Italian Grand Prix – Preview

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The action does not stop in the intensified 2020 F1 season with teams and drivers heading towards Monza, the Temple of Speed that will play host to the Italian Grand Prix, Round Eight of the championship.

Just a few days after the Belgian Grand Prix, drivers will once again put their helmet on this weekend with Monza staging the first of the three grands prix in Italy this year. The Belgian Grand Prix was an excellent preparation for the Temple of Speed where drivers will use their cars in an extremely, sometimes uncomfortably low downforce package that they don’t experience at any other venues during the season.

Despite efforts to slow the fabled Autodromo down in the last decades to promote safety, the 5.793km track is still the fastest on the calendar, testing the power units and the mechanical grip of the cars.

Third purpose-built track

The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza is the third oldest circuit 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 construction 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 featured two banked curves, led to many fatal accident. 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 every activity on the track and it was not earlier than 1948 when the Milan Automobile Club could complete restoration.

Formula One 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 with 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 ended the high-speed track usage in Formula One racing and other single-seater races.

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 a major renovation of pits complex. Ayrton Senna’s death at Imola in 1994 prompted the organizers to increase the safety standards which shortened the track 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.

Velocity as first priority

After the long start-finish straight, drivers need to slow down for the first chicane, titled Variante del Rettifilio, where they usually run wildly over the kerbs to straighten their racing line. The focus is on the exit as another long full-throttle section follows up. It is a curved segment, but it is easily taken flat out.

At the end of this full-throttle segment, drivers rely once again on their brakes as they need to slow down dramatically while approaching the second chicane, named Variante della Roggia. This chicane represents the start of Sector 2 and requires cars that can stay stable while being thrown aggressively over the high kerbs.

Following this relatively slow combination of corners, drivers head towards two medium-speed bends. Turn 6, titled as Lesmo 1 is taken at 200kph in fifth gear. It is a tricky corner as cars tend to produce understeer at entry while the rear end can become loose at the exit.

Following a few seconds spent at full thottle, Lesmo 2 follows up that is a slightly slower corner than the previous one. It is vital to get a clean exit out of this bend as another section follows that is taken at maximum throttle with the speeds climbing up to 330kph.

The Ascari chicane, formed by Turns 8, 9 and 10, is a relatively narrow, but a brutally fast section where the rear is always loose due to the extremely low-downforce aerodynamic setup. The exit of the Ascari chicane is of key importance as drivers find themselves on the back straight where they can reach a maximum speed of 340 kph.

The 180-degree Turn 11, named Parabolica is a real test for cars due to the lack of aerodynamic downforce. Drivers usually are on the limit when it comes to the track limits at the exit of the Parabolica corner as they are adamant to gain everything the tarmac run-off zone offers. However, they will need to be extra careful this year as timing loops have been installed that should give the FIA stewards more weapon in their hands to scrutineer track limits around this tricky section.