Brought to you by TheJudge13 ‘Track Profile Specialist’ Alistair Hunter
After the conclusion of our summer break with a visit to Spa, the Formula One season continues with its final European race of the season. Monza hosts its 63rd Italian Grand Prix this year, continuing the Italian circuit’s run as the host of the most Formula One World Championship Grands Prix – which will be three more than their nearest rival, the Principality of Monaco.
Despite having no home drivers on the grid, the race will of course be the home race for both Scuderia Ferrari and Scuderia Toro Rosso; and while both teams have won here in the past, only the former can be a serious contender in the Monza parkland.
The track was originally built by the Milan branch of the Italian Automobile Club between May and July 1922 as the third permanent racing circuit after Brooklands Circuit in the United Kingdom and Indianapolis in the United States of America, located in what is now the fourth largest walled park in Europe. Consisting of a road circuit similar to the one we use today and an oval banking (which together totalled ten kilometres in length), the circuit saw high speeds from its inception.
After the first Italian Grand Prix was hosted at the Montichiari circuit in Brescia and won by French driver Jules Goux in 1921, the race moved to Monza the following year, where Fiat driver Pietro Bordino emerged victorious. Accidents in 1928 and 1933 motivated the organisers to add chicanes in addition to other minor tweaks, before a major rebuild after 1938.
The next revamp saw a 5.8 km road circuit and a 4.3 km banked oval used as the Monza track, which could still be combined as before with drivers running next to each other on the main straight of the combined 10km track. The oval track also saw meetings between the European Formula One teams and American IndyCar teams in 1957 and 1958, where the Americans dominated.
The full ten kilometre circuit was used four times in Formula One, but the series stopped racing on the oval as a result of the death of Wolfgang von Trips and fifteen spectators, as the reaction was to avoid the high speed banking. Despite the banking now only being used once a year in the Monza Rally, it is now seen as a relic of a different age of F1.
Since then, various chicanes have sprung up in different forms, leaving the lap at 5.8 kilometres. The track holds several records, including the most overtakes for the lead (40 in 1965), the smallest winning margin timed to two decimal places (0.01 seconds in 1971), the highest average race speed (247.585 kph in 2003), average lap speed (both for practice and qualifying, set in 2004) and top speed (372.6 kph in 2005), the shortest race without a red flag (2003).
The circuit is 5.793 kilometres long, which requires 53 laps to get it up to the race distance of 306.7 kilometres. It starts with a long straight and a top speed of 335 kilometres per hour before braking into the first chicane, then going around the high speed Curva Grande into another chicane, before two fast right turns that comprise the Curva di Lesmo.
After going under the original banking, the track comes out of a chicane onto two long straights separated by the Parabolica. The pit straight is the second DRS zone of the race, with the first coming out of turn seven on the track map above and into the Ascari chicane.
The circuit is hard on the brakes despite only having seven braking zones and spending 11% of the lap using them (in comparison to spending 73% of the lap on full throttle), and this is due to the sheer amount of deceleration needed on this fast circuit. It is also low on downforce, meaning that many teams use aerodynamic parts and setups specifically designed for this round of the championship. In addition, the circuit is also notoriously bumpy.
The fastest lap at this circuit was achieved in a free practice session by Juan Pablo Montoya in 2004, which was a 1:19.525. In comparison, the fastest time set at the 2012 race was a 1:24.010 for pole position by Lewis Hamilton.
- A lap with Mark Webber
Eagle-eyed viewers of the race winners this season may have noticed that Vettel has not won consecutive races this year, and with his victory last time out in Spa, the signs don’t look so positive. The German, however, is one of two people who have won the Italian Grand Prix twice; his 2008 and 2011 triumphs for Toro Rosso and Red Bull respectively both occurred one year after Fernando Alonso won the race (in 2007 and 2010).
Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Mercedes are all repeat winners of the Italian Grand Prix, with 36 Formula One World Championship race victories between them at the track. Proving that these statistics are virtually meaningless, only two of those constructors are likely to add to that tally this weekend.
This year, there have only been five race winners so far: Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. I guess the money would have to be on Mercedes to increase their number of pole positions this year, but for the race, who knows?
Pirelli and Monza
For Pirelli’s home event at Monza, the P Zero hard (orange) and P Zero medium (white) tyres have been nominated: the same combination as seen at Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix. However, while Spa exerts plenty of lateral energy on the tyres, Monza is all about longitudinal energy which puts considerable forces on the tyres and requires high levels of mechanical grip.
With set-up being a compromise between the fast and slower sectors of the circuit, the tyres play a crucial role at Monza, with several opportunities for strategy.
The circuit dates back to 1922, and it was also the scene of Pirelli’s first grand prix championship win, when Gastone Brilli Peri claimed the title in 1925 with an Alfa Romeo. Having been through several incarnations over the years, the modern circuit is now very different to the original layout, although the historic banking of the very first track remains as a monument: part of the unique character of Pirelli’s home circuit.
Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery: “Monza is obviously our home race, only around half an hour away from our headquarters in Milan. It’s very easy to see why the place has been called ‘the temple of speed’: it’s actually the quickest circuit that we go to all year, and the long straights and fast corners put plenty of energy through the tyres. This means that overheating and blistering can be a problem if not controlled.
So correct tyre management can have a very important effect on the race and the strategy, and this is something that the teams will assess during free practice on Friday. Not only the performance of the tyres is tested here but also the durability, as there are plenty of high-speed impacts with the kerbs, which represent another important aspect of this race. Monza is one of the most popular races of the year, with lots of tifosi, and we are very much looking forward to it.”
Jean Alesi: “I love Monza and I’ve had so many fantastic moments there. I’ve been on pole twice and I reckon I have probably spent half my Monza ‘life’ leading the race – only for mechanical problems to get in the way. Tyre-wise, it’s a very challenging race and it’s the fastest lap of the year, so it’s quite clear that you need the hardest compounds available.
The cars run low downforce, so they can slide quite a lot in the corners and limiting this is a key to getting the best life out of the tyres. Getting the tyre pressures at Monza right is very important too: you need to make sure they are not too low. This is crucial for the kerbs in particular, which you hit hard. These days, the driving style means that you practically take the chicanes in a straight line, so this is actually even more important than it used to be.
Monza is all about the tifosi – and the support I always enjoyed there as a Ferrari driver was fantastic: you could really feel it. In terms of atmosphere, Monza is just incredibly special.”
The circuit from a tyre point of view
About 75% of the lap at Monza is spent on full throttle but there are also some heavy braking areas, which place equally heavy demands on the tyres. On the approach to the first chicane, the cars brake from 340kph to 80kph in just 150 metres.
As well as flat-out straights there are also some very quick corners: the drivers experience 3.7g at Parabolica, which is also transmitted through the tyres.
The three areas that work the tyres hardest at Monza are the first chicane (characterised by heavy braking), the Variante Ascari (with rapid changes of direction) and the famous Parabolica: a long and open corner that generates big lateral forces.
Technical tyre notes
Top speeds on the straight at Monza peak at around 340kph depending on set-up. The resulting force can heat the tyre up to 130 degrees centigrade: the peak temperatures seen all year.
The top two last year (Hamilton and Perez) used a one-stop strategy, with Perez claiming the runner-up spot from 13th on the grid. Hamilton started on the medium and switched to the hard, while Perez did the opposite. The highest-placed driver to use a two-stop strategy was Michael Schumacher, who finished sixth for Mercedes.
Teams run a specific aerodynamic package for Monza, usually with the lowest levels of downforce of the year. This puts the emphasis on mechanical rather than aerodynamic grip.
A lap with Pirelli
Brembo and the Autodromo Nazionale Monza
Known by fans as the “temple of speed”, the Monza track is extremely demanding and puts the single-seater braking systems to a hard test. The presence of long straight lines and the lack of aerodynamic load, which reduces the possibility of efficiently unloading braking torque to the ground, make the braking sections extremely violent and demanding to manage.
The first turn is one of the hardest braking sections of the championship and it is definitely the one that requires the longest stopping distance of the season (about 136 metres).
1971 – Including Jacky Ickx’s retirement due to an engine failure and Chris Amon’s helmet issues putting him back to sixth, the lead changed 24 times in 55 laps between eight drivers, while eventual winner Peter Gethin only led for the first time on lap 52. He dropped back before using the slipstream to overtake Francois Cevert and Ronnie Peterson on the line, creating the closest ever finish at the time with 0.01 seconds between first and second.
1987 – Ayrton Senna drove a car that couldn’t really compete with the Williams at the time, so gambled upon making it to the end of the race on one set of tyres, preserving his tyres to perfection at the right time. However, lapping a backmarker sent him into the gravel trap and Piquet slipped through into the lead, creating a Brazilian one-two despite the state of Senna’s car.
1988 – Ferrari achieved a one-two finish and denied McLaren a clean sweep of all the races that season, after Prost and Senna battled each other while their fuel consumption was too high, leading the Frenchman to retire. Senna attempted to lap Jean-Louis Schlesser as quickly as possible, leading to a collision between them and Gerhard Berger inheriting the lead and the race victory.
1995 – As Hill attempted to lap Taki Inoue’s Footwork, he hit the back of Michael Schumacher’s car, taking them both out of the race, with the marshals going above their normal duties in order to prevent a serious incident between the two title rivals. Ferrari then squandered a one-two finish due to a broken suspension for Berger and a rear wheel-bearing failure for Alesi, so Johnny Herbert took the victory.
2004 – Ferrari showed their dominance as Michael Schumacher recovered from a first lap spin to finish second behind his team mate Rubens Barrichello, who also fought through the field in the wet after having to rectify a bad tyre choice.
Unsurprisingly, Italians have been quite prominent in Formula One, with Ferrari being arguably the most successful team, and the country accounting for three World Drivers Championship titles, fifteen drivers who had achieved one or more race victories. The most successful of these drivers came in the first few years of the series, with Nino Farina becoming the first Formula One champion in 1950, winning the first ever F1 race in Silverstone on his way to glory via additional victories in Switzerland and his home race. He also finished second in the championship in 1952 and third in 1953.
However, the person who has won the most drivers titles for Italy is Alberto Ascari (with two). He made his F1 début in Monaco in 1950, finishing second; after a second placed finish in the championship in 1951, he took the championship after winning every race he finished in 1952, although due to the points system he only finished with a twelve point lead over Farina. He repeated this championship result again in 1953, although he did actually finish outside the podium on two occasions this time. These were his last race finishes, as he retired every race afterwards until his death in 1955 from an unfortunate accident at what is now the Ascari chicane in Monza.
At the moment, there are no Italian drivers in Formula One, with 2012 being the first year since 1969 in which this occurred. The last one was Jarno Trulli, who participated in fifteen seasons, the highlight of which being the 2004 season in which he took his only Grand Prix victory in Monaco. After racing for Minardi, Prost, Jordan, Renault and Toyota, his career was ended at the team now known as Caterham, as despite finishing higher than any of the drivers for his main rivals (Marussia Virgin and HRT) in the championship in 2011, he was replaced after the first pre-season test in 2012 by Vitaly Petrov, making his quotes about getting used to the KERS buttons and similar devices after the test a little bit more sad.
Despite being able to guess which series are appearing this weekend, I still go on the website to check – and unsurprisingly, it is still GP2, GP3 and the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup. In GP2, Stefano Coletti still hasn’t scored any points since the feature race in Germany, yet still leads the championship. His lead, however, is down to a very bridgeable five points from Felipe Nasr, who has been linked to a Toro Rosso drive (and deservedly so). Sam Bird and James Calado won in Belgium.
The GP3 championship has finally seen some changes! The Cypriot driver Tio Ellinas – part of Marussia’s young driver program – has gone from first to third, overhauled by Argentine driver Facu Regalia, who now leads thanks to two third places in Belgium, and American driver Conor Daly (who has done straight line testing for Force India), who finished second twice in Belgium and is now second in the championship. Daniil Kvyat and Alexander Sims won the feature race and sprint race respectively.
Sean Edwards increased his lead over Nicki Thiim in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup as the British driver finished second in Belgium, behind Austrian driver Klaus Bachler. His lead is now up to 26 points with three races remaining, which I think means the title could be won this weekend, so it might just be worth keeping your eye on that situation as it unfolds at 11:45 local time on Sunday.
|2011||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2008||Sebastian Vettel||Toro Rosso-Ferrari|
|2005||Juan Pablo Montoya||McLaren-Mercedes|