The Formula 1 field heads to the historic Monza circuit in Italy this weekend to signal the end of the European part of the 2015 season. It will be another crucial chapter in the battle for championship honours, where everyone will once again be trying to chase down a seemingly unstoppable Lewis Hamilton…
|Formula 1 Gran Premio D’Italia 2015|
|Date||04-06 September 2015||Lap Length||5.793km|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:00-11:30||Free Practice Session 2||Fri 14:00-15:30|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 11:00-12:00||Qualifying||Sat 14:00-15:00|
|Race (53 laps)||Sun 14:00-16:00||2014 Winner||Lewis Hamilton|
Session times quoted in Central European Summer Time (GMT + 02:00)
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 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 2014
The championship battle in 2014 was a much closer fight than this year’s fight, and last year’s visit to Monza proved to be crucial in giving Lewis Hamilton the upper-hand over teammate Nico Rosberg heading into the final flyaway races of the year.
It was the start of a run of five successive race wins for the Englishman, which all but extinguished his teammate’s chances of taking a bitterly-fought championship title for himself.
The Mercedes pair came into the weekend barely on speaking terms after a disastrous race at the preceding Belgian Grand Prix, where Rosberg ultimately admitted to being at fault in the pair’s collision at Spa-Francorchamps. The German had been fined an undisclosed amount by the team, but relationships were frosty to say the least.
Pole position on Saturday – his first since the Spanish Grand Prix, some seven races prior – was the first hammer blow for Hamilton, with the F1W05 Hybrid cars locking out the front row.
It looked to fall apart just seconds into the race, however, as Hamilton got bogged down at the start and fell to fourth by the first corner, while Rosberg led ahead of a fast-starting McLaren of Kevin Magnussen (up from fifth on the grid) and Williams’ Felipe Massa. Magnussen held firm until the fifth lap before being passed in quick succession by Massa and then Hamilton.
Out in front, Rosberg showed the first chink in his armour by missing the chicane at Turn 1 on Lap 9, and on the following lap Hamilton was through into second place with an excellent passing move around the outside of Massa at the same corner.
The gap between the Mercedes drivers was just two seconds, and Hamilton turned up the heat to chip away into Rosberg’s lead, closing to within a second of the German – and crucially within DRS range – by Lap 23.
The pair would shortly make their sole pit stops – keeping the same positions on track – but it wouldn’t be long before Rosberg found the pressure of defending to be too much. Omn Lap 29, he once again missed his braking on approach to the Turn 1 chicane and that allowed Hamilton to slip through into the lead, with the Englishman promptly setting the fastest lap of the race to pull ahead.
The same lap saw the tifosi’s interest in the race come to an end, with Fernando Alonso forced to retire his Ferrari with an engine failure. It was the Spaniard’s first mechanically-induced DNF since the 2010 Malaysian Grand Prix, but before his retirement he provided plenty of entertainment with a thrilling scrap with Daniel Ricciardo that ultimately ended with the Australian putting in a brilliant passing move on the Spaniard into the first turn.
The Williams’ of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas finished third and fourth ahead of the Red Bulls of Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel, who ran contrasting strategies that ultimately saw Ricciardo pass Vettel for fifth late in the race.
Victory went to Hamilton with a comfortable three-second margin over Rosberg, but the points’ battle was still firmly in Rosberg’s favour as he led with 238 points to Hamilton’s 216. The next round in Singapore would prove to be Rosberg’s undoing…
The Form Guide
The last hit-out at Belgium saw a thumping victory for Lewis Hamilton over teammate Nico Rosberg, meaning the pair is now separated by a hefty 28 points coming into this weekend’s race at Monza. Regardless of what happens, Hamilton will still be the championship leader when the next succession of flyaway races kick off to close out the season.
Rewind to 2014 and it was Rosberg who had the upper hand coming into the Italian Grand Prix after the pair’s controversial tangle at Spa-Francorchamps, but it was a clearly rattled German who threw away a shot at victory with a number of errors at the Variante del Rettifilo. That opened the door for Hamilton to slip ahead into the lead and the first of a run of five victories in a row to swing the momentum back to the Englishman.
The Monza circuit is one that rewards confidence on the brakes, and that’s an environment in which Hamilton clearly thrives. Rosberg’s hopes of a recovery will, therefore, be even tougher. He has to respond and start beating Hamilton, which hasn’t happened since the Austrian Grand Prix in June.
The passionate tifosi will demand nothing less than victory for the Ferrari team, which hasn’t won on home soil since 2010. Last year’s Italian Grand Prix was a terrible outing for the team, which had Fernando Alonso retire with a rare engine failure, while teammate Kimi Räikkönen finished a very anonymous ninth.
Granted, this year’s SF15-T is a vast improvement in its predecessor, but the red cars are still lacking in outright horsepower at a circuit where straight-line speed is everything. Nonetheless, Ferrari is usually in the mix and could be ready to pounce if the Mercedes’ trip up, but they are also having to look at the rearview mirrors at other teams…
Assuming the Mercedes’ have another untroubled run to a 1-2 finish, figuring out who will claim the ‘best of the rest’ honours is becoming more unpredictable as the season wears on. The opening six rounds saw one of the Ferraris on the podium every time, but since then they’ve been regularly challenged by the likes of Williams and Red Bull Racing.
In Belgium, it was the turn of the financially struggling Lotus team to join the mix, with Romain Grosjean delivering a superb drive in the E23 Hybrid to give the outfit a much-needed boost.
The Mercedes powered runners will enjoy a clear horsepower advantage over the rest of the field, meaning Williams, Lotus and the ever-improving Force Indias should be well and truly in the mix on Sunday.
Red Bull Racing, meanwhile, will start Sunday’s 53-lap race on the back foot with grid penalties for both Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat to be announced in the wake of the team confirming it will change both drivers’ Renault power units. Fellow Renault runners Toro Rosso will be in the same boat for Carlos Sainz Jr, who will also have a new motor after his failed during the Belgian Grand Prix.
While it will make all three drivers’ tasks harder, Monza is a very easy circuit on which to overtake. That was evidenced last year by Kvyat, who rose from the back of the grid to the fringes of the top-ten in his Toro Rosso before he suffered a late brake failure.
Image via NBC Sports, Sutton Motorsport Images, XPB Images
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