2014: Italian Grand Prix Preview

After the dramas of Belgium two weeks ago, Formula One heads to the fastest circuit on the calendar for the Italian Grand Prix. Monza, which made its debut on the F1 calendar in 1950, will serve as the sport’s last traditional European stop before setting off on the last six fly away races of the season. Sparks flew at the Belgium Grand Prix as team-mates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton made contact with each other which subsequently led to the latter retiring from the race while the former extended his championship lead to 29 points.

Through the drama came the Honey Badger – Daniel Ricciardo – a driver who has been the only man not in a Silver Arrows to stand on the top step of the podium this season. He has won not once, not twice but three times this year while his team-mate – four time world champion Sebastian Vettel – has struggled somewhat. The gap back to Ricciardo from Hamilton is 35 points, and with tracks that Red Bull have excelled at in the past coming up (Vettel won them all – bar the Russian Grand Prix – last season) it looks like Mercedes 1-2 finish in the drivers championship could be far from secure.

Italian Grand Prix Stats

Circuit: Autodromo di Monza
Number of Laps: 53
Circuit Length: 5.793km
Number of Corners: 11
Lap Record: 1:21.046 Rubens Barrichello (2004)
Previous Hungarian Grand Prix winners still on the grid: 3
Most Successful Team: Ferrari (19 wins)
DRS Zones: 2    
Pirelli Tyres: Hard and Medium

Due to its high speed nature a low downforce configuration is essential for Monza. Teams such as Red Bull and McLaren demonstrated that their cars work well under these conditions with their performances last time out in Belgium. The downside to lower downforce means that the cars move around a lot more in braking zones, making lock-ups more likely. The pit straight – which is joined by the infamous and fast Parabolica corner – will see drivers reach the highest speeds of the year and this is quickly followed by a heavy braking zone for the tight first chicane. Monza is a circuit renowned for being tough on the brakes but also features a mix of low and medium speed corners.

69% of the lap is spent at full throttle and this could have consequences for the power units. Pirelli have brought their two hardest compounds – medium and hard – due to the mixture of long fast straights and slow corners. “Our home race also happens to be one of the most demanding of the year for the tyres, due to the rapid layout of the circuit,” Paul Hembery explained. “The faster a circuit is the more stressful it is for the tyres because of the heat build up that all these forces entail. The cars run a very low downforce set-up for Monza to maximise their top speed on the straights. This has a distinct effect on the tyres, as less downforce means that the cars tend to slide more and run a greater risk of wheels locking up in the braking areas, which are a key element of Monza. These lock-ups can lead to flat spots, although the design of our tyre structure and compounds this year means that flat spots are a much less common occurrence than they used to be.”

As previously mentioned, the Mercedes duo will arrive at the Italian Grand Prix with the tension of two weeks ago still fizzling. The team held internal talks and revealed in a statement that “suitable disciplinary measures [had] been taken for the incident” with Rosberg accepting responsibility and apologising for his role in the accident. Mercedes also confirmed that their drivers are free to race but must not make contact again. Rosberg faced a harsh back-lash after the race – particularly from senior Mercedes figures Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda – something which could be in the back of his mind when they get back to action. Being so publicly criticised by the team may leave Rosberg feeling he has something to prove. Hamilton has slipped to 29 points behind his team-mate and faces a mountain to climb if he is to get back on terms.

Elsewhere Kamui Kobayashi will return to the cockpit after having to relinquish his seat to Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer in Belgium. Lotterer performed well and out-qualified his team-mate but his race came to an end after just a lap when he loss all power. Reports suggested that he had been due to return for the Italian Grand Prix but turned down the opportunity after learning that Roberto Merhi would be getting a run in FP1. Lotterer felt that as a rookie he would need as much time in the car as possible and losing a session would not be beneficial to him.

Vettel is the most successful current driver at Monza with three wins there to his name – including his maiden F1 victory in 2008. Fernando Alonso has won twice while Hamilton has won once.

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