Venue: Autodromo Nazionale, Monza
Circuit Length: 5.793 kilometres
Lap Record: 1:21.046 = 257.320 km/h • Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari) • 2004
It’s Italy’s greatest sporting cathedral, where the tifosi come to worship in their droves. But it’s also one of the least successful tracks for Italian drivers. For its first three seasons as a World Championship venue Monza had Italian heroes in first place: Farina for Alfa Romeo in 1950, Ascari and Ferrari in 1951-52. They then had to wait 14 years for Ludovico Scarfiotti to win in a Ferrari – and no Italian has won the Italian Grand Prix there since.
Q: Who is the one other driver we might include in that Italian winners’ list?
‘La pista magica’: that’s what they call Monza, and with good reason – it’s hallowed ground if you’re a motor racing fan, ‘the temple of speed’, as Ferrari like to call it too, the fastest track they go to in 2013. Essentially the modern Monza is just straights and chicanes, with top speeds over 330 km/h and 77% of the lap at full noise. In other words, it’s an engine track, as Ferrari specialist Luca Marmorini acknowledges: “Monza, along with Spa, is a track where the engine plays a major role in the overall performance of the car. So each single horsepower has a greater influence on the lap time. It’s a very difficult track, because the drivers apply full throttle for almost the entire lap, around 80% of it. Therefore engine reliability is a critical factor.”
Last fling in Europe
European fans have their last chance to see the current V8 formula in action this weekend – and Australia’s Mark Webber has his last chance to make an impression on a track he reveres. “It’s very Formula One in terms of its history and its atmosphere,” says Red Bull’s man. “All of the greats have raced there and I have an affinity with Italians from my Minardi days. The track is one of a kind, it’s an incredibly fast circuit with high top speeds, so there’s a lot of heavy braking. Monza has never been that kind to me; I’ve had a few retirements and have never finished on the podium, so I want to get a good result there this year!” In fact sixth in 2010 is Mark’s best Monza result to date.
For the other Aussie, Monza week is already one to remember. Dan Ricciardo has been confirmed as Webber’s replacement at Red Bull next year so there will be an added spring in his step in Monza’s royal park this weekend. “I feel very, very good at the moment and obviously there's a lot of excitement running through me,” says the 24-year-old Toro Rosso driver. “Since joining F1 in 2011, I hoped this would happen and over time the belief in me has grown; I had some good results and Red Bull has decided that this is it, so it's a good time.”
Monza has been won by the pole-sitter in eight of the last 10 seasons, and Mercedes pole specialist Lewis Hamilton did just that last year – for McLaren. “Monza is a truly amazing circuit and it’s a great feeling to drive at our top speeds of the year there,” says Hamilton. “The layout and atmosphere of Monza are very special and it really feels like you are going back to Formula One’s roots when you race there. The car has a completely different aerodynamic package to anywhere else on the calendar with really low downforce to make the most of the four long straights. My win in Italy last year was the first of my career at this circuit and it was a great feeling.” While Sebastian Vettel has a commanding points lead, Hamilton is just 12 behind Fernando Alonso in the fight for second place.
Like Vettel, Alonso has won at Monza for two different teams: McLaren in 2007 (from pole), which was his final victory for Ron Dennis, and for Ferrari (also from pole) in 2010. Teammate Felipe Massa was third that day but the little Brazilian has again been very publicly put on notice this week that he needs to lift his game. The eminently likeable Stefano Domenicali was not playing Mr. Nice Guy when asked who is likely to be alongside Alonso at Maranello next year. “My favourite choice would be, of course, to keep Felipe," he said. "Felipe is a very good guy - very dedicated to the team. But, of course, we need good results from Felipe." And that’s something they haven’t enjoyed consistently for five years. His fourth place in Melbourne is his best this year; he is currently 84 points adrift of Alonso – and 94 is the number that separates Ferrari from the lead of the Constructors’ Championship.
McLaren also take on Monza in a very special week: they celebrated their 50th anniversary before heading to Italy. Ron Dennis, the man who made the modern McLaren Group, summed up the ethos behind the marque: “Call it McLaren’s DNA, if you like. Call it McLaren’s brand continuity, if you prefer. Call it McLaren’s corporate culture, if you will. Call it McLaren’s undiminished hunger to win in everything we do, and you’d probably be getting closest to what I mean, what I think, and what I feel.” Ten times they have won at Monza, but don’t expect #11 any time soon. Still, Jenson Button remains defiant: “When you have the car hooked up beneath you, you get into a special kind of rhythm around Monza: you’re going so fast that the whole lap just flows together. There’s nowhere quite like it,” he says. “So it’s really appropriate that McLaren will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in the paddock over the Monza weekend. Both names are synonymous with motorsport history – you couldn’t imagine Formula 1 without them – so I’ll be hoping for a strong result to show the strength and depth that we have as a team.”
Defiant, too, is Kimi Raïkkönen. Lotus’s Finnish star has never won at Monza, and last time out in Spa his record run of race finishes came to a halt. No problem – Kimi’s ready to be quick again: “For one reason or another things just haven’t worked out for me, but it doesn’t mean I can’t drive the track. Just because I have not won at a circuit in the past it doesn’t mean that I won’t win or get a good result there in the future. It’s great to go there with everything working well in your car and see how quickly you can go. It’s the place where we go really, really fast…”
Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1:24.010 = 248.241 km/h
1st: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1:19.41.221 (av. speed 230.943 km/h)
2nd: Sergio Pérez (Sauber-Ferrari) gap 4.356s
3rd: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) gap 20.594s
Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:27.239 = 239.053 km/h on lap 53
A: Italian-born American Mario Andretti, who won at Monza in a Lotus Ford in 1977