Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull won the most recent grand prix two weeks ago in Belgium and increased his lead in the world championship standings to 46 points over Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who moved to second after his second- place finish. Lewis Hamilton, in his first season with Mercedes, is 58 points behind Vettel, while Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus trails by 63. Raikkonen dropped from second to fourth in the standings after his retirement just past the halfway point in the Belgian GP.
Vettel returns to Monza five years after he claimed his maiden F1 race and pole victories here. When Vettel was 21 years old in 2008, he became the youngest race and pole winner in F1 history. The German drove for Toro Rosso at time. He moved over to Red Bull in 2009.
"This track brings back great memories for me, mainly from my first win there in 2008 with Toro Rosso," Vettel said. "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 gives you goose bumps."
Red Bull has struggled at Monza over the years. Since its F1 debut in 2005, Red Bull has scored only one podium finish in 16 starts at this 3.6-mile, 11- turn course. Vettel won the Italian GP in 2011.
"We had painful years in a way, where we just get hammered down the straights, and we've had years where the loss down the straight was limited, so we could come back in the corners, and for sure if you look back, the 2011 experience was great in that regard," Vettel said. "How it turns out to be this year is difficult to say. I think we can be quite confident."
Since 1950, a Ferrari driver has won the Italian GP 18 times. Alonso most recently did it in his first year with the team in 2010. This is the home race for Ferrari. Its headquarters are located in Maranello, Italy, which is roughly 125 miles southeast of Monza.
In last year's Italian GP, Alonso finished third and held a 37-point over Hamilton, who won the race. Vettel trailed Alonso by 39 points after he was forced to retired due to a mechanical issue with six laps to go.
But Vettel came roaring back in the championship battle by winning four consecutive grand prix -- Singapore, Japan, Korea and India. He won his third consecutive F1 title by just a three-point margin over Alonso.
Can Alonso turn the tables on Vettel this year?
"I'm optimistic, for sure," Alonso said. "I think in Spa (Belgian GP), we saw some steps forward for us, and we hope to continue that direction and keep improving here in Monza. The characteristics of the track should help our performance as well. We have everything in place to have a good weekend. We need to deliver when comes the time in Sunday in the race, but we arrive with some good confidence and ready to fight.
"I think for us it will be a stronger test at the Singapore race when we come back to the maximum level of downforce, etc., and there, we will see how much of a step forward we did. But let's concentrate on this weekend. Let's try to do the maximum, and let's try to finish in front of our main rivals."
Alonso also won the Italian GP for the first time in 2007 when he drove for McLaren.
Series: Formula One. Date: Sunday, Sept. 8. Race: Italian Grand Prix. Site: Autodromo Nazionale Monza. Track: 3.6-mile (5.793-kilometer), 11-turn road course. Start Time: 8 a.m. ET. Laps: 53. Miles: 190.58 (306.720 km). 2012 Winner: Lewis Hamilton. Television: NBC Sports Network.