Italian Grand Prix – Preview

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Italy, Autodromo Nazionale di Monzait

Just a few days after Ferrari’s win at Spa, teams and drivers head to the last European venue of the season, the Italian Grand Prix. The Scuderia will definitely do its best to make the Tifosi happy on home turf at Monza.

Monza is usually referred to as the temple of speed. This label is not by accident as cars reach some of the highest speeds attained all season. On his way to the pole position for the 2018 Italian Grand Prix, Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen recorded the fastest lap ever seen in Formula One. The 2007 world champion completed the Monza race track at an average speed of 263.587km/h.

Classic venue

Autodromo di Monza is the third oldest purpose-built race track in the world, after Brooklands circuit in England and Indianapolis in the United States. Construction of the racing circuit near Milano was decided in January 1922 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Milan Automobile Club.

The work was completed in record time of 110 days and the track opened its gates on 3 September 1922. The original track featured a combination of a 5.5km road track and a 4.5 high-speed oval.

The incredible speed of the track, particularly reached on the oval part which features two banked curves, led to many fatal accident over the years. The worst ever one happened in 1928, resulting in the death of the driver Emilio Materassi and 27 spectators. It was then decided that alternative layouts would be adopted in the future and some artificial chicanes were also installed.

In 1938, the circuit went through extensive modification, including the resurfacing of the road curse. However, the World War Two ended all activities on the track and it was not earlier than 1948 when the Milan Automobile Club could complete the necessary restoration.
Racing cars returned to the track in 1948 and the track played host to the first ever F1 Italian Grand Prix in 1950. That inaugural race was won by Alfa Romeo’s Nino Farina. In 1954, a major reconstruction began. The entire circuit was changed and that resulted in a 5.75 km road course and a new 4.25 km high-speed oval.

The circuit was used for the Italian Grand Prix races until 1961, with the 10 km layout used in 1955, 1956, 1960 and 1961. The 1961 Italian Grand Prix saw the death of the Ferrari driver Wolfgang Von Trips and 15 spectators on the straight before one of the banked curves which then meant the organisers abandoned to use this long and dangerous layout for Grand Prix racing.

The last race on the longest Monza layout was held in 1969. After that, all races were removed to the 5.75 km road course. Two chicanes were built in 1972 at the entrance to the fastest curves on the track – the Grande curve at the end of the grandstand straight and the Ascari curve. The chicanes were named Variante del Retifilo and Variante Ascari.

In 1989, the track went through another major renovation when the pits complex was reshaped. Ayrton Senna’s death at Imola in 1994 prompted the organizers to increase the safety standards. This reconstruction saw the track getting shortened to 5770 meters. The final change of the configuration and track layout happened in 2000, when the redesign of some curves resulted in the current track length of 5793 meters.

Who else than the home hero?

Ferrari is the most successful constructor in history of the Italian Grand Prix. The scarlet red team has won on 18 occasions. Their first triumph came in 1951, in the second season of the Formula One championship. However, the last time when Ferrari won on home turf was in 2010 thanks to Fernando Alonso’s heroic performance.

McLaren has claimed ten victories so far at Monza, followed by Mercedes with seven wins. Interestingly, the German-Anglo outfit has won the last five grands prix at Monza which means that no other team was able to win the Italian Grand Prix in the hybrid era of the sport.
Williams’ performance is also noteworthy with a total of six wins in Italy. Next on this list is Lotus with five victories followed by BRM and Brabham with three triumphs apiece. With two victories, the only other multiple winners are Red Bull, Renault, Vanwall and Maserati. Being the other home hero next to Ferrari, Alfa Romeo has also won on home turf once.

Among the drivers, Michael Shumacher and Lewis Hamilton are the most successful with five wins apiece. It also means that Lewis Hamilton has every chance to become the absolute best around the Monza circuit if he wins this weekend. Nelson Piquest follows the duo of the German and British driver with four victories. Juan Manuel Fangio, Sebastian Vettel, Rubens Barrichello, Ronnie Peterson, Alain Prost and Stirling Moss have all three Italian Grand Prix winners.

Straights, kerbs and braking - Track layout

Despite recognised as the temple of speed, Monza is not solely about raw speed. Setting up cars to cope with the high kerbs and to get good traction out of the few corners is also crucial to lap time. Despite the low number of corners at this track, brake wear can also be severe, with each braking event occurring at high speeds.

After the long start-finish straight, drivers arrive to the slow-speed first chicane. Finding the braking point is always crucial as everyone intends to brake and lose the extremely high speed as late as possible. However, after riding over the high kerb, the focus is on the early acceleration. The next curves section is taken at full-speed and leads to the end of the first sector.

The middle part of the 5.793km track commences with another chicane. Drivers attain higher speeds than in the first chicane and they have to respect the tricky exit kerbs in order to have a smooth acceleration. The next two corners are medium-speed bends where patience is key. As cars run at the lowest downforce level in the entire season, drivers usually face a difficult task of calming down the rear end of the car. Out of the second Lesmo corner, another long high-speed section comes that ends in a fast chicane named after Alberto Ascari.

With this high-speed chicane, drivers arrive to the third and last sector of the Autodromo Nazionale Monza. A smooth exit out of Turn 10 is critical as the layout features another long full-throttle section. Turn 11 is the famous Parabolca corner where rear stability is of key importance for drivers to apply the throttle pedal as early as possible.