Italian Grand Prix: It's Vettel's race if he can handle the pressure
Ferrari desperately want to end an eight-year wait to win their home Grand Prix but Ralph Ellis says the build-up for Sebastian Vettel isn't going as smoothly as he'd like.
"With each year the pressure to deliver has grown greater. And never more so than this weekend when all eyes will be on Sebastian Vettel to see if he can finally end the wait for a Ferrari car to take the chequered flag at the Italian Grand Prix."
If the last few years have hurt like hell for Ferrari, then nowhere has the pain been worse than at the historic track of Monza in the Royal Villa Park some 16 miles north of Milan's city centre.
This is the home track for Italy's most famous racing marque; you'd almost call it the stable where the Prancing Horse is kept.
But for the last four years Ferrari have had their nose rubbed in it by successive wins for Mercedes, stretching the gap since the Scudderia triumphed there back to 2010 when Fernando Alonso lifted the trophy.
Lewis Hamilton chalked up wins in 2014 and 2015, missed out to Nico Rosberg in 2016, but was back on the top step on the podium in 2017.
With each year the pressure to deliver has grown greater. And never more so than this weekend when all eyes will be on Sebastian Vettel to see if he can finally end the wait for a Ferrari car to take the chequered flag at the Italian Grand Prix.
Vettel is odds-on to deliver back-to-back wins
If not now, after all, then when? Everything is lined up in favour of Vettel who did win at Monza in 2013 while he was still winning championships for Red Bull.
It's clear he now has the fastest car and on a circuit where more than 70 per cent of the time is spent on full throttle that's a huge advantage. And the morale boost to starting the second half of the season by winning last weekend's Belgian Grand Prix must be equally massive.
Those factors are demonstrated in Betfair's markets where Vettel is [1.96] to be the race winner and [1.76] to take pole position in Saturday's qualifying session.
But if you wanted to know how much the weight of expectation is bearing down on the four-times world champion, you only have to look at the last couple of days.
On Wednesday Vettel turned up for what should have been a simple exhibition drive at the Milan Festival, only to crash his car into the barriers around the city centre street track set up to promote the race.
On Thursday he got himself into a press conference squabble with Lewis Hamilton, biting back at hints over the legality of some of his team's upgrades by suggesting that Mercedes "believe they are not the strongest any more."
Could Kimi be the man to end the wait instead?
And then Friday's first practice session turned into another calamity with Vettel able to drive only four laps before a hydraulic leak forced him off the road as his car went back to the pits for a new gearbox.
That may yet have consequences in terms of grid penalties further down the line, but was an indicator that if things can go wrong they will. And all of it will have chipped away at the confidence the German had been building after driving so superbly at Spa.
His big rival Hamilton, [3.45] to win Sunday's race, will have relished all those problems, even if his own first practice run ended with him as an unspectacular 11th on the timesheets.
He's stayed out of the limelight, dodging his press commitments in the build-up, but certain to be at full focus when it matters.
Vettel will also face some competition from his team mate Kimi Raikkonen [8.2] when it comes to ending that eight-year wait for a Ferrari winner at Monza. The Finn was second in the rain in first practice and will be looking to make up for last week when his hopes in Belgian were ended by a first lap collision.