Will Button make tifosi see red?
FERRARI PLUS TIFOSI: The prospect of beating Ferrari at its formidable home ground does not fill its rival drivers' hearts with gladness.
Author: ALAN BALDWIN
MONZA, Italy - McLaren's Jenson Button has finished runner-up in the Italian F1 GP for the past three years but, strangely, the prospect of winning there this weekend does not fill his heart with unconfined joy.
Monza, Ferrari's home race, is the temple of Italian motorsport and anyone who beats the red cars is never going to feel the true love of the hugely partisan massed hordes of local "tifosi" (Ferrari fans).
ALONSO: SLOWEST LEADER
Button, winner in Belgium the previous weekend from pole to chequered flag, had few problems in 2010 when he finished second to Ferrari's Fernando Alonso with Brazilian Felipe Massa third for the Scuderia. But in 2011 he crossed the line ahead of the Spaniard and that did not go down so well.
Alonso arrives this time leading the standings, despite suffering his first retirement in more than a year at Spa when he was shunted out in a first corner pile-up and will be expected to deliver in a car he claims is the slowest of the leading teams.
McLaren won the previous two races and, with its staff marking every team victory by donning "rocket red" T-shirts for post-race celebrations, there is every chance of the fans seeing red this year - if not the richer tone they prefer.
"Monza's just a little bit different," Button told Reuters. "Winning in Monza is a great feeling but it's not one at which you enjoy standing on the podium."
Briton Button has never won at the high-speed track near Milan and needs every point he can get to close the gap in the title race. "The tifosi are there to support Ferrari... they're not there to support us," he said as runner-up to then team mate and former Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello at Monza in the 2009 season when he won the title with Brawn GP.
"I don't like people booing. I'm not used to football crowds. But Monza's a great place... so, yeah, it would be great to win there."
The Monza crowd - particularly in these days of economic hardship - is not what it was in the days when Enzo Ferrari was alive, with fans scaling the advertising hoardings for a better view and invading the track in their thousands after the race, a red wave that swept all before it, but it is still one of the most evocative stretches of asphalt anywhere in motor racing.
Mercedes' Michael Schumacher, winner of five of his record seven titles
with Ferrari and still hailed as one of the Maranello immortals despite
now racing in silver overalls, said: "When I think of Monza, I immediately see everything through a red veil. It's the beating racing heart of Italy, everything there lives and breathes Ferrari, and I must inevitably think of the good times I spent there."
The wooded royal park is home to a track unlike any other, steeped in history and with the pre-war banking still surviving if no longer a part of the layout, but the star attraction is never in doubt.
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali said: "We will have so many fans supporting us in the Autodromo and I'm sure we will get a boost from the emotion they will transfer to the team and the drivers. The more 'horsepower' the fans can give us, the better."
Alonso has a lead of 24 points over Red Bull's titleholder Sebastian Vettel while Button, sixth overall, is a hefty 63 behind the Spaniard but with a sense of momentum after picking up from a mid-season slump. If Alonso were to draw another blank and Vettel to win and take the overall lead, the gloom descending over Monza would be almost tangible.
Button's team mate Lewis Hamilton will be champing to get back on the podium after winning in Hungary just before the August break and then being caught in the same first lap collision as Alonso at Spa. The Briton will also have learned his lesson after tweeting secret team data to the world, a gaffe that "disappointed" Button as much as the rest of the team.
French driver Rromain Grosjean is serving a one-race ban, although he is still due to be present, for causing the Spa pile-up that fortunately caused no injury despite his car flying inches over Alonso's car.
RAIKKONEN GOOD BET
Jerome d'Ambrosio, Belgian of Italian extraction, will fill in for Grosjean in a car that has provided regular podium appearances this season and could make him his country's first driver in 20 years to score a point.
His Finnish team mate Kimi Raikkonen, very much a title contender despite not having won a race yet in his comeback season, looks a good bet as ever as he chases his fourth podium in a row and 10th successive points finish.
Vettel, winner from pole here in 2011, and Australian team mate Mark Webber will also be among the favourites.
Stay with Wheels24 for the 2012 Italian F1 weekend.