MONZA, Italy (AFP) – Lewis Hamilton returns to Monza this weekend aiming to repeat his convincing display last year when he took pole position and then won the Italian Grand Prix.
Boosted by news that his Mercedes team will be running with a revised version of the low-downforce package they ran in Belgium, he knows he has to deliver a strong result to keep his distant title hopes alive.
The 28-year-old Briton may trail leader and defending triple world champion German Sebastian Vettel in this year's title race, but his speed and form has kept alive his belief that he can mount a late challenge.
Mercedes team chief Ross Brawn revealed after Belgium that the outfit had been slightly baffled as to why its pace was lacking.
"I don't think we quite got the car right," he said. "We were there or thereabouts but it didn't feel quite as sharp as we have had the last few races.
"So we have a few changes for Monza and we hope this time we get it right."
Monza, of course, is one of the fastest circuits on the calendar, but also one of the most challenging for passing moves. Of the last 13 races, 10 have been won by the driver on pole.
The cars can reach speeds of more than 320kph and on a circuit dominated by straights, chicanes and fast corners, one of the best passing opportunities is on the straight after the famous Parabolica, where cars glide in the slipstream of others to find a way by -- as they have been doing since the world championship began in 1950.
Monza, the circuit, the park and the town, are steeped in motor racing history and all ooze atmosphere with the Ferrari logo and flag to be seen everywhere as misty mornings are swept away by hot late summer sunshine.
It is the Ferrari home race and pressure on the team reaches fever pitch in the crowded paddock where rumours of driver transfers following the confirmation that Daniel Ricciardo will succeed fellow-Australian Mark Webber at Red Bull next year are sure to be rife.
As always, there will be as much action off the circuit and around the paddock as on it once the cars roar and rush through the woods on the old Autodromo Nazionale.
"This track brings back great memories for me, mainly from my first win there in 2008, with Toro Rosso," admitted Vettel. "I can't describe the feeling of standing on the top of the podium for the first time -- and Monza was one of the best places to experience it because of the thousands of passionate fans that stand beneath. It always gives you goose-bumps."
Like Hamilton, Vettel will be aiming only for a victory and may face a sustained challenge also from Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus -- who is hunting a drive alongside Ferrari's Spaniard two-time champion Fernando Alonso next year.
He said: "It's true that I have never won in Italy. For one reason or another things just haven't worked out for me, but it doesn't mean I can't drive the track.
"Just because I have not won at a circuit in the past it doesn't mean that I won't win or get a good result there in the future."