This weekend's Italian Grand Prix is shaping up as a prime example of the revolution Formula One has undergone this season. A year ago, Michael Schumacher had his seventh world title wrapped up before even coming to Monza. This time he is in a distant third place while Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen battle in an increasingly tight duel for the championship.
With five races remaining and wins worth 10 points, Alonso has 95 points to Raikkonen's 71. Schumacher has just 55.
Schumacher and his Ferrari team have had trouble adapting to new rules this season limiting teams to one engine for every two races and one set of tires per Grand Prix.
Alonso and his Renault team have adapted best, skipping early practice sessions to save his engines, and winning three of the first four races -- with teammate Giancarlo Fisichella winning the other. Since then, Alonso has not won as often but he has maintained his lead with consistency.
Raikkonen's season has been marked by sharp ups and downs, dominating victories like in Hungary and Turkey the last two races, and crushing engine failures -- often when victory seemed secure -- at the San Marino, European and German GPs.
At Monza, the fastest track in F1, McLaren posted the best times in testing last week with Renault right behind, but Raikkonen suffered an engine failure. Ferrari was far behind.
With speeds averaging 250kph and cars on the main straight reaching more than 360kph, Monza is tougher on engines -- and brakes -- than any other circuit.
"McLaren are very quick, there's no doubt, but Monza is a completely different circuit to any other, so we approach it feeling confident. We have had a good straight-line speed all year, and that is one of the things you need there," Alonso said.
"As long as we finish the races we are OK. If we are competitive and can get on the podium, then it will be hard to lose my advantage. The advantage we have is that I can still afford some bad races and not lose the lead," he said.