• Italian Grand Prix preview

The temple of speed

ESPN Staff
September 5, 2013
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There's nowhere quite like Monza. The history, the passion, the speed - it has it all. This year the race is also crucial in the title fight. If Sebastian Vettel is to be made to work for his fourth world title over the remaining three months of the season, one of his rivals needs to act this weekend to narrow the gap. A Ferrari victory would be the most popular among the fans in the royal park this weekend, and after a strong showing in Spa looks best place to take the fight to Red Bull.

On form

There's no denying Sebastian Vettel is the man on form at the moment and, with a 48 point-lead in the championship, the comfortable championship favourite. He's won three of the last five races, but it could have been five from five if it had not been for an engine failure at Silverstone and a sensational lap from Lewis Hamilton to grab pole position in Hungary. The Red Bull is that good right now, and Vettel is capable of exploiting it. However, Monza has often been a bogey circuit for Red Bull, although Vettel did win there in 2011 (and with Toro Rosso in 2008). His dominance at Spa-Francorchamps bodes well for another strong showing this weekend, and a fourth victory from the last six races could break the spirit of his rivals.

Out of form

Driving for Ferrari in front of the Tifosi at Monza should be a highlight of any F1 driver, but for Felipe Massa this weekend there will be a genuine concern it could be for the last time. His results still don't warrant another year at a top team, even if he insists the pace is there. However, Monza could be the place to turn that around and a good result on home soil could be enough to stretch Ferrari's good will towards another year on the Brazilian's contract.

Daniel Ricciardo has signed for Red Bull next year © Red Bull Content Pool
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One to watch

Daniel Ricciardo will be at the centre of attention this weekend following the announcement that he will driver for Red Bull next year. He has shown plenty of pace in qualifying but still hasn't finished in the top six in a race. The Toro Rosso lacks downforce but is a mechanically sound car and that should mean it is competitive this weekend.

Talking points

The driver market
With Ricciardo's place at Red Bull secure for 2014 the attention turns to the rest of the driver market. If Massa doesn't do enough to retain his seat, Ferrari becomes the most appealing destination for any driver looking to step up from the midfield, but with Fernando Alonso as the No.1 a contract from Maranello comes with strings attached. It is looking more and more likely that Kimi Raikkonen will stay put at Lotus and the bigger question appears to be whether Romain Grosjean will stay on as his team-mate. The driver market tends to work from the top downwards, so once Ferrari has made a decision everything else will start to fall into place.

FIA politics
Confirmation that Jean Todt will face opposition in the form of David Ward at the upcoming FIA presidential elections will see paddock politics step up a gear for the rest of the season. Ward has worked closely with Bernie Ecclestone in the past and is likely to be the F1 CEO's preferred candidate. Ex-president Max Mosley, also a close ally of Ward, has already spoken out to German press about Todt's deficiencies and the election campaigns haven't even started yet.

2014 tyres
The questions over next year's tyre supply could be dragged into the aforementioned paddock politics. Pirelli wants to stay on and has the backing of Ecclestone and most of the teams, but Michelin is lurking in the wings and the FIA seems to be willing to consider its advances. After this year's tyre dramas, the one thing F1 must make sure of is that it has safe and fully-developed tyres to run on next year. The later the FIA leaves the decision, the bigger the risk it takes.

McLaren's 50th
It may have been one of its most disappointing seasons to date, but 2013 is also McLaren's 50th anniversary year and it intends to celebrate. The exact date that Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Limited was incorporated was September 2, 1963 so the team has already popped a few champagne corks at its factory in Woking. However, the party (ESPN's word, not McLaren's) will continue on to Monza where the team is throwing what it calls a "celebratory event". Expect to see the McLaren motorhome (Brand Centre in McLaren-speak) decked out in a colourful painting of past champions while the team tries everything to mark the occasion on the track with a suitable result.

Monza is steeped in history © Sutton Images
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Fast facts

  • Michael Schumacher has won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza the most times, with five victories
  • Drivers spend 77% of the lap at full throttle
  • Qualifying is important; seven of the last 10 races at Monza have been won from pole position
  • There were 32 'normal overtakes' and 23 'DRS overtakes' at last year's race

Trivia

  • The circuit itself is located in a royal park 15 miles north-east of Milan. It was only the third purpose-built motor racing circuit after Brooklands and Indianapolis
  • Of the 97 Italians who have raced in Formula One, only three have won the Italian Grand Prix: Nino Farina in 1950, Alberto Ascari in 1951-52 and Ludovico Scarfiotti in 1966
  • Sebastian Vettel became the youngest F1 winner of all time when he won at Monza in 2008
  • Rubens Barrichello recorded the fastest ever pole position lap at Monza in 2004 when he lapped at an average speed of 161.820mph

Circuit

Built in 1922, Monza has hosted more rounds of the Formula One world championship than any other circuit. The high-speed nature of the track means it is unique on the calendar and requires a one-off aerodynamic package for the cars. It's steeped in history and has appeared in many forms since its opening, although the current circuit is a facsimile of the original road circuit. It's most unusual layout was for the 1955, 1956, 1960 and 1961 grands prix when a combination of a banked oval and the road circuit were combined to make a 10km track that required a dangerously compromised set-up for the flat section. Nowadays set-up is balanced between finding just enough grip and stability under braking while maintaining top speed. Any car running too much wing becomes a sitting duck on the straights, especially into the first chicane where most overtaking takes place. The DRS zones run along the pit straight and from the second Lesmo to Ascari, but due to the low levels of downforce the gain from DRS is limited.

FIA driver steward

US racer Danny Sullivan will be the F1 driver representative on the stewarding panel at Monza. He made his F1 debut with Tyrrell at the 1983 Brazilian Grand Prix and raced just one season in F1, scoring a best result of fifth in Monaco. In 1984, Sullivan returned to the US where he resumed a successful Indy Car career. He is perhaps best known for his 'spin and win' victory at the 1985 Indianapolis 500, where he passed leader Mario Andretti, survived a 360 degree spin, and then caught and re-passed Andretti to claim the Borg-Warner Trophy. He finished third in the Le Mans 24 Hours in a Dauer Porsche 962 in 1994. He made four starts at Le Mans, the most recent being 2004.

© Getty Images
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Weather

Sun is expected on all three days, although there is a chance of scattered thunderstorms on Sunday. The teams will enjoy a dry Friday, but with temperatures in the high 20s will have to keep an eye on degradation of the rear tyres coming out of Monza's slow chicanes.

Betting

Depsite Red Bull's struggles in the past at Monza, Sebastian Vettel is the favourite for victory at 7/4, ahead of Fernando Alonso at 3/1. Lewis Hamilton is 4/1 to win on Sunday but the smart money should go on his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg at much better odds of 10/1. A Felipe Massa victory would send the Tifosi ecstatic, and at 40/1 it would also be a huge pay day for anyone willing to take a punt.

ESPNF1 prediction

Fernando Alonso has not won a race since the Spanish Grand Prix but Monza is his perfect opportunity to get back on the top step of the podium. The updated Ferrari looked very quick in a straight line at Spa-Francorchamps and the Italian team will throw everything at its home race. A victory this weekend is also crucial if he wants to seriously challenge Vettel for the title.
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