Verstappen ready to dash Ferrari title hopes

Max Verstappen has an opportunity this weekend to move within comfortable reach of his second drivers' world title when he leads Red Bull's bid to defeat Ferrari on home soil at the Italian Grand Prix.

Buoyed by a luxurious cushion of 109 points ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, the runaway leader and defending champion knows another victory could set him up to take the title in Singapore or, more likely, Japan early next month.

After the boisterous euphoria of his fourth consecutive win, in front of his 'orange army' at Zandvoort last weekend, the 24-year-old Dutchman and his team know that a fifth in a row would not only silence the 'tifosi' at Monza's 'Temple of Speed', but virtually kill off Ferrari's realistic bid for glory.

Verstappen has won 10 of the 15 races this year and believes he and Red Bull have proved they can compete and succeed on any circuit, and in all set-up configurations, including high-speed tracks like the historic Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, where he has yet to taste victory

"I don't think we have any real weaknesses, but we know we are stronger at some places than others," he explained.

"On a high down-force track, it's a bit more difficult to get the best out of our package, but for medium down-force levels, I think our car is every efficient.

"That's why we are looking forward to Monza!"

Last Sunday saw him claim his 30th career win with a 'hat-trick' of pole, victory and fastest lap for a fifth time – ensuring he arrives in Italy full of confidence with more records in sight including the 13-wins mark for a season held jointly by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.

Both German drivers raced for Ferrari with contrasting success, but experienced victory at Monza – Vettel for Toro Rosso and Red Bull, but never for the 'scuderia' — a feat that has eluded Verstappen so far.

Installed as the bookmakers' favourite, he will seek his maiden Monza success this time.

Ferrari, despite their inconsistency and recent mishaps, should not be overlooked.

Leclerc was back on the podium last week and won at Monza in 2019. After recent events, he and his team feel stung and need to react.

Mercedes, threatening to overhaul Ferrari in the constructors' championship, may also be a threat if their rejuvenated form continues.

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton has won a record five times in Italy, a feat shared with Schumacher, if not since 2018, and appeared, albeit briefly, to be close to a surprise win last Sunday.

For Ferrari team chief Mattia Binotto, it is a daunting challenge, but one he recognised a need to tackle following last Sunday's error-strewn performance by the North Sea.

If they can rediscover the outright pace shown earlier this year, Ferrari will be competitive while Mercedes are likely to struggle for straight-line speed to match them.

But the Italians may give Carlos Sainz a new lighter power-unit and take a grid penalty this weekend, a move mooted but not confirmed after their Zandvoort escapades.

Ferrari will also be celebrating their 75th anniversary with a special livery introducing splashes of yellow on their famous red car, across the front and rear wings, with both drivers set to wear yellow race suits.

McLaren fans may hope for a repeat of Daniel Ricciardo's heroic triumph last year, but that appears unlikely this time and the popular Australian, set to leave the team later this season, may be job-hunting as much as racing this weekend.

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