Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- Monza - The fastest circuit on the calendar
- Ferrari pushing for home Grand Prix win
- Pirelli warns teams not to ignore instructions
The Autodromo Nazionale Monza will host round 13 of the 2011 FIA (Federation Internationale de L’Automobile) Formula One World Championship this weekend. Another classic circuit on this year’s calendar, a typical high-speed circuit where drivers reach an average speed of a little over 250 km/h. The circuit was originally build in the 1920s and hosted its first official Formula One race in 1950, since then the circuit has been changed and updated regularly but the names of the famous corners in Formula One have remained the same, the Parabolica, the Lesmos, the Variante Ascari and the Curva Grande.
Only three Italians have ever won the Italian Grand Prix: Giuseppe “Nino” Farina in 1950; Alberto Ascari (1952-1952); and Ludovico Scarfiotti won the race in 1966. Sadly for the Italians, no Italian has ever won the Drivers’ Championship since Alberto Ascari won the title in 1953. At this circuit Red Bull driver and 2010 champion Sebastian Vettel scored his - and Toro Rosso’s - maiden Grand Prix win in 2008 and aged 21 years and 73 days became the youngest Grand Prix winner ever.
Red Bull have been working on straight-line speed
Red Bull’s lack of straight-line speed has always been a problem, but on a circuit like Monza where almost 75 per cent of the circuit is full throttle the problem becomes even more apparent. Team Principal Christian Horner, “We know Monza, in recent years, has been our weakest circuit and we know Ferrari will be strong there, as they historically are, as will McLaren and Mercedes.” Vettel is also aware of the problem, “The track is not particularly physically demanding but, despite that, it is certainly not easy. Because of the long straights we drive with less rear wing than at other circuits, so the car can be more unstable.”
Designer Adrian Newey has been working hard on Red Bull’s weakness which is largely contributed to the superior power of the Mercedes and Ferrari engines on long straights. “That's why he has worked particularly hard on the aerodynamic package for low and medium downforce,” Horner said. Mark Webber about Monza, “It’s the shortest Grand Prix we take part in, as we can knock the 300 kilometer race distance out very fast because of the exceptional average speed. You need a car that’s very quick on the straights and still manage to have sensible downforce for cornering.” But in his column for the BBC he wrote Red Bull is nevertheless aiming for a win, “Normally, we might have been thinking about it as a race to limit the damage to our positions in the Drivers' and Constructors' Championships, but this year we are hoping for a lot more than that.” And the Australian added, “McLaren and Ferrari will be going to Italy this weekend thinking they have as good a chance there as anywhere to beat us. So if we can pull out another strong result this weekend, it would be like what in football they call a six-pointer - when you beat a team that is fighting for the same thing as you.” But more importantly he said, “And it [a victory] wouldn't just help us mathematically; it would be a massive psychological blow to our rivals as well at this point of the season.”
Ferrari pushing for home Grand Prix win
If one team desperately wants to win this race, it must be Ferrari who will be racing in the Italian temple of motorsport in front of tens of thousands tifosi. Statistically speaking the Maranello based team is the favorite, as they have won eight of the last 15 Italian Grands Prix. But even winning the race will not help Ferrari to clinch the title this year, as Fernando Alonso is 102 points or four race wins behind leader Vettel, and the Spaniard is not very optimistic about his chances this year. “The championship situation is even more difficult after Spa, in that there is one race less to go and the gap to the leaders has grown a bit more.”
The championship may be over for Ferrari, but the team still wants to win races Alonso admitted, “We have to be realistic but we will never give up: we did not give up in the past and we will not do it now. It is easy to maintain a high level of motivation, because we tackle every Grand Prix wanting and trying to win. Winning an individual Grand Prix is in itself very special and something we all want to do, regardless of the championship situation.”
Like other teams, Ferrari will run in “Monza” configuration, which means small wings with low drag, and Ferrari has also minor body updates. They have also been working on the exhaust blown diffuser to find a better balance between engine power and the aerodynamic downforce that is generated by the exhaust system. Finding the right balance between the high-speed straights where very little downforce is needed, and the corners that do need a good amount of downforce, has always been a trade-off, and every driver has his own preferences as to how to achieve this.
When you go there and see all the tifosi dressed completely in red, you can really feel their love of speed
For Felipe Massa Monza is always a special place. “Racing in Monza is a fantastic experience for us, as the home Grand Prix for Ferrari. When you go there and see all the tifosi dressed completely in red, you can really feel their love of speed, of Ferrari and of competition,” the Brazilian said. “Racing here is therefore nothing but a pleasure for me,” he added. Massa finished in third place last year, and asked about his expectations for this year he replied: “I definitely expect to have a competitive car and after finishing third last year I hope to do even better this time.”
Hamilton not changing driving style
Lewis Hamilton has once again been criticized about his aggressive driving style after his woes with Kamui Kobayashi at Spa which saw him end up crashing into the barrier just before Les Combes, the Briton himself remains undeterred. Despite the fact he also crashed during the first lap of last year’s Italian Grand Prix after a very opportunistic overtaking maneuver on Massa, he remains confident he can score well in Italy. ”Last year, I won at Spa and failed to finish at Monza. For this year, I guess I'm looking to reverse that sequence!” he said. “I've already moved on from my non-finish in Belgium, I think we go into the weekend feeling pretty optimistic,” he explained.
About Monza and its technical demands he said, “It's a real challenge for the drivers because you go there with a special low-downforce aero package that makes the car feel completely different. It accelerates faster but it also feels quite unstable and you have much less grip through the corners. You have to drive the car a bit like a go-kart.”
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh thinks Hamilton’s driving style is what made him the 2008 champion, but forgot to mention the seven crashes he had this year didn’t exactly help his title aspirations. McLaren principal engineer Phil Prew revealed this week McLaren will not ask Hamilton to take it a bit easier, “We will not ask him to change because Lewis has a very charging and aggressive approach and we fully support that. It's won him championships.”
Triple World Champion Niki Lauda doesn’t agree and recently remarked, “He takes things to extremes. He's only got himself to blame. You can't win championships if you are crashing,” and added, ”look at Sebastian Vettel, he is not making any mistakes or crashing, and that is why he is going to win the title again this year.”
Hamilton’s team colleague Jenson Button expects DRS will play an important role at Monza, “For the second time this season, we'll have two distinct DRS zones, with two potential passing opportunities. The second zone's going to be interesting because it's always been very tough to challenge for position under braking for Ascari.” About the first DRS zone he commented, “I think the more conventional passing opportunity will come from the first DRS zone, getting as close as possible into Parabolica, holding on through the corner - which won't be straightforward - and then deploying DRS down the start/finish straight before, hopefully, passing into Turn One.”
Autodromo Nazionale Monza - Italy
|Autodromo Nazionale Monza||Italy|
|Circuit length||5.793 km|
|Corners||11 turns (7 right and 4 left)|
|Longest straight||1200 m|
|Total number of race laps||53|
|Total race distance||306.720 km|
|Average speed||254 km/h|
|Estimated top speed||340 km/h|
|Tyre compounds||Prime: Medium (white) - Option: Soft (yellow)|
|Brake wear||Medium to high|
|Down force level||Low|
|Lap record||Rubens Barrichello - Ferrari - 1:21.046 (2004)|
|2010 Pole Position||Fernando Alonso - Ferrari - 1m21.962|
|2010 Race Winner||Fernando Alonso - Ferrari - 1h16m24.572|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice sessions, 100 km/h during qualifying and the race|
|FIA Stewards||Derek Daly (IRL), Paul Gutjahr (CH), Silvia Bellot (E)|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice sessions; 100 km/h|
during qualifying and race |
Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Italy - three-day weather forecast
|Day||Forecast||Min Temperature||Max Temperature|
|Friday||Cloudy with sunny intervals, warm weather||20C||26C|
|Saturday||Cloudy and rain showers, warm weather||18C||26C|
|Sunday||Sunny, no rain expected, warm weather||20C||27C|
Pirelli tyre report
Monza is one of the fastest circuits on the calendar with an average speed of 250km/h and has only three slower chicanes, the slowest chicane is the Variante del Rettifilo just after the start/finish straight, the Variante della Roggia which is situated just ahead of both Lesmo turns, and the most spectacular of the three, the Variante Ascari, which is taken with speeds around 200 km/h before drivers enter the last straight ahead of the Curva Parabolica which leads back to the start/finish straight again. Drivers use the kerbs to get through the chicanes which obviously takes a heavy toll on the tyres.
Monza is also the home race for Pirelli, who have allocated the medium (white) and soft (yellow) tyres and it is expected leading drivers will make between two and three stops for new tyres. Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery, “Monza is obviously a very important race for us, both from a technical and a company point of view. We're all looking forward to competing at home, with the championship reaching a crucial point in the season.” Hembery expects tyre strategy will be important, as it is difficult to make up for the time lost during an extra pit stop on such a high-speed circuit. About the tyres he said, “We expect to see a difference of about a second per lap between the soft and the medium tyre, but we'll only know for sure once the cars start running in free practice. The versatility of the tyre is going to be a key element, as the rubber will have to cope with a wide range of conditions this weekend.”
The camber story
During the Belgian Grand Prix a number of teams had problems with blisters on the front tyres and in particular Red Bull had problems. As it turned out, Red Bull had ignored the Pirelli recommendations and had used an extreme camber angle, 4.3 degrees instead of 4.0 degrees, which according to Pirelli was the reason for the blistering. Increasing the camber angle increases the grip in corners, but also increases the tyre wear, especially on the inside of the tyre. Red Bull then tried to convince the FIA and Pirelli it was a dangerous situation and asked to replace the tyres ahead of the race, but the FIA was not impressed and Red Bull’s request was turned down simply because they thought Red Bull wouldn’t be in that situation if they had followed Pirelli’s recommendations.
Pirelli has now admitted they will be extra cautious about the camber recommendations for Monza. Hembery about the situation, “We will be more cautious with our recommended values, particularly because of [high-speed] circuits like Monza.” Of course Pirelli cannot force teams to follow the recommendations, but have warned teams exceeding the recommended 3.75 degree camber for Monza, can lead to tyre failures. “In truth graining and blistering are not unknown phenomena in the world of racing, but there are limits,” Hembery warned. He also hinted Pirelli could ask the FIA to make their recommendations mandatory if teams keep ignoring them.
The FIA has planned two independent DRS zones for the first time, during the Canadian and European Grand Prix there were also two DRS zones, but with one single detection point for both zones. The first DRS zone is on the main start-finish straight and the detection point, where a driver has to be within one second of the driver he wants to overtake, is situated at the exit of the Parabolica. The second zone is between the second Lesmo turn and the Variante Ascari, the detection point is right between the first and second Lesmo turn.
More teams and drivers quotes
Mercedes scored their best season result at Spa, and are hopeful Monza will deliver a good result as well. “Coming off the back of our best result of the season in Spa, we are looking forward to the weekend and to finishing the European season on a high,” team principal Ross Brawn said. Brawn hopes the Mercedes engine power and the Monza low drag aero package will benefit the team, “With the emphasis jointly on engine power and aerodynamic efficiency, we have the benefit of our Mercedes-Benz engine and, as always for Monza, we will run a special low-downforce aerodynamic package to minimize drag on the long straights.”
Nico Rosberg agrees and reckons the success at Spa has boosted the team’s moral, “I'm really looking forward to the weekend in Monza. We learned at the last race in Spa that our car can be competitive at high-speed tracks, and we definitely took a step forward there. I am confident that we can do that again in Italy next weekend.”
Mercedes Motorsport Director Norbert Haug thinks the Mercedes engine and KERS system will play an important role, “Monza features the highest straight-line speeds of the year at around 350 km/h, the highest average lap speed and, at 83%, the highest percentage of the lap spent at full throttle - not for nothing is it known as a 'temple of speed'. The engine and KERS system will play an important role at this circuit - but it is equally important to develop an effective low-drag aerodynamic package and to make sure the car feels stable on the brakes.”
Force India also uses the Mercedes engine, and just like Mercedes were very successful at Spa, and hope to at least repeat their Spa result. Team principal and owner Vijay Mallya is confident the VJM04 will perform well at Monza, “The target now is to get both drivers in the points and I'm hopeful Monza will give us a chance to do that. The VJM04 worked well at Spa and the drivers were happy with the balance in low downforce trim. That's a good sign for Monza where we take another step down on the downforce levels.”
For Scottish driver Paul di Resta Monza will be an altogether new experience, as he has never actually raced on the Italian circuit. “In all my years of racing it's just one of those tracks where I've never raced. In fact, free practice last year was my first experience of the track,” he commented. Asked about his Italian ties the Scot remarked, “You obviously treat every race with the same importance, but some races definitely feel a bit more special if you have an emotional connection. That's the case with Italy because I've got family living there and some Italian blood in me!”
The fast Ferrari engine is also on board of the Sauber, but it seems the Swiss team who have performed well at the start of the season, is losing its grip and recent performances were nothing to write home about. Kobayashi finished 12th in Spa, while Sergio Perez had to retire after 27 laps. However, both drivers are looking forward to the Italian Grand Prix, as they think it is one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar. “Monza will be challenging, we have to find the best possible set-up for the car and see how fast we can go on the long straights,” Kamui Kobayashi said. Last year’s race became a disaster for the Japanese driver, he had to start from the pit lane and had to retire after one lap.
Perez is also looking forward to Monza as he has achieved his best results in Formula Three and GP2 on this circuit. “The track in Monza is one of my favorites,” but he admitted, “the very long straights in Monza could be tough for us. I want to maintain a good rhythm with positive performances in qualifying and for the start.” And his goal for this weekend? “I want to finish the race and score points for the team. It is my aim to finish the European season on a high,” the Mexican rookie said.
Another driver who was in the limelight at Spa is Bruno Senna, who has taken over Nick Heidfeld’s seat at Lotus Renault for the remainder of the season. Although he crashed into the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari in the first corner, Senna thinks his debut was satisfying. “Of course in Spa I didn't know what to expect in terms of the competitiveness, but it was extremely encouraging that I managed to develop my pace quickly, and work with the team well,” the Brazilian said.
Of course he’s looking forward to his second race in the Lotus Renault, “I have a strong working relationship with the engineers, and I am eager to get into the cockpit in Monza because I feel more confident heading into this race. As with any sport, miles on the clock and experience instill confidence in oneself.”
Team Lotus is another Renault powered team, and although Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli had a collision at the first corner at Spa, they have put their troubles behind them and are hopeful to perform well at Monza. Kovalainen explains a few things about the kerbs at Monza, “For Monza you'll hear a lot of the drivers talking about how one of the keys to a quick lap is how well you use the kerbs. Getting over them as efficiently as possible helps minimize the overall length of the lap and it might only be fractions of seconds, but shortcutting as much as you can, obviously within the rules and as much as the car can take, saves time and helps you maintain momentum onto the straights.
Trulli agrees with the Finn, “From a technical perspective Monza's not the most technical track, but it's still critical to have the car balanced so you can attack the kerbs and be really confident under braking, particularly into the first chicane as that's the most obvious overtaking opportunity.”
Next are the Cosworth powered teams, Williams saw some light at the end of the tunnel after Pastor Maldonado scored his first championship point at Spa. Like other drivers, Maldonado is encouraged by the Spa results and hopes Monza will suit the Williams as well. “It is a wonderful track, especially because it is so quick, one of the quickest of the year. It is a low downforce circuit so you need a good aero balance for that. As we showed at Spa-Francorchamps, our car is working well on these types of tracks so I hope to be in the points again this weekend,” the Venezuelan said.
Marussia Virgin team principal John Booth gave his opinion about the Italian Grand Prix, “It's another classic Grand Prix of real racing which we all look forward to. Drivers are on full throttle for most of the lap, making it a very demanding track for the engine. So here the emphasis is on engine power and aerodynamic efficiency, which require the cars to be set up with a special low-downforce aerodynamic profile to minimize drag.”.
For HRT driver Vitantonio Liuzzi Monza will be his home Grand Prix. “To race at the home Grand Prix for a driver always gives mixed emotions. I will take the wheel of an Formula One car in Monza for the fifth time in my career and I really want to perform well. I am always looking forward to racing here because it's my home crowd and I want to do well and I want to pull it all together. And if it's at Monza, it's true that it will be even more satisfying.”
What to expect this weekend
It has been said before by almost every Formula One pundit, from Lauda to Eddie Jordan and Gerhard Berger, Vettel is in command of the championship and there is really not much that can prevent the 24-year old German from taking his second title. His driving has been very consistent, and although he lost points by making small mistakes, he has finished all races but the German Grand Prix in first or second place, and he certainly hasn’t crashed out of a race. Red Bull has also dominated qualifying, but let’s not forget Ferrari who, cheered on by the tifosi, have always been fast at Monza.
Webber who is second 92 points behind Vettel, has certainly not given up his hopes of winning the title. “This year isn't over yet. There are still seven races to go and anything can still happen,” he said. Button has swapped places with Hamilton in the championship, but the difference is only three points. Button has proved he is just as fast as his team mate, and if Hamilton continues his crash career, Button can even become a threat for Alonso, the differences between the two is just eight points.
Vettel is still miles ahead in the championship, and if other candidates don’t score this weekend, Vettel will indeed cruise to this year’s Formula One title. The weather forecast is good, no rain is expected, but Monza is always Monza, unexpected things can happen and in the past many favorites were eliminated during the first few laps of the race, but one thing is certain, Vettel and red Bull will leave Italy still leading both championships.