Rubens Barrichello headed a Brawn GP 1-2 at last year's Italian GP

The last European round of the 2010 season is upon us, and as the championship battle hots up, this may prove a particularly pivotal chapter in the championship season that is beginning to reach its climax.

This weekend’s Italian Grand Prix marks the 60th Formula 1 race at Monza in modern-era Formula 1. More World Champions have been anointed at this circuit than at any other, and this year’s event could prove to be a championship-decider, depending on its outcome.

As one of the most passing-friendly tracks on the calendar, it is interesting to note that pole position is by no means a guarantee of a race win here, with just 17 of the previous 59 races held here having been won from pole.

Plenty of intrigue surrounds the Formula 1 circus as it heads into this weekend’s action, with talks of major rule upheavals for the 2013 season, and tonight’s World Motor Sport Council Hearing underway in Paris to address the team orders issue from the German Grand Prix.

Many a driver and team has a lot riding on this weekend, so let’s take a look at what could be in store…

The Circuit

Date: 12 September 2010 No. Laps 53
Lap Length: 5.793km Race Distance: 306.720km

Lap Record: 1:21.046 – Rubens Barrichello (2004, Ferrari)

Being the spiritual home of Ferrari’s fans, the tifosi, the atmosphere at Milan’s Monza circuit is really something else.

Barrichello’s record-breaking pole lap in 2003

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.

Monza Quotes 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.

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.


The History Bit

Monza has been the scene of triumph and tragedy over its many years playing host to the Formula 1 circus, and the sense of history at this venue is second-to-none.

In spite of the sheer number of races being held here, a few extra special races tend to leap from the pages of the history books and fans’ memories for a whole host of reasons.

This venue was the home of maiden F1 victories for the likes of Ludovico Scarfiotti in 1966 for Ferrari (it would actually prove to be his sole F1 win) and Juan Pablo Montoya in 2001.

The 1988 dominance of McLaren was temporarily halted by a Ferrari 1-2 at the circuit, although only when the front-running McLarens were sidelines by their own misadventures. It would prove an emotionally-charged victory for Gerhard Berger, whom alongside team-mate Michele Alboreto was mourning the death of the team’s founder, Enzo Ferrari, just a month before.

Schumacher famously announced his retirement after winning the 2006 race The 2006 race is remembered for completely different reasons as Michael Schumacher announced his much-anticipated retirement from Formula 1 having just secured victory in the race. Little did we know then that he would be back on the grid once more…

The 1966 and 1971 races stand out for completely different reasons, as they featured among the most nail-biting finishes in Formula 1 history. In the first, Jackie Stewart took victory for Matra with the top-four drivers being split by a tenth of a second. In the Slipstreaming was a feature of the races on the older-incanation Monza circuitsecond, Peter Gethin’s win in the 1971 race – with the top-five covered by just six-tenths of a second – remained among the closest ever for decades: he won from Ronnie Peterson by one-hundredth of a second.

However, the Monza circuit has also borne witness to much tragedy, with a total of 24 drivers, co-drivers, motorcycle racers and corner workers – in addition to 41 spectators – killed during various events in the circuit’s history. Formula 1 certainly hasn’t been immune to that either, with the likes of Alberto Ascari, Wolfang von Trips, Jochen Rindt and Ronnie Peterson each succumbing to injuries as a result of accidents at the circuit over the years. The last recorded death at the circuit occurred during the 2000 Grand Prix, when corner marshal Paolo Gislimberti was struck by debris at an accident on the opening lap of the race.


What to expect?

This weekend’s last European outing in 2010 will be special importance for each of the championship contenders, as they look to cement their credentials ahead of the final four flyaway races of the season.

Ferrari heads into this weekend under the greatest pressure. At the time of going to press, the World Motor Sport Council’s hearing into the team orders scandal of the German Grand Prix will be underway, and its outcome may effectively rule the team out of further contention if a points penalty is meted out.

However, should that not be the case, then this weekend’s race might prove to be the last roll of the dice for the Maranello stable, before it elects to switch its focus onto the 2011 season after what would be considered a below-par season by their standards.

Assuming the status quo remains the same heading into this weekend’s race, Fernando Alonso has it all to do to make up ground on the 41-point deficit he faces to close down on championship leader Lewis Hamilton. With the points’ gap effectively amounting to a win and a third place, the gap is still achievable in the time allowed, but it will rely on a little bit of luck along the way…

Sebastian Vettel took his (and Toro Rosso's) maiden win at the 2008 race. The situation very much mirrors that faced by Kimi Raikkonen back in 2007, when he overcame the equivalent (results) margin to snatch the championship in the final round. However, the comparison between 2007 and 2010 couldn’t be more stark, as Ferrari will be fighting with McLaren and Red Bull for top honours.

Monza’s low-downforce configuration is not expected to suit the Red Bulls this weekend, who might have to adopt more of a damage limitation exercise this time around as they bide their time for the upcoming events that they will be better able to exploit. However, the RB6 proved more than a match for the pacesetting McLarens at the last round in Spa-Francorchamps, which wasn’t expected to suit them either…

Conversely, McLaren will be looking to this weekend as being a big opportunity to make hay while the sun shines, and before Red Bull can get back on the pace.

For Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, both will be aiming to win here. Hamilton will want to extend his slim championship lead over Mark Webber, while Jenson Button will want to catch up on the points last at Belgium when he was rammed out of the race by Sebastian Vettel.

Curiously, there is talk among some teams that they won’t be running their ‘F-ducts’ this weekend, as the cars will already be bouncing along their rev limiters on the long straights, which would render it rather useless. However, other teams are viewing it as insanity not to run these devices, and it will be interesting to see which way each team turns with respect to set-up choices.

Force India could again be a dark horse this weekend - Liuzzi achieved an impressive qualifying result last year on his return outing to F1 One team that we should expect to be the dark horse will be the Force India squad, which is known to have one of the lowest-drag cars on the grid. The slippery VJM03 proved particularly rapid in a straight line at the hands of Adrian Sutil at the Belgian Grand Prix, and the German would be looking to improve on his near-podium finish achieved last year.

[Original images via AUTOSPORT, GP Update and The Cahier Archive]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.