|© AP Photo/Luca Bruno
Fernando Alonso's faltering bid for a third title will be hurt if he fails to finish ahead of championship leader Sebastian Vettel at the Italian Grand Prix.
Alonso is 46 points behind Vettel in second place, but he'll have the backing of fervent fans on Sunday at Monza -- considered Ferrari's home race. But he will need more than that, as Ferrari must qualify strongly to pressure Vettel on a track where the last three winners and five of the past six started from pole position.
Bad news for Alonso, who has not qualified higher than third.
Although the Spaniard drove impressively at the Belgian GP two weeks ago, finishing second, he has not won since the Spanish GP in May.
"We need to concentrate this weekend (to) do our maximum and try to finish in front of our rivals," Alonso said Thursday. "In Monza, the characteristics of the track should help our performance. We have everything in place. We need to deliver Sunday in the race but we arrive with good confidence and ready to fight."
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali increased the pressure on Alonso, saying this week that Ferrari has two races to close the gap. He added if it doesn't happen, Ferrari likely will focus on developing next season's car. The regulations change dramatically in 2014 with the introduction of new 1.6-litre V6 turbo engines.
"Two wins isn't something we can put as a target," said Alonso, who has won only two races this season. "More realistic is to finish in front of Sebastian. We will be happy to finish in front of him here and Singapore ... If we can't, if we keep losing points, then we need to think about 2014 because (there will be) only six races left with a massive gap."
It is not just Alonso who is under strain at Ferrari, as Felipe Massa also needs results to keep his seat next year. The Brazilian has only one podium finish this season, third in Barcelona.
"I believe we can have a good car," Massa said. "Even last year, we had a good race here when the car wasn't that great, so I hope we can fight."
Kimi Raikkonen also needs to get back to form after a race in Spa, where he dropped from second to fourth overall behind Lewis Hamilton after brake failure forced him to quit and ended his 27-race points run.
"What happened in Spa was not what we were looking for and not ideal for the championship," the Finnish driver said. "But we knew the day would come. We had such a long period of time with the best reliability of all, so it was only natural that one day luck would go against us."
The 2007 champion has won 20 races in his career, but never at Monza.
"For one reason or another, things just haven't worked out for me. But it doesn't mean I can't drive the track," he said.
Monza is considered the fastest circuit on the calendar. It is 3.6 miles long and features four long straights where drivers reach straight-line speeds of 205mph.
"You're going so fast that the whole lap just flows together. There's nowhere quite like it," McLaren driver Jenson Button said. "The car accelerates up to speed incredibly quickly, feels skittish and loose when you're running flat out, and can be tricky and unpredictable under braking."
As in Belgium, tyre manufacturer Pirelli is bringing its two strongest compounds: hard and medium.
Pirelli has had a terrible season because its tyres have been shredding. There were some problems in practice at the Belgian GP with Vettel and Alonso sustaining punctures to the right rear tyres. An investigation revealed that debris was to blame, but Pirelli will nevertheless be under the spotlight at Monza.
"The long straights and fast corners put plenty of energy through the tyres," Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said. "This means that overheating and blistering can be a problem if not controlled."