F1: 5 Reasons Ferrari and Fernando Alonso Can Win the Italian Grand Prix
Coming off the back of a thoroughly disappointing Belgian Grand Prix where Fernando Alonso saw his World Driver's Championship lead cut almost in half, Ferrari head to their home race at Monza in Italy as anything but favourites.
But in this article, we'll look at five good reasons for the Scuderia to be optimistic going into the Italian Grand Prix this Sunday.
It's not too hard to draw comparisons between the 2010 Formula One World Championship and this year's.
In 2010, the winners of the grand prix had been spread around numerous different drivers, who had the fastest car seemed to ebb and flow depending on the track or the conditions and five drivers were still in the running for the title beyond the halfway point in the season.
All of this is also true at this point in 2012.
At the same exact point in the 2010 season, Ferrari's lead driver, Fernando Alonso, was coming off his worst result of the season, a non-finish in Spa, Belgium. In 2012, Alonso is coming off his worst finish since then, a non-finish in Spa, Belgium.
The 2010 Italian Grand Prix saw Alonso and Scuderia Ferrari claim both pole and victory, with Felipe Massa in the other Ferrari rounding off the podium in third place. They had the fastest car and the fastest package that weekend, as evidenced when Alonso pulled away from Jenson Button in the closing stages of the race, having jumped him during the only pit stop of the race.
Doing well in Monza, Ferrari's home race, is of paramount importance to the "Prancing Horse." They will always do their utmost to win there and will put more resources into the race than rival teams.
All of which segues nicely into Slide 2...
Monza as a One-off
Since the old Hockenheim circuit was reconfigured for the 2002 season, the Autodromo Nazionale Monza stands alone in Formula One as the only truly high-speed circuit on the calendar.
As such, F1 teams arrive in Italy with a Monza-specific aerodynamic and engine package. While this is true for many, if not most, of the teams in the field, nowhere is this package more importantly regarded than at Ferrari.
Pat Fry, Ferrari's technical director, has already stated that "we will also have an aerodynamic and engine package specifically suited to the Italian track. Therefore a lot of work has been done" (via Ferrari.com).
While this is far from unique to the Scuderia—all their rivals will do the same—the emphasis placed on this package will always be more strongly felt at the Italian team.
To McLaren, Red Bull and Lotus, this is just another race—an important one because of the closeness of the championship—but not a special race in and of itself.
Therefore, the amount of focused resources placed on this race alone is very likely to be higher at Ferrari than at other teams, who may be more heavily focused on updates that provide lap-time across all circuits.
Indeed, the Spa rear-wing run by Ferrari was closer to a Monza-spec, low downforce wing than most of their competitors.
Again, this leads nicely into Slide 3...
Good Top-Speed Performance in Spa
For the casual observer, it may seem that Alonso's Ferrari was quite a long way off the pace in Spa qualifying and therefore unlikely to be competitive in the next race.
However, that does not quite tell the complete story.
What is key in analysing the way in which the Ferrari's performance will relate to the next Grand Prix is the timing for the high-speed first sector in Belgium. Consistently during qualifying, Alonso's Ferrari set "purple" (i.e. fastest) times for the first sector.
This indicates that the top speed of the Ferrari is very good, and this is borne out by speed trap data for the qualifying session—the only relevant session for data on Alonso's car since he was unable to complete a single lap of the race—which shows the Ferraris as third- and fourth-fastest in the speed trap.
As mentioned in the last slide, Monza is the only remaining high-speed circuit on the F1 calendar, and nowhere will this top-speed performance be more relevant than at the Italian Grand Prix.
McLaren's Data Leak
Enough has been written elsewhere about the wisdom—or lack thereof—of Lewis Hamilton's various tweets following his comparatively poor qualifying performance relative to teammate Jenson Button at Spa.
Acronyms alluding to various expletives are not really pertinent to this particular discussion.
What is relevant to this discussion, however, is the implication of disclosing team telemetry data to the world and therefore rival teams.
Various opinions have been mooted on how useful any of this data will be to the competition. McLaren's own Paddy Lowe has been quoted as saying: "The data in there isn't any great use to anyone, so I don't think there is much damage done" (via BBC Sport).
But while the data doesn't offer anything too significant, it does show the ride heights being run by both cars and, more importantly, it gives other teams some solid data on which to base their assumptions.
All the teams and engine manufacturers in F1 are already monitoring and analysing each other extremely closely, both through visual and audio analysis. While this data may not tell them anything they don't already know, it will at the very least allow them to say "we know x for a 100-percent fact, from which we can assume y."
Since it was Jenson Button who found that often elusive, almost magical setup balance last time out in Spa, and Hamilton who did much the same for the previous race in Hungary, any data on how this was done could help level out a qualifying playing field on which McLaren have found big margins in the past two races.
Nigel Mansell is often quoted as saying that the support of his British fans was worth several tenths of a second per lap.
While the support Mansell received in Britain at the height of "Mansell-mania" was undoubtedly massive, the Ferrari "tifosi" in Italy are legendary for their passion for the red cars of the Scuderia.
To equate this to any tangible lap time obviously involves a certain amount of hyperbole. But then, in Formula One, as with any sport, psychology can have a major effect on performance. If the driver feels happy, with 50,000 supporters unanimously urging him on, it can unlock that tiny extra potential already present within him.
That Alonso and Massa have performed well at Monza in the past cannot hurt their psychological state. Likewise, the prospect of the finest podium in F1 surrounded by your adoring supporters is a tantalising carrot to chase.
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