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Tifosi time: Red flood hits Monza

2013-09-05 08:43


EVERLASTING SUPPORT: The ‘tifosi’ – ‘typhoid sufferers’ in Italian – are always there for Ferrari – as in 1996 when Michael Schumacher won Monza back in 1996. Second was Jean Alesi (Benetton), third Mikka Hakkinen (McLaren). Image: AFP

The howl of F1 engines could be drowned out by thunder, says DIETER RENCKEN, as the tifosi warm up for the 2013 Italian F1 GP at Monza.

MONZA, Italy - This weekend’s Italian Formula 1 GP at Monza will be the last of the 2013 European races before the circus criss-crosses Asia, the Middle East and the Americas during the season-ending schedule of seven races in nine weeks.

The tifosi – ever-present red-clad Ferrari fanatics - have been a constant presence at the ultra-fast Monza circuit in an ancient royal park outside a town of the same name north of Milan for the past six decades; this weekend will be no exception as they scream encouragement for their beloved red cars to reach greater heights.


The term 'tifosi' comes from from Italian for “typhoid sufferer” and it's said the crazed force of their presence galvanises the team. Or so, statistically, it seems - of the 62 GP's raced here since the inception of the current championship in 1950 - 1980’s round was hosted by Imola due to refurbishment at Monza - 18  have been won by Ferrari.

McLaren is next with 10 victories but Monza has provided poor pickings for Red Bull Racing despite Sebastian Vettel winning his first GP here (for Toro Rosso) in 2008 to become F1’s youngest pole starter/winner. However, since then the reigning triple champion has won here but once (2011), that result also being RBR’s only pole position, victory, front-row start, podium finish and race led.

However, following the German’s dominant win over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso at Spa a fortnight earlier, they will need to do more than cheer for Vettel has a 46-point lead over the 2005/6 champion with eight (of 19) rounds remaining.

However, 2012 winner Lewis Hamilton (139) points is a thorn in their side whose resurgence with Mercedes has revitalised the chase. Although he was third to the aforesaid duo in Belgium, he's now scored four conssecutive poles, taking victory in Hungary before the holiday break. Thus he poses a very real threat to the title duel even if his own chances were scuppered by a dismal opening half of the season.


Significantly, they are the only current runners to have won at Monza; this does not, however, imply that only these three have any real chance of line honours in Sunday’s 53-lap race at the 5.8km track - a number of drivers are eager to make up for lost time. Since his race retirement in Spa – incredibly, his first since returning to the sport from World rallying 31 races ago – Kimi Raikkonen (134 points) dropped from second in the championship to fourth, and while he has now written-off his chances of a second title, he remains very much a man on a mission.

This 2007 World champion is much in demand so a top-drawer result is crucial for him and his Lotus team.

Nico Rosberg has slipped down the order after posting two victories for Mercedes; McLaren needs to pull up its socks if Jenson Button and Sergio Perez – last-named second at Monza in 2012 for Sauber - are not be heavily embarrassed.

Ferrari's Felipe Massa is fighting for his career; further back, Sauber and Williams have each had their most unsuccessful seasons for many years – the British team its worst yet. However Sauber has attracted backing from Russia and has appointed Pat Symonds (who directed Michael Schumacher and Alonso’s double titles with Benetton/Renault) as technical honcho.

Aussie Mark Webber at Red Bull will start his last Italian GP ahead of a switch to Porsche and sports cars in 2014; Monza is his bad-luck track so he'll want to go out on a high by making the podium there for the first time on Sunday.


At Monza full throttle is possible for up to 80% of each lap, the longest ‘burst’ lasting 16 seconds, although the stop-start nature of its three chicanes makes overtaking difficult despite Monza being a ‘drafting’ track where cars gain top speed by slipstreaming their quarry. Last year saw 50 passes, split 50/50 between ‘normal’ and DRS manoeuvres.

In perfect trim 350km/h can be expected when F1’s DRS overtaking aid kicks in. As in 2012 two DRS zones have been specified: one on the start/finish straight as the cars head down to the Turn 1 chicane, the other on the back straight between Turns 7 and 9.

The circuit’s distended oval layout has unique characteristics, many of which suit low downforce set-ups, but simultaneously play havoc with tyre degradation if rear balance is set too light. The mix of chicanes and straights demands compromise between outright speed and aerodynamic grip, with the former resulting in looseness when cornering - and vulnerability in speed sections when trimmed for maximum downforce.

All this makes for some fearsomely fast laps, with (dry) averages of 245km/h expected on Saturday when two corners will be taken at less than 100km/h and two at more than 250. Although drivers face only six braking events per lap, half are ‘heavy’, the heaviest demanding that 270km/h be shed from V-max to an apex speed of 80,  pulling almost 6g going into Turn 1.

Any wonder this section regularly features incidents? Any wonder the spot facilitates the most passes or is traditionally the scene of opening-lap tangles? All that before the effect of the corner’s high kerbs, which absolutely hammer suspension and brakes, are factored in.


Where there are incidents, the pace car is certain to roll out. Here Monza is unlikely to disappoint, even in the dry. Four of the last 10 races featured the rumbling AMG SLS, although seldom has its deployment resulted in changes of lead: eight times during the same period the winner has come from pole , with the lowest winning grid slot ninth (Rubens Barrichello, 2009).

As with 2012, Pirelli has specified its Hard (orange) and Medium (white) tyre compounds; whether they come in for much demand depends on the accuracy of long-term weather forecasts, which predict 25-27C on Friday and Saturday and thunderstorms during the (projected) 90-minute race. Thus Pirelli’s Wet (Blue) and Intermediates (Green) could also see use.

Either way F1’s reduced pits-lane speed limit will affect strategies only slightly but under dry conditions a single stop at around the halfway mark is expected – as in 2012.

Qualifying on Saturday and Sunday’s 53-lap race will each start at 2pm SA time.

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