Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix Preview: Tyres, DRS, Weather and Session Times
Formula One returns this weekend with the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
The Italian Grand Prix has been on the F1 calendar since the world championship began in 1950. Including non-championship events going back to 1921, this will be the 83rd race to bear the name.
And this weekend's host, Monza, has been the venue for every race bar one. No circuit has hosted more F1 Grands Prix.
Michael Schumacher holds five wins here, the world record. Of the current crop of drivers, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel are tied for the most—two wins apiece.
The teams which can afford to produce a special "Monza-spec" aerodynamic package with unique parts to suit the low downforce requirements of the circuit.
It's not dissimilar to that used at Spa, so Red Bull and Ferrari will go into the weekend with the most confidence.
As It Stands
The title race appears to have gone the way of the Norwegian Blue.
Sebastian Vettel has a lead of 46 points over Fernando Alonso. If the Spaniard had the best car that gap could be closed—but he doesn't. Nor does Lewis Hamilton, who sits in third place, 58 points down on the pace-setter.
Kimi Raikkonen's non-finish at Spa couldn't have come at a worse time—he's now 63 points adrift.
The current Top 10 are:
|01||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||197|
|05||Mark Webber||Red Bull||115|
|10||Paul di Resta||Force India||36|
In the constructors' standings, Red Bull's lead is also seemingly insurmountable.
Lower down the order, McLaren have finally got the upper hand in the battle for fifth. The teams with at least one point are:
Caterham and Marussia are currently pointless.
Autodromo Nazionale Monza
Monza is the quickest circuit on the current calendar, and pretty much always has been. It was built in 1922 and first held the Italian Grand Prix in the same year.
The track was built as a hybrid road course and oval. The oval—last used in F1 for the tragic 1961 Italian Grand Prix—is no longer a true part of the circuit, but it's kept clear and still cuts through the landscape around (and over) the circuit. You can see it here.
The road course on the other hand has lasted the test of time. Chicanes have come, gone and shifted, but the modern layout is nearly identical to the one Monza was born with.
As is the case with most classic circuits, all the corners have names. A brief explanation of the origin of each is provided when possible.
Turns 1 and 2 (Variante del Rettifilo)
A lap begins on the pit straight with a long run down towards the first corner. On a racing lap the cars regularly hit speeds close to 340 kilometers (210 miles) per hour before braking hard for the Rettifilo chicane (Turns 1 and 2).
Rettifilo ("straight" in Italian, after where it's located) is a classic tight chicane, first right and then left. Out-braking doesn't happen much in F1 these days but if it did, this would be an excellent spot for it to happen.
Any car running wide through here will have an unpleasant, bouncy trip across some the rumble strips.
Turn 3 (Curva Grande)
The cars then accelerate towards and through the long right-hander of Turn 3 (the name means "big curve"). They enter the turn at around 280 kilometers per hour and exit it six seconds later doing close to 320.
For a modern car it's little more than a bent straight, but the sight of a car powering through a turn at such speed is still a sight to behold.
Turns 4 and 5 (Variante Della Roggia)
Another heavy braking zone is next for the second of Monza's chicanes, Roggia. The name means "canal" or "ditch". It's not seen by the TV cameras, but there's a small drainage ditch running along the exterior of the circuit boundaries here.
It's left then right, quite quick for such a small chicane, and it's easy to get out of shape defending through here.
Turns 6 and 7 (Lesmos)
A short straight follows before the first Lesmo (named for a nearby municipality), Turn 6. This right-hander looks and is quite tight but it's also slightly banked, so the cars can carry higher than expected speed through here.
The second Lesmo (Turn 7) follows soon after. A medium-speed, fairly abrupt right-hander, getting it wrong here can wreck a good lap time (or leave a driver open to attack from a rival).
Turns 8, 9 and 10 (Variante Ascari)
The cars exit the Lesmos and it's full throttle again for another long straight. The track drops downhill quite significantly after the left-hand kink before rising after it passes under a bridge. This is where the old banking still passes over the circuit.
The braking zone for the Ascari (named after F1 legend Alberto Ascari) chicane is slightly uphill, and the drivers leave it late—around 100 metres before the corner.
It's a quick left-right-left chicane. After the opening left the drivers try to keep their foot down through the remaining two corners, exiting at around 250 kph.
The run-off here has been made less inviting for 2013—cars routinely go very wide over the kerbs as they exit the chicane onto the straight because of the benign tarmac run-off. Artificial grass now runs the entire length of the kerbing.
Turn 11 (Parabolica)
After another blast down a long straight it's braking for Monza's final corner, the beautiful right-hand Parabolica ("Parabolic"—Turn 11).
It's a long corner but the hard work is done in just a few seconds of braking into the early apex. From there the drivers floor the accelerator and let the car drift wide for the best line back onto the long start-finish straight.
The pit lane entry is just after the exit of Turn 11, and the exit is just after the finish line a fair distance before Turn 1.
Tyres and DRS
Monza doesn't have many corners, but it does have Curva Grande and Parabolica. Both are long, fast and put lots of energy through the tyres.
It also has two huge braking zones and two moderate ones, the highest speeds of the year and plenty of nasty kerbs which the tyres have to bounce over.
Pirelli say this is the second most demanding circuit on tyres of the year (after Spa). They're bringing the same compound as last time out—the white-marked mediums and orange-marked hards.
Last year, one stop was the winning (and by far the most common) strategy, but many drivers struggled with tyre wear later on. Sergio Perez in the tyre-friendly Sauber passed the two Ferraris late on and would have caught winner Lewis Hamilton had the race lasted four more laps.
A straw for Lotus to clutch, perhaps?
Despite the long straights, DRS can be less of a help at Monza than it is elsewhere.
This is due to gear ratios—F1 cars are set up to be quick over a whole lap, not just in a straight line. The idea is to get to the highest speed possible in the shortest period of time, and that desire for good acceleration compromises the absolute speed the car can do.
The top speed is normally around 330-340 kilometers per hour—then the car hits the rev limiter and loses speed as it "bounces" against it. DRS doesn't move the rev limiter, so the top speed is the same with or without it.
DRS only affects how quickly you can get there, and at Monza—due to the low downforce settings every team uses—even a car without it can be very close to "terminal velocity" in the DRS zone. This can mean DRS is less useful to the car behind.
Lewis Hamilton found out how difficult it can be a few years ago against Michael Schumacher—see the video here, if it's still up.
So if you're stuck behind a straight-line monster like the 2011 Mercedes, it can be a frustrating place to be.
The first DRS zone will start just before the start-finish line and end with braking for Turn 1. The detection point will be at the entry to Turn 11.
The second zone will be between Turns 7 and 8. It'll start just before the left-hand kink and end with braking for Turn 8. The detection point will be between the two Lesmos.
Italian summers tend to be reasonably warm affairs, so let's forget for a moment that this is meteorological autumn. Temperatures look likely to be around 27-degrees Celsius (80 Fahrenheit) all weekend.
September is the month in which it's statistically least likely to rain at Monza. Friday and Saturday look set to be dry and sunny, but rain could play a part for the race on Sunday.
As always, the Italian Grand Prix weekend will consist of three free practice sessions, qualifying and the race.
The sessions times are as follows:
All are given in Italian local time (CEST). Formula1.com has a handy one-click tool to convert them to your own timezone.
Enjoy the weekend!
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