The Italian Grand Prix pre-dates the world championship by decades.
Its history stretches back to the days when Antonio Ascari, Tazio Nuvolari and, later, the devastating machines of Mercedes and Auto Union assembled to race on the fearsomely fast banked oval.
The race becomes more special with every passing year. As F1 circuit design becomes ever more staid and predictable – five-and-a-half kilometres, 20-odd corners of which perhaps two are taken in something higher than third gear – Monza’s simple layout is ever more cherished as a break from the norm.
Just 11 corners – the least of any world championship venue – connected by four long acceleration zones in which the cars exceed the highest speeds seen at other track by a clear 20kph.
This year the Drag Reduction System will allow the cars to hit even higher speeds on the straights. Mercedes estimate drivers will user it for almost three-quarters of the lap in practice and qualifying.
Red Bull never on the podium
|Lap length||5.793km (3.6 miles)|
|Distance||53 laps (306.7km/190.6 miles)|
|Lap record*||1’21.046 (Rubens Barrichello, 2004)|
|Fastest lap||1’19.525 (Juan Pablo Montoya, 2004)|
|Tyres||Medium and Soft|
*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix
To attain these thundering speeds the cars shed downforce and drag, running skinny wings that would be useless anywhere else on the calendar.
That has previously been the undoing of Adrian Newey’s Red Bulls at this venue. The huge downforce they produce, which is their key weapon at most tracks, serves them less well here.
As a result, the team which has won 19 of the last 34 races are yet to finish on the podium at Monza.
But Sebastian Vettel’s triumph at the similar high-speed Spa opens up the possibility for Red Bull to score their first victory here. Vettel, of course, already has a Monza trophy – he scored his maiden triumph in a fabulous drive in streaming conditions for Toro Rosso three years ago.
So will Vettel be celebrating his tenth pole position on Saturday? That rests partly on whether his Spa win was principally down to Red Bull nailing their low-drag configuration, or because they took greater risks with their camber settings than their rivals.
Alonso seeking third Monza win
The home crowd will look to Fernando Alonso to add to Ferrari’s disappointing tally of one win so far this year.
Of course Alonso wasn’t always the darling of the Monza crowd. His retirement from the 2006 race while title rival Michael Schumacher was leading sent them into rapture, as he recalls: “We arrived in Monza as the opponent of Ferrari.
“The tifosi naturally tried to put me under pressure and I also had a penalty after qualifying for blocking another driver, my [present] team-mate Felipe [Massa].
“I started tenth, had an engine problem when lying third and the crowds in the grandstands at turn one were very excited about this and the fact Michael was leading the race. It was an interesting experience.”
His first Monza win came in 2007, while driving for McLaren. He had a warmer reception last year when he beat Jenson Button to victory.
Hamilton without a Monza finish since 2008
McLaren’s chances of pinching the win off Ferrari or Red Bull rest partly on whether Lewis Hamilton can marshal his intense speed without hitting something.
The second sector of the lap at Monza has not been kind to him on his last two visits. He didn’t complete a single lap last year as he tangled needlessly with Massa at the Variante della Roggia.
The year before that he made it as far as the final lap, only to spin into the barriers at Lesmo while trying to mount an attack on second-placed Jenson Button.
Now team mates, the pair have the strong suit of Mercedes power on a track where straight-line speed is so important. Likewise, keep an eye Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, who have regularly been among the quickest through the speed traps this year.
Senna eyeing first points
Bruno Senna’s return at Spa was marred by a first-corner collision. He showed excellent pace in qualifying, but needs a race result to back it up.
Despite that high-profile error on his comeback, Renault technical director James Allison was positive about his addition to their line-up: “I don’t think anyone needs insider information from the team to know that Bruno had a remarkable weekend.
“To place the car P7 on the grid is a fantastic achievement on any scale. I know Bruno was kicking himself for the incident at the first corner in the race, but my view is that it was a completely understandable error; it was the first time that he had ever felt the R31 on full fuel and he was surrounded by competitors already 11 races into their season.”
Force India head into the Monza weekend following top-seven finishes for one of their cars in each of the last three races.
Adrian Sutil, who scored his career-best result of fourth here in 2009, says their car’s performance is not as ‘peaky’ as it was two year’s ago: “I think our car is more consistent on all tracks rather than just being strong on the quick circuits.
“Also, because everyone is now using DRS and KERS, the advantage of our straight-line speed is not so significant. It’s still a fast car, but we were seventh in Hungary on a high downforce circuit and got the same result in Spa on a low downforce circuit. So it’s a very consistent car now and I expect a good race at Monza.”
For Sutil’s team mate Paul di Resta, this will be his first ever race at Monza. Fellow rookie Sergio Perez has driven here before, winning both British F3 races in 2008 from 14th on the grid.
2011 driver form
2011 Italian Grand Prix
Image © Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo