Preview of the Italian Grand Prix
The second of back-to-back classic circuits sees the European leg of the Formula One season draw to a close at Monza. Jenson Button goes into the weekend hoping that his second half of the season continues as it started with victory and not quickly fizzle out as the first half did. Sebastian Vettel is another with greater optimism after taking out a big chunk from Fernando Alonso’s lead. However, Romain Grosjean will be absent after accepting the blame and subsequent one-race ban for causing the crash which ended Alonso’s Belgian Grand Prix. Lotus reserve driver, Jerome d’Ambrosio, is expected to deputise.
So what should you look out for this weekend?
Track and Conditions
The Autodromo di Monza is the ultimate power circuit, with over three-quarters of the race spent at full-throttle. Teams prepare their cars with wing elements removed in order to reduce drag to the minimum. It’s all about top speed here.
The first chicane is a relatively new addition, and can lead to contact or a trip over the kerbs. It’s also the best place for overtaking, as cars peak at around 340 km/h. The energy going through the brakes here is incredible, and they are susceptible to failure.
The chicane slows the cars through the Curva Grande, a fifth gear right, before the second chicane – the Variante della Roggia. Next up, the Lesmos which are a very tricky pair of right-handers, and a good exit from the second is essential for the blast back under the old track and down to Variante Ascari.
After this third chicane, there’s a straight and then the final corner, Parabolica. The driver needs to achieve the highest possible exit speed through this fast spoon curve to maintain or make up a position down the very long and wide start/finish straight.
Usually sunny, Monza occasionally throws up a wet race to spice up the action although the long range forecast suggests little possibility of that this time around.
For the temple of speed that is Monza, the teams adopt the lowest downforce settings of the year, with one-off front and rear wings that won’t be used for the rest of the year. Meanwhile, while all-out power is important on the long straights, engine drivability as the drivers feed out of the curves on to them shouldn’t be overlooked.
Suspension set-up involves a compromise between the three chicanes. The first two involve a lot of kerb usage, dictating a softer set-up to ride them out. The higher-speed Ascari chicane ideally requires a stiff set-up to provide a sharp change of direction.
After Montreal, Monza presents the second toughest test of the brakes with three major braking zones, the hardest seeing the cars go from around 340 km/h to just 75 km/h through the first chicane.
As in Belgium, Pirelli bring the hard and medium compounds of the range and as in Begium, it’s a step up from the soft/medium combination allocated last year. The universal decision in 2011 was for a two-stop strategy but the harder compounds, coupled with the experience of Spa-Francorchamps suggests that the teams will be aiming to make just the single stop to switch tyres.
With the fourth highest rate of first lap retirements (5.5% of starters over the last five years) thanks to the tight first chicane, there’s a reasonable chance of an early safety car which the teams will want to take into consideration.
When it comes to exciting races, few come close to matching the thrilling finish to the 1971 Italian Grand Prix as just 0.61 seconds covered the first five drivers home. The five-car pack changed position at every corner but it was Ronnie Peterson who led into the final corner. However, he braked too late allowing Francois Cevert to slip past, who then found Peter Gethin diving up his inside in his BRM. Gethin held off the recovering Peterson to the chequered flag as Cevert, Mike Hailwood and Howden Ganley followed home in rapid succession.
Ones To Watch
Ferrari have a habit of upping their game when it comes to their home race and the loyal Tifosi will hope for a repeat of Fernando Alonso’s victory in 2010. Monza was also the scene of the other Italian team’s finest moment, Toro Rosso taking Sebastian Vettel to his maiden victory. Meanwhile, the first, all-be-it temporary, driver change means that Jerome d’Ambrosio is likely to return to Formula One action. If so, he’ll be hoping for a better Italian Grand Prix this time around – last year’s race ended for the Belgian after just one lap due to gearbox problems.
Food for Thought
Who do you think will win in Italy? Does Romain Grosjean deserve to be missing this weekend’s race or was he harshly punished? Was Jenson Button’s return to form a one-off or a sign of things to come?
Circuit Profile – Autodromo Nazionale Di Monza
2011 Italian Grand Prix – Vettel Cruises to Victory at Monza
Photos: Pirelli Tyres, Red Bull Racing/Mark Thompson/Getty Images, Williams F1/Andrew Ferraro/LAT Photographic, Marussia F1