F1 returns this weekend to the “temple of speed”; the home of the Tifosi and their beloved prancing horse. Monza hosts it’s 65th running of the Italian Grand Prix this year which is the most of any track, three ahead of the Monaco street circuit. That record may be under threat if rumours are to be believed, as talks to sign a new contract to continue the event beyond the 2016 race have currently stalled over a lack of funding.
Lewis Hamilton extended his championship lead by leading Nico Rosberg home to the flag last time out in Beligum, but the more significant result was the spectacular retirement of Sebastian Vettel from the race with the much discussed tyre blow-out that has unfortunately but effectively halted his championship charge.
Last year the Italian Grand Prix was sweet revenge for Lewis after the clash with Nico at the previous race in Belgium. Lewis dropped from pole position to fourth by the first corner with Nico leading the pack, but with a very aggressive attacking drive he took the places back from Magnussen and Massa, then proceeded to charge down his team-mate. Under pressure, Nico made a mistake into the braking zone of the first corner and had to take the escape road, which allowed Lewis through. There was also a fantastic drive from Daniel Ricciardo with some superbly fought overtaking moves, particularly in the battle with his own team-mate Sebastian Vettel. Alonso’s desperate retirement in his Ferrari with an engine failure on their home soil added to mounting tensions that soon saw him sign for Mclaren.
The Monza circuit was built in 1922 and was only the third permanent racing circuit to ever be built, after Brooklands in the United Kingdom and Indianapolis in the United States of America. The circuit was very fast from it’s inception, initially consisting of a road course similar in layout to the modern track, combined with an oval banked track. Together they made a circuit 10 kilometers long, with the start-finish straight being divided between the two sections of track. The incredible banked section had a maximum inclination of 80% and a small section can still be walked on by dedicated fans at the exit of the Parabolica corner.
The combined circuit was used only four times in the World Championship. The oval was abandoned as a result of a series of fatal accidents, the last of which was death of Wolfgang von Trips and fifteen spectators. European motorsport started to move away from high speed oval racing and the banking was consigned to history.
Chicanes have been present since the very early days of racing in Monza to control the high speeds and have been re-profiled over the years. The first chicane, now a simple tight right left was once a very tricky double chicane that famously caught out Mika Hakkinen and Ayrton Senna, some of the best drivers in history. It may be less of a challenge but it’s new layout undoubtedly promotes overtaking.
The circuit is nicknamed the “temple of speed” because it is still the fastest Grand Prix circuit in the world, holding the records for the fastest average speed for a lap (161.8mph in 2004 set by Rubens Barrichello) and for the highest ever top speed recorded (231.5mph set by Juan Pablo Montoya in 2005). It also holds the record for the smallest winning margin (to two decimal places) with a gap of 0.01 seconds between Peter Gethin and Ronnie Peterson. Francois Cevert, Mike Hailwood and Howden Ganley were all within 0.61 seconds of the leader.
The circuit is incredibly fast but also notoriously bumpy. The cars blast down the start-finish straight past the grandstands at over 205mph before hitting the brakes for the tight right-left Rettifilo chicane. The Curva Biassono is a long sweeping right corner that is taken flat out before another heavy braking zone, just past the bridge into the second chicane, the Variante della Roggia. This is another important overtaking spot with plenty of action expected, but the savage kerbs can be treacherous as Max Chilton found out to his peril last year.
Next up are the two Lesmos, slippery right hand corners under the shadow of the overhanging trees, the second of which is incredibly important to get a good exit as the following straight is very long, getting back up to over 200mph. The cars pass underneath the historic banking before braking for the Ascari chicane, the only double chicane left on the circuit. Drivers take liberties with the track limits on the exit of this chicane to catapult themselves down the following straight, the fastest on the track. At the end of the lap is the phenomenally challenging Parabolica, a high speed yet tight right hand corner that opens on the exit. Controversially the gravel run off was replaced last year with tarmac in the pursuit of safety, which has allowed drivers to make mistakes here without being too heavily punished as was the case in the past.
The relentless pursuit of high top speed around this circuit necessitates a low downforce low drag setup and teams will often bring parts specifically designed for this track. The skinny front and rear wings lend the cars a uniquely aggressive appearance. The one exception to this rule was back in 2010 when Jenson Button used a high downforce setup in combination with the drag-reducing F-duct device to stall the wing on the straight. This worked well for Jenson who qualified and finished second, but this unique innovation was banned the following year.
Braking with Brembo
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.
Turn one is considered to be the heaviest braking zone on the circuit and provides the best opportunity to overtake. The g-force and stopping distance from such speed is truly astonishing.
Tyres with Pirelli – Soft and Medium Compounds
Pirelli comes home to Monza this weekend; the ‘temple of speed’ that features some of the fastest straights on the F1 calendar, prompting the cars to run a specific low-drag aerodynamic set-up. The P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft tyres have been chosen for the Italian Grand Prix, which are versatile compounds that are able to balance the unique demands of performance and durability that Monza always requires. With high-energy loads of up to 4.5g going through the
tyres and some big impacts with the famous kerbs, the tyre compound and structure is challenged throughout the whole lap.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “Monza is always one of the highlights of our season, with an incredible history and atmosphere. We have the medium and soft compounds, a step softer than our nomination last year, which should be well suited to Monza and the emphasis on speed that this circuit always places. We’re expecting a fair degree of wear and degradation, so as always the work done during free practice will be very important when it comes to calculating the optimal strategy. With the two compounds potentially quite closely matched in terms of pace, this opens up a few
The cars run low downforce at Monza and that actually increases the work for the tyres considerably under acceleration and braking, because with less force pushing down on top of the car, it’s the tyres that are providing all the mechanical grip. Allied to the kerbs at Monza, this provides our tyres with a wide-ranging all-round challenge, requiring consistent durability and performance. We have finalised the investigation into Sebastian Vettel’s tyre at Spa. Detailed conclusions from the technical analysis will be presented at Monza”.
The biggest challenges for the tyres: A fast circuit like Monza tends to be more demanding on tyres than a slow circuit, as all the forces at work encourage heat build-up, particularly on the shoulder of the tyre. There are significant lateral energy demands at Monza, due to long corners such as Parabolica, as well as big longitudinal demands, because of all the traction and braking.
With a low downforce set-up as is used at Monza, the drivers need to take care of the rear tyres in particular, in order not to provoke wheelspin under acceleration. However, the other side to this is increased maximum speed, in the region of 360kph.
Last year’s strategy and how the race was won: Lewis Hamilton used a one-stop strategy for the 53-lap race, with the hard and medium compounds nominated last year. The Mercedes driver started on the medium tyre and then switched to the hard on lap 25.
Expected performance gap between the two compounds: 0.8 – 1.0 seconds per lap.
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.
The heavy reliance on top speed will benefit the teams with the Mercedes power unit and hamper those with the Renault and Honda engines. Expect the two works Mercedes to battle it out at the head of the field again, with Williams likely providing a decent challenge to the resurgent Ferrari team. Lotus and Force India are also likely to be strong here.
Red Bull did struggle in the early years around Monza as their high downforce package that made them so dominant produced a lot of drag, but this has been solved in recent years and last year they performed surprisingly well to come home fifth and sixth.
Romain Grosjean will be flying high after his podium finish last time out and will be very keen to continue this form as Lotus look set to sell out to Renault and become a works team again. If this move does happen then expect Pastor Maldonado to be in a precarious position as the finances injected by Renault will likely remove the requirement for a sponsored driver. His “self-inflicted” retirement from the Belgian Grand Prix will not have helped his cause and the team were particularly scathing after the race in the media.
In both GP2 and GP3 at Spa the final positions were not decided on the track, but in the stewards room as penalties for not respecting the virtual safety car time limits were handed out to multiple drivers in both series, including GP3 race winner Esteban Ocon who was demoted to second behind Emil Bernstorff. Luca Ghiotto took his third victory of the season in race two of the GP3 series and now enjoys a 28 point lead in the late season run-in over Ocon. Both races were interrupted multiple times by accidents requiring the safety car.
In GP2, Daniel de Jong suffered a fractured vertebrae in a horrible crash in the run down to Blanchimont in a collision with Pierre Gasly that pitched him into the barriers at high speed. Gasly was penalised for not giving him enough racing room. The race itself was a lesson in tyre management handed down to his pupils by Stoffel Vandoorne. His weekend was not perfect though as a mistake in the sprint race by locking a front tyre that hampered a late charge for the lead. This left a comfortable 1-2 for teammates Alex Rossi and Jordan King. Rossi will be pleased with the timely victory as he looks to show off his talents to the Haas F1 team.
Sven Muller and Phillip Eng took race victories in the first Porsche Supercup double-header round of the year at Spa. Guest driver and WRC legend Sebastian Loeb had to be recovered from the gravel trap when he spun, finding out the hard way that the Porsche is not as good on the loose stuff as his old Citroen was!
|2013||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2011||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2008||Sebastian Vettel||Toro Rosso-Ferrari|
|2005||Juan Pablo Montoya||McLaren-Mercedes|