From one classic track to another, the paddock moves from the spectacle of Spa-Franchorchamps last weekend to magical Monza in the next round of the Formula 1 championship.
Monza, located on the outskirts of Milan, is the embodiment of Formula 1. Brought to life in 1922, the track is drenched in history, triumphs and tragedies.
Some of this is tangible. Like the old sloped banking that formed part of the track in the 1950’s and remains standing today, and the iconic corners of Grande, Lesmo and Parabolic that have stood the test of time.
But there are other things about Monza that can’t be so easily pinpointed. It’s a feeling or an aurora that every driver and spectator gets when they step inside the walls of the royal park and begin to soak up everything that is Monza.
Whether it’s the vocal tifosi supporters cheering on the Scuderia, watching the latest Formula 1 cars conquering the Parabolica corner, or just being among the humming pit lane crowd, Monza is special for everyone.
Romain Grosjean from Haas says: “The atmosphere is crazy in Monza. The Tifosi, the fans – they’re just great. The track is in the middle of a park. It’s like nowhere else. There are so many people coming and watching, cheering for the drivers and, of course, for Ferrari. The atmosphere is electric.”
But putting aside the history, beauty and atmosphere of Monza, the track is going to push both drivers and cars to their limits.
It is regarded as the fastest on the calendar with cars exceeding 320km/h (199mph) on four occasions around the lap. But teams will also be closely monitoring brake wear with the six braking zones around the lap all following high-speed entries.
Perhaps the most crucial corner is Lesmo (Turn 6 and 7). The second part of Lesmo – Turn 7 – is a deceptively fast right-hander at 280km/h and the drivers need to get good speed through the exit to take advantage of the long straight that follows.
Ferrari Confident for Monza Result
It’s always special for Ferrari to race at their home track but it will have extra importance this year with Vettel leading the championship and potentially being the favorite to take the title.
That Ferrari can at least match Mercedes on pace is a boost of confidence for Vettel who noted after the Belgium Grand Prix last week that there are now no tracks they should fear.
If there is any deficit for Ferrari it probably comes during qualifying where Mercedes seem to turn up the engine and find extra pace.
Indeed, even Hamilton acknowledged that his win at Spa was earned by taking pole, not by having better race speed.
But a win at Monza will be no easy feat for Ferrari. On paper, the track should better suit Mercedes who dominate on faster circuits with long straights and flowing corners. If Ferrari do win on their home ground this weekend, it will be an ominous signal for Mercedes who then face an enormous battle to be competitive in Singapore the following race.
It’s all About The Penalties
A swathe of drivers come to Monza facing grid penalties for changes to their engines.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso retired from the Belgium Grand Prix last week with an engine problem. An inspection by Honda afterwards couldn’t find any faults – sparking rumours that Alonso ‘parked’ his car in frustration – but he will likely start the Italian Grand Prix from the back of the grid anyway with a new, upgraded engine fitted ahead of first practice.
The strategy from McLaren is to soak up the grid penalty at the power-hungry Monza circuit so that they have a near new engine for the next race in Singapore where the track better suits their car setup.
A similar approach is being contemplated by Red Bull who may fit a new engine on Ricciardo’s car with an eye to Singapore.
“It’s no secret Singapore is a circuit we’re strong on,” said Ricciardo.
“I don’t want to take any risks in Singapore and risk racing with an old engine or something.”
“If we have to be strategic about it, then we will.”
“We’re not in a comfortable position now to be taking any risks with the reliability, so we’ll play it safe.”
For Verstappen, an engine problem early in the Belgium Grand Prix will also see him handed a grid penalty. It has frustrated the young Dutchman who is now openly criticising Renault’s reliability.
“Because we blew up a few engines at the beginning of the season, they [Renault] have built a kind of safety mode. But at that moment, when the engine goes into that, it doesn’t run any more. So when the car came back, they removed the plug, put it back again and the engine worked,” said Verstappen.
“They want to play safe and not to blow the engine, but I prefer that rather than that it shuts down the engine and it runs again at the next restart.”