Italian Grand Prix Preview


Can Ferrari stop Red Bull and Lotus from dominating their home race – and have McLaren given Lewis wings…?

There are many things that F1 personnel look forward to during a Grand Prix weekend: the excitement of qualifying, the drama of the race, the passion of the home fans, the varying international cuisine.

But this weekend what every F1 engineer will be looking forward to is a dry Friday. We haven’t had two dry Friday sessions since before Silverstone, with interruptions in Britain, Germany, Hungary and now Spa.

All the precious updates that have been spinning off the production line have been thrown on the car and the data analysts have looked at the telemetry and taken educated guesses. And then, of course, Lewis has tweeted the data off to all his followers, neatly captioned with WTF! and Fo Sho Mo Fo etc etc.

In fact that is half the reason that Lewis got so fed up at Spa – the engineers didn’t really know if the old rear wing or the new rear wing was better going into qualifying and he/we soon found out.

One of the advantages of Monza is that it is a very very simple circuit, with a few chicanes, a couple of lesmos, a tribute to Alberto Ascari and then Parabolica. And that’s your lap. The biggest blast on full throttle on the calendar, skinny rear wings with minimum downforce and set the car up so it can ride the kerbs.

Even Flavio Briatore could set a car up for the Italian Grand Prix.

That means the engineers will be able to tinker around with all their updates to their hearts’ content. They can fiddle with ride height, tyre pressure, wheel camber and do all the fine tuning they want.

The race in Monza will see the return of Jerome D’Ambrosio replacing Romain Grosjean at Lotus. As mentioned elsewhere, to make it a more fitting punishment Lotus should be running only one car in Milan; at Spa Grosjean’s rash move sidelined three drivers and their cars.

The fact that the FIA have finally stirred from their slumber and done something is good, but what it shouldn’t lead on to is other drivers being given this same punishment for a first offence. Should Kobayashi midjudge his start and clatter into three cars – having had no other offences to be taken into consideration – then it would be wrong to dish out the same penalty.

Another new face will be Ma Qing Hua, who will make his official Formula 1 debut at Monza, when he will take over HRT practice duties from Narain Karthikeyan.

The 24-year-old Chinese joined HRT’s young driver programme at the start of the season, and was part of the recent young driver test at Silverstone. Monza doesn’t take any learning and there are nice long straights where HRTs can work out who’s going to overtake them soon. It’s a good choice.

Ferrari will be hoping to bounce back at the ‘Cathedral of Motorsport’ after Fernando Alonso got hit by a “train” at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix. This is the weekend that the Scuderia strive to be perfect. It’s nice to win elsewhere, but there is no greater communion than a Ferrari driver taking the top step of the podium in front of his adoring tifosi. Let’s hope it’s not Massa, though, because that would scupper a lot of plans.

With McLaren finding speed at Spa and at the twisty Hungaroring, they are the team to beat right now. Jenson Button’s qualifying form was remarkable last weekend. From a driver who has struggled to get in the front three rows each Saturday, suddenly he was 0.8 ahead of the next driver in Q2. I think we can make a safe bet that they will have fabricated two of the rear wings that Jenson had in Spa.

We know Lotus won’t risk the unreliability of their own version of Mercedes double-DRS at Monza, although it would be a laugh to run it on D’Ambrosio’s car. This is Jerome’s vital opportunity to show the rest of the F1 field that he could be a contender and would probably wish that the FIA had been stricter with the guy who went moshing over the front half of the grid.

It should be sunshine and 26C/27C which will probably equate to a 40C track, something that the kind-to-its-tyres Lotus can take advantage of. Whether Kimi Raikkonen can finally get the race win he’s been threatening remains to be seen.

What will most certainly happen (apart from Pastor Maldonado starting his race relegated to the support race car park) is that Race Director Charlie Whiting will put a figurative fatherly arm around the drivers and ask them to be careful in the potentially chaotic braking zone of Turn 1.

There are handfuls of places to be made up at the first chicane, but generally just two lines of traffic threading through the corner. Get into the wrong, slower line of traffic and you can spend an entire race making up for that mistake. Misjudge your braking and we could have more moshing. In recent years the starts have been pretty well disciplined but it hasn’t always been that way. Even the great Ayrton has crashed there.

One story that might be doing the rounds of the paddock is Vettel’s strongly hinted move to Ferrari in 2014. Many say the deal is one. Now Fernando Alonso is saying that he would like to end his career at the Maranello team. And he doesn’t like fast friends either. It will be interesting to see that one play out too.

Andrew Davies