The Formula 1 field has its last European hit-out with this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix. With seven races to go before the season comes to a close, the battle for championship honours is heating up, particularly as Daniel Ricciardo emerges as a ‘dark horse’ contender after back-to-back wins.
While there has been much debate over Nico Rosberg’s tactics in how he extended his championship lead over teammate and main rival Lewis Hamilton, many eyes will be on the battle within the Silver Arrows camp which is almost at boiling point.
|FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO D’ITALIA 2014
|Date||05-07 September 2014|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:00-11:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 14:00-15:30|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 10:00-11:00|
|Race (53 laps)||Sun 14:00-16:00|
|Lap Record||1:21.046 (2004)|
|2013 Winner||Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)|
* All session times are quoted in Central European Summer Time (UTC +02:00 hrs)
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 2014 calendar.
And with the wealth of medium-downforce autodromes cropping up everywhere, it remains the only circuit on this year’s calendar where a truly low-downforce set-up is required.
This pistol-shaped circuit is essentially a series of high-speed blasts punctuated by chicanes and some wickedly quick corners such as the Curva Grande, Lesmo corners and the Parabolica.
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.
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.
Rewind to 2013
The high-speed Monza circuit was not one that had traditionally suited the Red Bull Racing team, but last year’s Italian Grand Prix saw Sebastian Vettel claim a serene victory from pole position.
The weekend wasn’t without some drama, however, with Ferrari kicking off proceedings on home soil with a botched attempt to get its drivers to help slipstream each other around the circuit in qualifying. Alonso was none too impressed, qualifying fifth-fastest behind teammate Felipe Massa.
The race saw a fast-starting Massa manage to split the Red Bull front-row lockout off the line, but it was Alonso who managed to quickly tiger his way into second place and lead the chase of race leader Vettel. The German ultimately had enough in hand to win by over five seconds, while Mark Webber completed the rostrum after jumping Massa in the pit stops.
Nico Hülkenberg was one of the weekend’s standout performers, managing to get his Sauber really hooked up to finish fifth ahead of Nico Rosberg, while Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton finished a frustrated ninth after a poor qualifying performance and a slow puncture in the race.
The Form Guide
Will we see more fireworks from Mercedes and another Daniel Ricciardo victory? Three in a row might be chancing it, but if the evidence from a fortnight ago proves anything, it’s that the 2014 Formula 1 season still has plenty of unpredictability left in it.
Plenty of column inches were ultimately written about the tête-à-tête between the Mercedes drivers, but the matter has seemingly been resolved with a ‘clear the air’ session – and that only came after an ugly airing of dirty laundry in front of the media.
Rosberg holds a 29-point advantage over teammate Hamilton, and there will be plenty of fans hoping for another tight tussle between the two this weekend. The sprint down to the tight first chicane has caused plenty of problems in the past…
Red Bull Racing and Daniel Ricciardo have the momentum with back-to-back victories. Three in a row might be a tall order given the very power-dependent nature of the Monza circuit, but let’s not forget that the Renault-powered RB10s were no slouches in a straight line at Spa-Francorchamps.
Three-time Monza winner Sebastian Vettel lost out last time around by dint of the wrong strategy at Spa-Francorchamps. Could this be the venue where he perhaps breaks his 2014 winless run?
The only other team with a realistic shot at victory remains Williams, whose FW36 has proven particularly strong down the straights. Expect Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa (if he can ever get a trouble-free weekend) to be in the mix as well.
The battle for the remaining points positions looks like being between the Ferraris, Force Indias and McLarens, with local team Scuderia Toro Rosso possibly sniffing around the fringes of the top ten.
Our form guide is going on the assumption of a dry race, but the latest forecasts suggest a sprinkling of rain in Friday practice and the increased chance of showers on Sunday afternoon in time for the 53-lap high-speed dash.
Images via Sutton Images and XPB Images