Round 13 - Italy 7-9 September 2012
Circuit Length: 5.793 Km
Lap Record: 1:21.046 = 257.320 km/h; R. Barrichello (Ferrari) 2004
Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault); 1:22.275 = 253.476km/h
1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1:20.46.172 (race average speed 227.848 km/h)
2nd: Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes), 9.590s behind
3rd: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), 16.909s behind
Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes); 1:26.187 = 241.971 km/h on Lap 52
Monza: "It's The Place Where We Go Really, Really Fast"
So says Kimi Raikkonen, and the Flying Finn is absolutely right. Just check out the speeds and lap times above... then remember the cars get up to 340 km/h in places at Monza, where Rubens Barrichello’s lap record from 2004 stands at 1m 21.046 – an average lap speed of 257.320! It’s the fastest track of all: of the top 22 quickest Grands Prix in history, 20 were staged at Monza, including the all-time top five – and the other two were at Spa-Francorchamps where we were last weekend.
Let’s do some post-Belgium housekeeping, before we go any further. While Pastor Maldonado will pick up a 10-place grid penalty (five for his jump start, five for the accident between his Williams and Glock’s Marussia), the big news is the stewards’ decision to suspend Lotus Renault driver Romain Grosjean for his part in the first-corner accident that eliminated several title hopefuls. He was also fined 50,000 euro. It’s the first time since 1994 that a driver has been so severely dealt with. Hands up if you remember who it was? That’s right: Mika Hakkinen, then a McLaren driver, who was deemed responsible for a similar first-corner accident in the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim and missed the next race in Hungary.
Into Grosjean’s seat steps Lotus third driver Jérôme d’Ambrosio. The 26-year-old, who did a full F1 season with Marussia in 2011, is half-Italian so he will have some local support! “My desire for 2012 has always been to get back into the seat of a Formula 1 car so I am grabbing this opportunity with both hands,” he says. “Monza is a fantastic circuit and I can’t wait to take to the track on Friday.” Jérôme will be praying for better luck than last year: his Marussia gave up the ghost on the warm-up lap...
Even better prepared are McLaren Mercedes. They’ve just won the last two races in a row and they have a nine-race winning pedigree at Monza. But neither of their current drivers has won there so far, a statistic which Spa winner Jenson Button plans to put right. “I head to Monza absolutely full of motivation after a fantastic result in Spa,” says the 2009 World Champion. “It was the perfect weekend for me – it’s not only put me back in contention for the drivers’ championship, but it’s shown that we have a car that can definitely fight for the constructors’ title.”
Spa was less kind to Lewis Hamilton, but the other McLaren World Champion is now focussing solely on his Italian job. “The first laps out of the pits on Friday always feel incredible because we have such little downforce and the ratios are so long,” he explains. “It feels like you never stop accelerating – and then you hit the brakes and the car feels really unstable, because the wings aren’t doing much to keep it settled. You soon get used to it, but it’s always exciting to be driving flat-out around Monza because it’s such a different experience from anywhere else we visit.”
Just as he relished Spa, where he was made an honorary citizen, Michael Schumacher will savour every moment of what may be his final Italian Grand Prix. “When I think of Monza, I immediately see everything through a red veil,” says the man who has won there five times since 1996, all with Ferrari. “It is the beating racing heart of Italy, everything there lives and breathes Ferrari, and I must inevitably think of the good times I spent there.”
Someone who loves Monza but hasn’t had especially good times there is our own Mark Webber. Red Bull’s Aussie has never stood on the Monza podium; in fact he has never been in the top five, a record he badly needs to improve this year to arrest a form slump that has seen him garner just 16 points in his last three races. “With eight races remaining, I need to remain consistent and keep picking up the points,” he says. “However that is not going to be enough. You need very strong performances that lead to race wins." With 80% of the Monza lap at full throttle and a Renault engine that struggled for top-end speed at Spa, that could be tricky.
Speaking of records, HRT tell us this weekend will bring Pedro de la Rosa’s 100th Grand Prix. Not so: while it’s great to acknowledge a man who has spent so long in the sport, PdlR will actually be racing for the 97th time at Monza. He’s been at three Grand Prix weekends where he did not start: Monaco 2000, Malaysia 2010 and, of course, Melbourne 2012, where neither HRT qualified. The Monaco 2000 race is usually credited to him because he took the original start but not the re-start, so let’s be kind. All going well, GP start number 100 will actually come in Japan.
Just in case you thought we’d forgotten, the best news of all is that Fernando Alonso is fit and raring to go after his Spa misadventure. A two-time Monza winner, Fernando will be lifted by the home crowd, as team principal Stefano Domenicali acknowledges: “We will have so many fans supporting us in the Autodromo and I’m sure that we will get a boost from the emotion they will transfer to the team and the drivers. The more ‘horsepower’ the fans can give us, the better. We will be doing all we can to repay them for that support.”