Rencken: Home race for tifosi
There is no more moving spectacle in Formula 1 than the sight of the tifosi – those crazy Italian fans collectively named after a particularly virulent strain of typhoid – in their full glory as they worship a Ferrari victory at the altar of the temple of speed, Monza’s podium.
This week is the 90th anniversary of the historic circuit’s first race in 1922 and such is Monza’s tradition that only once since the inception of the Formula 1 World championship back in 1950 has the circuit failed to host Italy’s GP – in 1980, when the circuit closed for upgrading after a fatal accident in 1978.
The tifosi have been a constant presence over the past 62 years and will be again be out in full force, cheering and cajoling their beloved red cars, during this weekend’s Italian GP despite soaring ticket prices and a woeful economy in the country.
Following Fernando Alonso’s unplanned first-corner exit from the previous weekend’s Belgian GP, the Red Riding Hoods have plenty of praying to do if the double champion is to take his first title with Ferrari. However not even that retirement, caused when the (banned from this race) Romain Grosjean for the umpteenth time this season failed to apply F1 levels of spatial awareness to those about him, could topple the Spaniard from the top of the log; instead Sebastian Vettel relegated Red Bull team mate Mark Webber to third.
Thus, going to this ultra-fast circuit in a forested and ancient royal park north of Milan for the final European round of this 20-race season, Alonso has an unchanged 164 points, with Vettel on 140 and Webber a further eight back.
Crucially, though, victory in Belgium enabled Jenson Button (101 points) to ease back into (theoretical) contention after the Briton’s extended drought, meaning Lewis Hamilton, on 117, cannot, if the 2008 champion ever so did, rely on Button riding shotgun in the second McLaren. Hamilton’s revengeful tweeting of sensitive technical data after Button outdid him all weekend hardly did him any favours within the team, either
Kimi Raikkonen, currently ahead of both silver cars, also remains very much in the running after scoring 131 points despite not having won a race in his comeback season. So, with 12 rounds done, six drivers are still in with a title shout. The rest, led by the Mercedes duo of China winner Nico Rosberg (77) and Michael Schumacher, who won this race five times during his Ferrari tenure, are out of the hunt as the season heads for the two-thirds mark.
This does not, though, imply that only title contenders have a chance of line honours in Sunday’s 53-lap race at the 5.793km Autodromo, for its distended oval layout has some unique characteristics, many of which suit low downforce set-ups but can simultaneously accelerate tyre degradation if rear aerodynamic set up is too light.
As with the Belgian race at Spa-Francorchamps a week earlier, Pirelli has specified its hard (silver) and medium (white) compounds; this time, though, they should come in for prolonged use as 30 degrees and clear skies are forecast for all three action days, with wind and humidity – both of which can have a negative effect on low-aero cars – predicted to be virtually non-existent.
At Monza full throttle is possible for 83% of each lap, with the longest single burst lasting 16 seconds, although the stop-start nature of its three chicanes introduced to reduce speeds makes overtaking difficult despite Monza being “drafting” track, where cars gain top speed by slipstreaming their quarry.
More to the point: top speeds of more than 350km/h are expected when F1’s DRS overtaking aid kicks in, and, as per last year, there are likely to be two DRS zones – although DRS use is free during practice and qualifying.
IDEAL FOR KERS
Thus teams with the most effective systems stand to gain most during Saturday afternoon’s white-knuckle hour – and, at this circuit, he who qualifies well historically holds an advantage. Over the last 10 years the winner seven times started from the pole, while during the same period a pace car has been deployed just four times, providing a historical probability of 40%.
Monza provides the ideal environment for kers; it has relatively slow corners followed by ultra-long straights. Four times per lap (exiting turns 2, 7, 10 and 11) the cars accelerate from relatively low speed to maximum velocity, resulting not only in a 0.4sec lap-time benefit but also increased tactical options while providing a defensive driving element - which DRS, by its nature, fails to do.
Constant up and down shifts mean 2500 gear changes in 90 minutes.
The circuit’s high kerbs and short braking zones hammer suspension and brakes, with deceleration ahead of the first chicane the most vicious: 270km/h are shed from V-max to an apex speed of 80km/h. Any wonder this chicane regularly features incidents; any wonder the spot is the scene of most overtakes?
PACK AND GO
So, to recap: (likely) two DRS zones, four potential kers spots, the same tyres as at Spa and gearshifts every two seconds for an hour-and-half...
After the race the teams will pack cars and kit for a punishing run of seven flyaways in Asia, the Middle East and both Americas spread over nine weeks, the curtain dropping on the season in Sao Paulo on November 25.
Sunday’s 53-lap Italian GP and Saturday qualifying will start at 2pm SA time.
Stay with Wheels24 for the 2012 Italian F1 GP weekend.