Italian Grand Prix – Preview

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After two intense races at Spa and Zandvoort, the last station of the 2021 F1 season’s second triple-header is nearing its conclusion with Monza awaiting the field for another great battle.

Last weekend saw the Dutch Grand Prix make its return in the FIA Formula One World Championship after a 36-year hiatus. The Zandvoort race was expected to provide fans with a spectacular race given the tight championship battle and home hero Max Verstappen’s presence on the grid.

The Dutch Grand Prix did not disappoint the F1 community with delivering a real strategy battle at the sharp end of the field. Claiming the pole position on Saturday, Max Verstappen had a prefect getaway from the line, but he had to fight hard for the victory in front of his home crowd as Mercedes threw everything at the 23-year-old driver it had to stop him from taking his seventh victory this year.

However, Mercedes’ strategists and its driver duo of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were unable to trick Verstappen out, who became the first Dutchman to win on home soil, which also allowed him to take back the lead in the Drivers’ Championship.

And now the field is ready, Monza is ready and Formula One is ready to put on another great show on the legendary Italian Grand Prix. The odds are against Red Bull and Verstappen as they never really excelled in the hybrid era in Monza, while Mercedes has been extremely competitive. In spite of this, the Anglo-Austrian team is eager to cling on to their lead in the Drivers’ Championship while they will also try to make up ground in the Constructors’ Championship.

Looking ahead to the Italian Grand Prix, Verstappen said: “I’m looking forward to the Italian Grand Prix. I have a lot of history with go karting in Italy from back in the day and I always enjoy the food there. Traditionally it hasn’t been the best track for our chassis and power unit package.

“It’s fast and the braking zones are really important and quite tough, but I enjoy driving the track and hopefully it will suit us better this year. The fans are so passionate about racing and the Tifosi come out in forso I’m looking forward to seeing all of them there in the grandstands.”

Third purpose-built track

The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza is the third oldest circuit in the world after the 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 modified 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 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 throttle, 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 320kph.

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 330 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.