First Spa, now Monza: for F1 lovers it’s like a double gulp of fresh air to get the system moving again before the hectic sprint towards the finish of another World Championship season.
The Italian Grand Prix is the last tango in Europe for teams and drivers, so it’s doubly important to take in everything that the Old Continent has to offer.
Lewis Hamilton enjoyed an experience of that kind earlier in the season when he drove the famous old track in a famous old car, the Mercedes-Benz W196, with one of its most famous veteran drivers: Sir Stirling Moss.
‘Having that taste of what it was like for those guys back in the day really gives you a taste for the history of this place and why it became so legendary,’ said Britain’s current standard-bearer.
‘It’s still a challenge today, too: fast, but really technical at the same time, with some heavy braking and big kerbs to ride for the right line.’
Has Hamilton unwittingly put his finger on a problem? His Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg came through a scary moment in Spa practice when one of his Pirelli tyres let go, then Sebastian Vettel walked away unhurt but badly shaken when the same happened to his Ferrari late in the race – an incident whose circumstances the Italian tyre company will explain this weekend at Monza.
Staying within track limits is the current mantra, so maybe the traditional practice of using the kerbs to keep you there will be more ill-advised than it has been in the past. Pirelli are bringing a choice of tyres, Soft and Medium, that’s one step softer overall than we saw last year at the Italian round.
‘We’re expecting a fear degree of wear and degradation,’ says Pirelli’s Paul Hembery, a phenomenon that could well be brought into sharp focus by Monza’s low downforce set-ups, which put the premium on braking, traction and kerb riding – all of which put added stress on the round black bits at the corners of the car.
Now over a full race victory behind Hamilton, Rosberg will have his first chance to see how fatherhood impinges upon his own risk-taking. ‘A second a lap slower for every child’ was a favourite saying of old-school drivers, but Nico has nowhere near that margin for error if he wishes to threaten Hamilton’s serene progress to a second straight title.
Lewis’s win last year was the first at Monza for Mercedes since Fangio’s in 1955, and a comprehensive performance it was: pole position, race win and fastest lap. Otherwise the 21st century has brought Monza success for Ferrari no fewer than five times, with McLaren on three wins but highly unlikely to come within coo-eeh of another one any time soon…
Last year we had an all-Mercedes front row; four Mercedes-powered cars finished 1-2-3-4; and there were seven Mercedes-engined cars in the top 10.
One of those belonged to Force India’s Sergio Perez, who this year arrives fresh from a fine performance in Belgium and fired up on the way to his first home race in Mexico later in the season.
‘Monza is a true power track,’ he says, which is pretty bad news for anyone not using the German power unit. ‘It’s never easy to overtake, ‘Perez adds, ‘and the strategy options are quite limited, and so getting the job done in qualifying is especially important. In the race it’s a case of being flat out all the way and being accurate with your braking points.’
No brakes, though, on his teammate’s career: Nico Hulkenberg this week signed on for a two-year extension to his contract with Force India and will be one of the main men to watch over 53 laps of the wonderful 5.793-km Autodromo di Monza this weekend.