But the growth of the calendar, with more ‘flyaway’ events added at the end of the year, means the last European grand prix of the season takes place with over a third of the races yet to run.
In the Michael Schumacher era Ferrari had the luxury of arriving at their home race in 2001, 2002 and 2004 with their star driver already crowned that year’s champion.
Monza itself hasn’t seen a championship decided since 1979 – another good day for the home team – and it won’t do this year. But it could determine whether the last leg of the championship is a contest for the title or a procession towards Sebastian Vettel’s fourth consecutive coronation.
The significant of Vettel’s fifth win of the year at Spa will not have escaped his rivals. But for a faulty Red Bull gearbox at Silverstone he would have won more than half the races so far this year.
That moment of misfortune makes a big difference in psychological terms when looking at the points standings. Without it, Vettel’s points lead would be almost three wins. With it, he is less than two wins ahead, and the chances of him being caught is more realistic.
Inevitably the hopes of the Monza crowd will be primarily invested in Ferrari. Their pace at Spa suggested they could be on for a strong weekend here. But Vettel’s emphatic wins on the two lowest-downforce tracks so far this year – Montreal and Spa – will temper the optimism at Maranello.
Monza circuit information
|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||Hard and Medium|
*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix
Monza remains the only true minimal downforce race of the year which gives it a particular appeal for drivers like Jenson Button. “The place is unique,” he said.
“Ever since we lost the ‘old’ Hockenheim, this has been the only place on the calendar where you run a really super-low downforce configuration. And you can feel it – the car accelerates up to speed incredibly quickly, feels skittish and loose when you’re running flat-out, and can be tricky and unpredictable under braking.
“But that’s what makes the place a special kind of challenge, and I really enjoy that. 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.”
Happily there’s no indication Monza is set to go the way of the Hockenheimring. For next year it’s not the track that’s changing – it’s the cars. This will be the last blast for normally aspirated V8 engines on F1’s great power track. Next year’s race with V6 turbo and uprated energy recovery systems will look and sound very different – Mercedes have already given us a glimpse of the future.
Italian Grand Prix team-by-team preview
While much of the attention has been focussed on Daniel Ricciardo signing for the team this week, Mark Webber’s final F1 races continue to tick down. This could be his last chance to race at Monza for some time, as it is not currently part of the World Endurance Championship calendar.
Surprisingly, this is one race where Webber is yet to score a top five finish, let alone stand on the dramatic podium above the start/finish straight. “Monza has never been that kind to me,” he said. “I’ve had a few retirements and have never finished on the podium, so I want to get a good result there this year.”
Ferrari bounced back at Spa, showing a good turn of pace in dry conditions during practice and parts of qualifying. On race day Fernando Alonso bounced back from ninth on the grid to finish second.
Ferrari’s leading driver in the championship can rely on his good starts to get him in the thick of the action but needs to avoid a repeat of his fifth row start at Spa and make sure he’s at the sharp end from the moments the lights go out.
Last year McLaren came close to scoring a one-two at Monza – Button retired from second place when a faulty tank starved his engine of fuel. They’ve been nowhere near that kind of performance this year, but with downforce less of a consideration here they may be more competitive than usual.
McLaren celebrated their 50th birthday on Monday and will be doing more to mark it this weekend.
Lotus’s championship hopes suffered a blow at Spa as Kimi Raikkonen posted his first retirement in over a year.
But team mate Romain Grosjean expects the track should suit the E21: “It can be quite hot there sometimes and it can be hard on the tyres. Considering that this is where we seem to have an advantage with our car, let’s hope for both.”
Mercedes may have lost ground to Red Bull in Belgium but despite both their drivers finishing behind Alonso they increased their points margin over Ferrari.
Executive director Toto Wolff credited the strength of the team’s driver line-up: “As their performances this season have shown, Lewis and Nico are probably the most closely matched and balanced driver pairing in Formula One.”
“Their combination of speed and consistency has taken Mercedes to second place in the constructors’ championship and our clear target is to consolidate this position over the coming races.”
Esteban Gutierrez has doubts over how well the Sauber will work on Monza’s unique layout: “It will be a crucial weekend, because stability in slow corners is important and, unfortunately, this is where we’ve been struggling. We have to focus on that and try to improve.”
New third driver James Calado will make his debut for the team in first practice this weekend. Force India have enjoyed some of their best results at Monza and need to strike back at McLaren who passed them in the points standings at Spa.
Spa brought no cheer for Williams who increasingly seem to be running out the clock on a season which has been a crushing disappointment.
Can Jean-Eric Vergne capitalise on this opportunity to underline his own credentials by out-scoring his Red Bull-bound team mate? Vergne is a point ahead with eight races to go.
Giedo van der Garde has driven well in the last two races and his confidence seems to be growing: “After the last couple of races I’ll go to Monza feeling positive about the next race and the rest of the season,” he said.
“The whole team had a lot of praise for what we did in Spa, particularly taking advantage of the conditions on Saturday, and it’s good to see people understanding that what we’re doing now is exactly what we said we would do this year – learn, improve and deliver the results we want. 14th in Hungary and both qualifying and the race in Spa show how the package is coming on and it’s a good feeling for me and the whole team.”
Ferrari-backed Jules Bianchi is hoping the crowd will extend some of its enthusiasm his way this weekend.
“It is the atmosphere, the fans and all the history attached to Monza that makes it so fantastic,” he said. “I also have a nice connection with the fans, and this year it will be nice to enjoy their support racing for the Marussia F1 Team.”
2013 driver form
|Driver||G avg||R avg||R best||R worst||Classified||Form guide|
|Sebastian Vettel||2.64||2.10||1||4||10/11||Form guide|
|Mark Webber||6.55||4.50||2||7||10/11||Form guide|
|Fernando Alonso||5.64||3.50||1||8||10/11||Form guide|
|Felipe Massa||8.73||6.89||3||15||9/11||Form guide|
|Jenson Button||10.00||9.00||5||17||11/11||Form guide|
|Sergio Perez||11.18||11.00||6||20||11/11||Form guide|
|Kimi Raikkonen||6.55||4.20||1||10||10/11||Form guide|
|Romain Grosjean||9.00||8.56||3||19||9/11||Form guide|
|Nico Rosberg||4.00||6.44||1||19||9/11||Form guide|
|Lewis Hamilton||2.45||4.36||1||12||11/11||Form guide|
|Nico Hulkenberg||11.73||11.11||8||15||9/10||Form guide|
|Esteban Gutierrez||17.55||14.33||11||20||9/11||Form guide|
|Paul di Resta||12.82||9.00||4||18||9/11||Form guide|
|Adrian Sutil||10.18||9.63||5||13||8/11||Form guide|
|Pastor Maldonado||15.91||13.50||10||17||8/11||Form guide|
|Valtteri Bottas||15.18||13.70||11||16||10/11||Form guide|
|Jean-Eric Vergne||13.64||10.29||6||12||7/11||Form guide|
|Daniel Ricciardo||10.82||12.11||7||18||9/11||Form guide|
|Charles Pic||19.91||16.11||14||18||9/11||Form guide|
|Giedo van der Garde||19.36||17.00||14||21||9/11||Form guide|
|Jules Bianchi||18.91||16.33||13||19||9/11||Form guide|
|Max Chilton||20.27||17.64||14||20||11/11||Form guide|
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2013 Italian Grand Prix
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Images © Mercedes/Hoch Zwei, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Lotus/LAT, Force India