

BMW WilliamsF1 Michelin 129 points

Ralf had a bit of an incident in testing, but he's certainly looking forward to race action at Monza. "I love the race at Monza," he says, "Not only because the BMW engine gives us an advantage for the several long, full throttle sections, but also because I find the changes between the fast and slow sections quite interesting." The younger Schumacher still has an outside chance at the title, but with Juan Pablo Montoya the leading WilliamsF1 man it'll be interesting when the pair are close together on track.

Montoya has a good history to look back on in Monza, as he explains: "Monza is a good track for me. I've been on pole twice and I also achieved my first Formula one victory there. We looked quite strong while testing at Monza, which makes us quite confident for the race weekend."

Ferrari Bridgestone 121 points

It was more than a bit of a struggle for Ferrari last time out, with Michael Schumacher being lapped by race winner Fernando Alonso but the Maranello equipe always work hard for an engine evolution or chassis tweak for Monza. As most teams they were testing at the track last week, and Herr Schumacher reckons this weekend should be far better than their last outing.

"Last week's testing was very promising and I think I can fight for the win," he says. "The layout is very similar to Montreal, where we won and also the F2003-GA goes very well on high speed circuits. Obviously, we cannot promise anything and given the competitiveness of our rivals the race is bound to be very close. But I can say that we will do our utmost."

Rubens Barrichello won last time out at Monza, and set the fastest lap too, so both Ferraris should be closely matched, but where exactly in the field is going to be the interesting factor.

McLaren-Mercedes Michelin 115 points

Still racing with their 'old' car McLaren are still right in the drivers' fight with young Kimi Raikkonen. Though lacking in outright speed compared to the similarly shod WilliamsF1 cars the McLaren/Raikkonen combination could well be a strong force in Italy, especially on strategy.

The team has a new aero package for the circuit and with the track a renowned car-breaker their use of the well-tested MP4-17D could well be a factor.

Renault F1 Michelin 78 points

Fernando's fantastic Hungarian win should not be underestimated; this man is a star. Pole position then racing away and getting to the situation where he lapped reigning champ Michael Schumacher was a pretty special day for the young Spaniard.

Monza however should provide quite a contrast for Alonso and team as it's a power circuit and that's been the main deficit of the Renault package this year. Lack of power allied to the Michelin tyre change could make for an challenging weekend for the Hungarian winners.

Alonso's team-mate Jarno Trulli didn't have the best time of it in Hungary and a fastest race lap over a second and a half slower than Alonso's means the Italian will want to do something special this weekend, especially as he's at home.

B.A.R-Honda Bridgestone 15 points

Jacques Villeneuve could well be in the twilight of his F1 career, but at least he can put up his feet for some of the lap in Italy. "The track itself is very different to most other circuits," Villeneuve explains. "There are long straight lines between the corners, so you are almost less active and have time to relax," but then, reckons the French Canadian, there's a rude awakening. "The last corner, Parabolica, is quite special. It's very difficult; visually you don't want to go there as there is a real danger element, and it's a difficult corner to get right. You can always go faster there than you actually do."

The team has suffered with its Bridgestone rubber and a bulky and heavy, though powerful, Honda powerplant this year. The tyres in particular have hampered Villeneuve and team-mate Jenson Button so there could be a better showing from the duo if the Michelin shod cars do get their grip levels knocked back by the revisions.

Jaguar-Cosworth Michelin 15 points

A fine third place qualifying from Mark Webber in Hungary and a sixth place finish underlie the Jaguar's and Australian's continued form this year. Things didn't go quite so well for Justin Wilson in only his second race for the team, with an engine blow drawing an early curtain on his Hungarian race.

The team has been busy testing for Monza at Monza so should be in good stead this weekend, especially when they managed a podium last year (with Eddie Irvine, remember him?) with a car that was a far cry from this year's R4. This year the battle is for Jaguar to finish fifth in the constructors' championship, their rivals for this being BAR and Toyota. The scrap for the points is sure to be hotly contested and the Jaguar package has performed better in qualifying than it has managed in race trim. If the Webber does manage another front-end start place it's very unlikely that he'll have the other competitors stacked up behind him like he did in Hungary.

Toyota Michelin 14 points

Monza should suit Toyota well, the power of the Toyota powerplant allied to the Michelin tyres, should their performance be undiminished by the revisions. Olivier Panis is an accomplished old campaigner and Cristiano da Matta is pretty handy too, so it could be another weekend when the Toyota stars.

Jordan Ford Bridgestone 11 points

Over at Jordan Ralph Firman is due to be back in the car, and Giancarlo Fisichella is racing at home. It was a double retirement for Fisichella and Firman's stand-in Zsolt Baumgartner in Hungary, so the team can't really do worse than that in what has been a trying season for the yellow cars.

Sauber-Petronas Bridgestone 9 points

A solid enough performance from Sauber in Hungary, though once more without any excitement. Both Sauber drivers are looking forward to the track. "Monza is a special place," explains Nick Heidfeld. "Now that Hockenheim has changed, it is the last track with very high-speed straights where you run very low downforce and, as a result, you have good overtaking chances under braking."

After a relatively poor season Heinz Harald Frentzen is hoping for a better time of it in Italy. "We have a lot of aerodynamic modifications for the C22 for this race and, after our recent performance there in testing, I am looking forward to a competitive weekend."

Minardi-Cosworth Bridgestone nil points

Jos Verstappen was back to his old fighting ways in Hungary, getting off the line to a storming start and into the thick of the action for the early laps, and showing that even though this year's Minardi may be slow on its Bridgestone's, there's a lot that good old-fashioned racecraft can achieve. The same is unlikely at Monza, it should be a normal weekend for the tiny team at the back of the field.

Rubber banned

Tyres will be crucial at Monza. Arguably the most important factor in the whole F1 equation, things have been getting interesting in the tyre arena of late.

Michelin have suffered a 'rule clarification', just as they did early 2002 when they were all set to bring in asymmetric grooves to F1. Prior to this weekend the tread width on a tyre was measured before the race; now it is to be measured after the race. This has meant that Michelin has had to revise and test its tyres to ensure they comply with the new method of assessing the tyres.

That this decision should come after a meeting with Bridgestone and Ferrari is rather interesting. Little focus has been given to the alleged and unsubstantiated rumours that Bridgestone was running with different compounds front to rear in contravention to the rules earlier in the year, but this is the latest step in an ongoing battle for the 2003 F1 titles.

The irony of the matter is that Monza, with its high-speed sections, is a circuit that should suit a narrower front tyre and the less aerodynamic drag and frontal area they present.

Track time

No other circuit has held more Grands Prix that Monza and the circuit holds the fastest speed lap record, achieved last year by Juan Pablo Montoya.

Monza is a bit of a car-breaker, and one that requires good engine grunt and a car that works well in low downforce configuration. Speeds along the straights can reach more than 220 mph, then it's hard on the brakes for the chicanes. Engines are at full-throttle for some 70 per cent of a lap. Low downforce means that mechanical grip becomes more of a factor for the chassis.

Predictions

Difficult, as we don't know how much of an effect the tyre changes will have for Michelin, and that could be crucial. Ferrari can always pull something special out of the bag when it's least expected, just like they did at Silverstone earlier this year so form could change.

In the words of Juan Pablo Montoya, it's going to be a very, very interesting race...