Just a week after revelling in the challenge of the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium, Formula One heads to another majestic track: Monza.
Only once has the classic autodromo near Milan been absent from the calendar – in 1980 when the Italian Grand Prix switched to Imola due to refurbishment works in Monza – and the enthralling venue serves up some fantastic action year after year.
One of the shortest races of the year at a shade over 80 minutes, Monza packs a lot into a short space of time with 53 high-speed laps and 190 miles of racing.
Today the circuit is punctuated by chicanes but still bears the hallmarks of the great drivers – Michael Schumacher has won here five times, while current Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso had the tifosi in raptures on his Ferrari debut at Monza when he scooped victory in 2010, adding to his 2007 triumph with McLaren.
Sebastian Vettel was last year’s victor but it was here in 2008 when the World Champion really announced himself, with a stunning pole position followed up by a brilliant first win – all while driving a Toro Rosso in which his best previous results had been a pair of fifth places.
Tyre wear: 5/10
Last year most drivers stopped twice, with Pirelli bringing the soft and medium tyres to their home race. This year the medium and hard tyres are available but that may again mean a regulation two-stopper, with the usual suspects like Button and Perez trying to stop just once.
The ultimate high-speed track, Monza will see the skinniest rear wings possible in order to maximise top speed. However, in 2010 Jenson Button showed it is possible to be competitive here by running higher settings and it will be interesting to see the solutions chosen this time around.
Average speed: 10/10
Speeds in excess of 215mph have been recorded at Monza in recent years, and although the change to V8 engines means that such speeds may not be reached again, the cars still top 200mph on several occasions during each lap.
Track difficulty: 4/10
Mainly straights and chicanes, Monza is not the most difficult of circuits to learn, but the challenge lies in maximising every part of the circuit as the field is often very close – last year one second covered the top 14 drivers in Q1.
KERS and DRS play a smaller part in overtaking moves here – KERS because the lower than average braking time means it is harder to charge the unit fully per lap, and DRS because most cars will run with their rear wings as thin as possible already. Overtaking therefore relies on slipstreaming and being brave on the brakes into Turn 1.
It’s hard to beat the sight of 24 Formula One cars at full pelt, especially at a venue as historic as Monza. It is a place that oozes history, the passionate Ferrari fans – the tifosi – generate an incredible racket every time they glimpse one of the red cars, and the old banking can be accessed for a taste of what former greats such as Clark, Fangio and Moss experienced in their heyday.
Monza is the track with the lowest downforce of all, resulting in the highest average lap speed of the season. Ride height requirements are dictated by the driver’s commitment to riding the kerbs in the chicanes at Turn 4, Variante Della Roggia, and Turn 8, Variante Ascari – cutting across the kerbing will deliver a good lap time but comes at the cost of potentially unsettling the car during a rapid direction change. Stability under braking is the major setup issue to be dealt with, and overtaking is possible with good top speed. Although there are several large braking zones on the circuit, the high average speed means cooling is less of an issue so Monza is towards the lower end of the scale for overall brake wear. Unusually for modern F1, and thanks to the thick forests which obscure line-of-sight from the pits, there can be problems with achieving radio and telemetry coverage as the cars travel between Turns 4 and 7.
Fernando Alonso had the home crowds cheering at the start, leaping from fourth to first by the time he exited the first corner, while behind him HRT’s Vitantonio Liuzzi clipped Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus and spun, collecting Vitaly Petrov and Nico Rosberg in a heavy impact at the Rettifilio chicane. Vettel stole the lead from Alonso once the race resumed and was largely unchallenged for the rest of the afternoon, going on to take his 18th career victory. Further down the order there was a spectacular battle between Hamilton and Michael Schumacher, with Mercedes boss Ross Brawn having to warn his driver several times about blocking Hamilton. During one such defensive manoeuvre, Hamilton was delayed enough that Button was able to pass his team-mate, and then took Schumacher into the della Roggia chicane, setting up a second-placed finish after pipping Alonso through the final pit-stop phase.
Venue: Monza, Italy
Lap record: 1m 21.046s – Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari (2004)
2011 Winner: Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull
Monza 1950-1979, 1981-present
*only races held as part of the Formula One World Championship are included
In-depth stats (courtesy of Mercedes)