While the Italian Grand Prix has enjoyed a high-profile billing in every Formula 1 season, this year’s event could be something else entirely.
With the DRS having proven its worth in providing countless overtaking highlights already this year, the rulemakers’ decision to install two zones at the Monza circuit could make this one of the most action-packed events on the calendar.
But on the flipside, is a DRS zone even necessary on such an unusual track where aero efficiency and engine power are paramount, but also where overtaking has traditionally been a mainstay?
The Richard’s F1 team takes a look at the action ahead of us this weekend, which will be the final race on European soil before the action heads to the final flyaway races. We have little doubt that the Italian Grand Prix will provide fans with another exciting race!
FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO SANTANDER D’ITALIA 2011
|Date:||11 September 2011||No. Laps||53|
|Lap Length:||5.793km||Race Distance:||306.720km|
|Lap Record:||1:21.046, Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari) – 2004|
|Last Year’s Winner:||Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)|
Being the spiritual home of Ferrari’s fans, the tifosi, the atmosphere at Milan’s Monza circuit is really something else.
The huge crowd has eyes for just one team and two drivers – if you’re not driving a car from the Prancing Horse stable, then you may as well not exist in their eyes.
Having hosted a Grand Prix in every season – bar one – since the inception of the World Championship in the modern era, the Monza circuit occupies a position as one of the few remaining traditional circuits left on the 2010 calendar.
And with the wealth of medium-downforce autodromes cropping up everywhere, it is the only circuit on this year’s calendar where a truly low-downforce set-up is required.
However, the current version is a vastly emasculated form of its original incarnation, which was virtually flat out.
Back then, the cars would trail each other in huge slipstreaming packs, and the races during that era often featured some of the highest average speeds, and closest race finishes, of the era.
But with the understandably increasing concerns for driver and spectator safety, chicanes were gradually introduced to slow the cars down, but that has done little to dull the action at this passing-friendly circuit.
Memorable Monza Moments
As one of the most historic venues on the Formula 1 calendar, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza has always provided entertaining racing. The lowest-downforce tracks used, it’s a special test of driver and car unlike no other circuit.
Here are our five favourite Monza moments in Formula 1:
1971: The last race to be held at a chicane-less Monza, this race was also the last of the truly great slipstreaming classics that had been a hallmark of the old Monza circuit. Despite starting from eleventh position, BRM’s Peter Gethin steadily worked his way up the order to be battling for the lead with four other drivers on the last lap. In the final lap, he went from fifth to first, winning by just 0.01 seconds – the top five was covered by just 0.6 seconds!
1988: It was at this race that McLaren threw away its chance of claiming a whitewash of wins in the 1988 season that it utterly dominated with its revolutionary MP4/4. Alain Prost retired at mid-distance with an engine failure, leaving team-mate Ayrton Senna to cruise to a seemingly assured victory. But fate – and some of the Brazilian’s impetuousness – would intervene with three laps to go when the soon-to-be World Champion collided with Jean-Louise Schlesser as he tried to lap him. He was out on the spot, leaving the Ferraris of Berger and Alboreto to claim to claim an emotion-charged 1-2, marking the team’s first win since the death of team founder Enzo Ferrari.
1999: The absence of Michael Schumacher and an off-colour qualifying performance for the Ferraris made a McLaren win look a near certainty. As was the case on Italian soil earlier in the year during the San Marino Grand Prix, Mika Hakkinen threw away victory with a schoolboy error. The Finn was furious and was left to cry in the woods, while Heinz-Harald Frentzen emerged as a late title challenger when he claimed his second victory of the season – it would be the Jordan team’s only dry-weather race win.
2000: Fears that the reprofiled Rettifilo chicane would create first-lap carnage would prove somewhat unfounded, with the grid deciding to spark mayhem with a multi-car shunt at the Roggia chicane instead. Debris’ from Pedro de la Rosa’s somersaulting Arrows would tragically kill a trackside marshal, and Michael Schumacher claimed his 41st race win to equal the tally managed by Ayrton Senna. Schumacher so moved by the moment that he wept openly in the post-race press conference.
2008: For the first time in as long as anyone could remember, wet weather would play a major role for almost the entire event, which produced one of the greatest upset results in the sport’s history. Many of the bigger names struggled in the slippery conditions, but a 21-year-old called Sebastian Vettel claimed his first ever pole before going on to blitz his more-fancied rivals with a consummate drive in soaking conditions on Sunday, giving the little Toro Rosso team its only victory to-date.
Monza Talking Points
What are the three big talking points of the Italian Grand Prix?
How will Red Bull Racing handle their weakest circuit? Quite well, you might think. Ahead of the last round at Belgium, we pondered whether the team could finally break their duck at Spa-Francorchamps. Answer: they claimed an emphatic 1-2. And although Sebastian Vettel won here in 2008 with Toro Rosso, the sister Red Bull outfit has never enjoyed that kind of success at this circuit.
Will Ferrari satisfy their tifosi? Ferrari has enjoyed a performance surge in recent rounds, although it has found itself handicapped when having to run Pirelli hard tyre compound. Monza will see Pirelli issue its soft and medium compounds, which could play into the Scuderia’s hands. Furthermore, the V6 engine under the covers is among the most powerful on the grid. Fernando Alonso will be very keen to defend his race win from last year, and he’ll certainly have monumental support from the fans who will flock to the venue.
How will tyre strategy play out? Last year’s race saw Sebastian Vettel run non-stop until the penultimate lap, pitting to change to the harder-compound Bridgestone tyres for the 53rd and final lap of the race. Despite qualifying a lowly (by his standards) sixth, he finished an impressive fourth by running this unusual strategy. Could we see teams take similar gambles on Sunday? Look for Sauber to try something really ‘outside the square’ here.
So what do the Richard’s F1 readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?
Matt, Richard’s F1 IndyCar Correspondent
“Although he didn’t win at a canter, Sebastian Vettel still won in Belgium two weeks ago, merely teasing his championship chasers with a bold “We’re still too good” claim.
“For those chasers, another race down, and another opportunity to try and reel in the points difference has not only disappeared, but the gap has increased, and now only seven chances remain to salvage the 2011 season.
“So on to Monza, and Ferrari know that anything less than a win will send their adoring tifosi home disappointed. Red Bull mastered the high-speed requirements of the undulating Spa-Francorchamps layout, and should therefore have the aerodynamic advantage again here. Having said that, the Ferrari engine is one of, if not the most powerful on the grid, and may provide the scarlet machines with an edge in terms of raw grunt on the long straights.
“The passionate home fans may still have a soft spot for Michael Schumacher, who brought them so much success in the previous decade, and following a strong result last time out, has Schumi finally made friends with his Mercedes? Another strong result I believe is needed to keep the competitive flame alive for the crafty veteran. This writer would love to see a McLaren or Ferrari victory to at least give Red Bull something to think about, so hopefully they can deliver. “
Joseph, Richard’s F1 Technical Correspondent
“Well known as a circuit that delivers amongst the highest speeds in F1, Monza has always been about finding that delicate aero balance. You want to have as little wing/drag as possible for the high speed stuff, but the car still must go around the tight chicanes well. In recent years, teams were running very slight wing angles to extract as much speed as possible, but as the two long straights are now DRS enabled, will there be a brave team to try and run a bit more wing angle for the corners?
“The front end of the cars are also going to be mighty important, and the teams will be looking to tune their aero balance accordingly. The front ends have to cope well under brakes and give the drivers confidence in the turn in.
“We’ve also seen good reliability from the engines this year, but with a 75% full throttle lap at Monza, will reliability be tested? Particularly as we look at the tail end of the season.
“Ferrari will want to do well by their tifosi, but they’ll need to get on top of their tyre temperature situation to do that effectively.”
Matej, Richard’s F1 reader, Croatia
“The DRS has certainly helped improve overtaking in this year’s Formula 1 championship season, although it has certainly offended many of the sport’s purists along the way.
“Monza could be a special case here. Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, the race was the closest you could get to a version of oval racing – with no chicanes to break up its flow, the Grands Prix were just non-stop slipstreaming battles up and down the field. You hardly touched the brakes, and the drivers were on full-throttle everywhere, trying to break rivals’ tows while keeping in the draft of the car in front.
“The track layout has changed so much that we’re never going to have a 1970s-style race here, but we could still see a nail-biting race here – perhaps rather contrived? – that will provide plenty of spills and thrills.”
The Form Guide
If Sebastian Vettel was somehow excluded from proceedings in 2011, fans would be enjoying a terrific scrap for the title in 2011. The points spread between second-placed Mark Webber and fifth-placed Lewis Hamilton is just 21 points, and with seven races on offer, it would still be anyone’s game.
But such has been the dominance of Vettel – who has already amassed more points than he claimed in his title-winning 2010 season, coupled with his performance at Spa-Francorchamps (which had historically been something of a bogey circuit for Red Bull), the chasing quartet is going to have one hell of a time trying to catch him.
Mathematically, he could claim back-to-back crowns by as early as next fortnight’s Singapore Grand Prix. He simply needs to win one of the next two races, finish at least sixth in the other – his rivals would all need to suffer major setbacks in both races. As unlikely as that is, his performance has been so consistent that anything is possible.
For the first time this season, the circuit will have two DRS zones with two separate activation points. The two zones are on the start/finish straight with an detection point at the Parabolica, while the second is on the Serraglio straight with a detection point between the two Lesmo right-handers.
This is a very tough weekend to predict. Engine power is theoretically equalised with the engines having been homologated for some time, so it’s going to be all about aero efficiency, having a good DRS, and being able to manage tyre wear.
Red Bull Racing has shown that it’s now a force on all types of circuits, when that had certainly been a little more questionable last year.
McLaren could well be feeling confident, as they’re known to have one of the best DRS systems on the grid. But they were also down on straight-line speed at Spa-Francorchamps, so this will raise a few question marks over the pace of the car.
Ferrari typically managed to pull out a few tricks in front of their adoring tifosi, and Fernando Alonso will be keen to assert his prowess once again. Nothing less than a Ferrari win will do, but Felipe Massa will now be cast to a supporting role, as he’s now mathematically out of the equation in the championship race.
Mercedes GP could have its best opportunity to challenge the top-three teams and spring a surprise this weekend. The W02 chassis is particularly slippery in a straight line (corners seem to be its downfall!), and both Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher punched well above their weight at the last round in Belgium.
Further down the field, we would also suggest keeping an eye out for some surprises from Force India and possible Sauber. Force India has really made serious progress of late, and they’re on the verge of claiming Sauber’s sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
Sauber, meanwhile, will be expected to use their well-tried trick of running alternative pit stop strategies to gain valuable track position. Expect them to be a focal point this weekend, perhaps even to claim a few surprise scalps.