The traditional final farewell to the European season gets underway this weekend as Formula One bids goodbye to ‘the old continent’ for another year with the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
Situated in forested royal parkland, this most illustrious of circuits also plays host to the most passionate of crowds on the calendar as the Ferrari faithful, the ever-loyal Tifosi, swarm to see their scarlet cars do battle.
2013 hasn’t been the Scuderia’s year though; and two early victories for Fernando Alonso in China and Spain seem distant memories for the prancing horse as they head for home ground. Things aren’t all bad, as Ferrari showed improved pace last time out in Belgium after a pre-summer break period of watching their results sliding toward oblivion. Alonso’s advance from a lowly 9th on the grid to an eventual 2nd place finish in Spa saw him pass rivals from Mercedes, McLaren, Red Bull and Lotus – in fact, he passed everyone in front of him with one (perhaps inevitable) exception.
Sebastian Vettel was supreme at Spa as he claimed another victory to go with his 2011 Belgian triumph, and the reigning World Champion cemented it with a convincing first lap pass on Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes that was the cornerstone to his success. Had he not cleared the Englishman, Red Bull’s strategists may have had some clever thinking to do in order to ensure the German did not find himself exiting the pits behind the slower McLaren of Jenson Button – in a nightmare repetition of Hungary as the McLaren man attempted to make the distance on a one-stop strategy.
For their part, McLaren’s 50th anniversary celebrations are liable to be muted by another frustrating weekend when they reach Monza – a track they have tasted victory at numerous times down the years, most recently in 2007 and 2012. The proverbial fly in the oitment, the MP4/28, has dragged the Woking-based team down to the level of Caterham and Marussia at certain points in 2013 and with attention switching to trialling 2014 components from here on in, the pain for drivers Button and Sergio Perez can only get worse.
“The team of guys that designed this car are the same team that designed winning cars previously – they’re all the same designers, engineers and technicians so I’ve got every confidence that they can do the same again next year.” said sporting director Sam Michael pre-Monza.
“It will be difficult to score a podium on merit, particularly as we start to concentrate a lot on the 2014 car. Although we’re still bringing parts to the 2013 car, they’re not the normal developments you’d bring when you’re pushing in a performance race against other teams; they’re parts that are results of studies for 2014.”
Not only can McLaren look forward to a potential further weekend of woe, but arch-rivals Ferrari are rapidly closing in on the record 64 race points-scoring streak achieved by the British team until both cars finished out the points in Canada this year; the Italians weigh-in on 59 races and counting.
Kimi Raikkonen has been linked to his old berth at Maranello in recent weeks as speculation continues to rage over Felipe Massa’s position in the Ferrari garage. Even with the Brazilian likely to depart at the end of the season, Raikkonen faces the title run-in fairly and squarely as a Lotus employee – and must maximise his undoubted talent if he is to claw his way back from the brink for this one. 2nd in the title table became 4th after his first retirement in four years at Spa, and the Finn sits 63 points behind Vettel with 200 left to play for. The maths might make encouraging reading, but the fact remains Lotus have been decidedly off the frontline pace for some time during 2013 – leaving that Australian Grand Prix victory something of a misnomer in the history books. Kimi is the man for the job but, his tools, the product of a team bursting with technical ability but rumoured to be in financially rough seas, may not.
Monza is a straightforward circuit, if you only look at the map. Five flat-out blasts along wooded straights and sweeping corners, interspersed with the ubiquitous and obligatory smattering of chicanes, is a place where downforce is not welcome. Engine power, aerodynamic efficiency and driver skill are the yardsticks for success at this circuit.
Mercedes would be the obvious place to look were you to predict a victor; proven race winners in Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, a dominant car in qualifying trim and the fastest of all in outright speed, the Silver Arrows should live up to their billing. However, things didn’t go according to plan in Belgium and the mystery was deepened beyond the normal blame on tyres as Rosberg progressed while Hamilton faded. Perhaps the fastest circuit on the calendar can shed some light on the real situation.
Curva di Lesmo, at the very top of the circuit, provides the only real quandary for car setup in Italy, with two medium to slow speed corners linked by the smallest of straights punishing those who dare to push the boundaries of wing angle that bit too far. Car balance is on a knife edge with the margins so fine and any mistake, however small, can be instant and final. Ask Mark Webber, who span his way out of the Variante Ascari last year – or Lewis Hamilton, whose 2009 pursuit of the rampant Brawn cars caused his demise on the exit of Lesmo One as he got a little too far over the kerbing for comfort.
But it’s also a track that rewards bravery when things go right – who can forget Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel’s toe-to-toe battle last year, or Jenson Button’s seemingly-suicidal high-downforce setup so nearly net him victory in 2010? That’s the magic of Monza. You never know what you’re going to get.
Drivers and Teams Views
“The car has a completely different aerodynamic package to anywhere else on the calendar with really low downforce to make the most of the four long straights. My win in Italy last year was the first of my career at this circuit and it was a great feeling. We had a strong weekend in Belgium with a good team result and that’s what we need to keeping doing in the second half of the season.” Lewis Hamilton, GBR, Mercedes
“From an engineering perspective, Monza is unique and requires a special low-downforce aerodynamic package to make the most of the high-speed layout which also places great importance on the strength of the engine on the long straights.” Ross Brawn, GBR, Mercedes Team Principal
“Based on our past performance you’d say that Monza and Singapore are two of the stronger tracks for us. I’d like to say we can be competitive, but we have to see how it is when we get there on Friday morning. We had a very good qualifying session last year and we ended up fourth fastest so that’s a good sign for this year.” Paul Di Resta, GBR, Force India
“It’s a unique circuit with the high speeds achieved there and everyone will be running the lowest level of downforce we see all year. Low downforce has not always been the best for our car, but the factory has been working hard to get more speed and stability for us with some changes to the car. Let’s wait and see how the car goes on Friday morning and then we’ll have a better idea of what can be achieved.” Kimi Raikkonen, FIN, Lotus
“Monza is obviously our home race, only around half an hour away from our headquarters in Milan. It’s very easy to see why the place has been called ‘the temple of speed’: it’s actually the quickest circuit that we go to all year, and the long straights and fast corners put plenty of energy through the tyres. This means that overheating and blistering can be a problem if not controlled. So correct tyre management can have a very important effect on the race and the strategy, and this is something that the teams will assess during free practice on Friday. Not only the performance of the tyres is tested here but also the durability, as there are plenty of high-speed impacts with the kerbs, which represent another important aspect of this race.” Paul Hembery, GBR, Pirelli Motorsport
Tyre wear will not be as big an issue at this race as some other circuits and because of the high pit loss teams will be trying to pit as little as possible. I have fond memories of Monza as this is where I won the GP3 title in 2011, so hopefully I can draw upon that experience and have a good weekend!” Valtteri Bottas, FIN, Williams
(All times local)
|Friday 6th September||Free Practice One||10:00|
|“||Free Practice Two||14:00|
|Saturday 7th September||Free Practice Three||11:00|
|Sunday 8th September||Race||14:00|
|Friday||High 29c/Low 19c||Dry and sunny|
|Saturday||High 28c/Low 19c||Dry and cloudy|
|Sunday||High 27c/Low 19c||Storm|