• Italian Grand Prix

Monza magic

Chris Medland September 6, 2012
The Italian Grand Prix brings the European season to a close © Sutton Images
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Like London buses, you wait five weeks for a grand prix and then two come along at once. Fresh from the dramatic Belgian Grand Prix, the teams have hot-footed it down to the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza ahead of the Italian Grand Prix. There's a lot of work repairing cars to be done - mainly for Ferrari, McLaren and Lotus - and there's a new boy in the field. Plus we now have six drivers in with a chance of the title and all of the contenders are closer together. The end of the European season is tantalisingly poised.

On form

McLaren has been back on it since Germany and it almost went unnoticed that Jenson Button delivered a faultless performance at Spa-Francorchamps as the first corner crash and his team-mate's naive publishing of telemetry grabbed the headlines. His first pole for McLaren came as a result of making the right strategic call, and then while all hell broke loose around him he serenely dominated the race from the front. It's a similar story to 2011 when Button came on so strong from Hungary onwards and delivered some of the best performances of his career to date. On that occasion he scored 161 points in the last nine races of the season, and this year he's started that sequence with a win again...

Out of form

Pastor Maldonado has qualified in the top ten for the last five races but has not converted any of those in to a points-scoring finish and has yet to score since his victory in Spain. The Williams remains quick - as qualifying third in both Valencia and Spa (before a penalty) showed - but the errors and resulting penalties continue to add up and as a result the pressure is building. In Belgium he accrued a remarkable three penalties across the weekend and that leaves him facing a ten-place grid drop after qualifying at Monza. It may be a wise idea to just see the chequered flag without incident this weekend.

Jerome d'Ambrosio has experience in the E20 having driven it at the Mugello test in May © Sutton Images
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One to watch

The one and only time he's expected to feature here this season, but Jerome d'Ambrosio has nothing to lose as he replaces the suspended Romain Grosjean for this race. D'Ambrosio was not allowed to show his full potential for Marussia last season but has driven for Lotus at Mugello, is integrated with the team and has an understanding of the Pirelli tyres. He's finished on the podium at Monza in GP2 and this is an unexpected chance to drive a competitive car this season, so he could just spring a surprise amid low expectations.

Talking points

Grosjean's ban
The main moment in the Belgian Grand Prix last weekend occurred just a few metres from the start line, when Romain Grosjean wandered across the front of Lewis Hamilton's McLaren and the pair smashed through the field at turn one. As a result, Grosjean won't be driving at Monza, with the FIA suspending him for one race. There will be plenty of time for Grosjean to contemplate his error, while the debate will go on as to whether it was too harsh a punishment or not, and incidents this weekend will come under increased scrutiny from the stewards and the media.


Downforce
From one high-speed circuit at Spa we move to an even quicker one at Monza. The long straights make this the race with the highest average speed on the calendar, and as a result the teams bring a special low-downforce configuration, running an aerodynamic package specific to this one race. That can mean the order is less predictable than at other tracks and - in what is already a very unpredictable season - it could lead to some real opportunities for the midfield teams.

Hamilton's future
It may have been rumbling on for a while, but in the short three days between the media leaving Spa and arriving at Monza this story took a detour from the expected route. While most expected it to be a matter of time until Hamilton signed again with McLaren, Eddie Jordan reported that a deal with Mercedes to replace Michael Schumacher was imminent. McLaren insists that Hamilton's management has reassured it that the story is untrue, but it's worth bearing in mind that Jordan was on the money when Schumacher returned with Mercedes. Regardless, this one won't go away until any deal is signed.

James Key
Having done a good job with Sauber, it was somewhat surprising to see James Key leave the team at the start of the season. Rumoured to be moving back to the UK, Key has now officially been named as Toro Rosso's new technical director, with the team hopeful he can influence the 2013 car. Key replaces Giorgio Ascanelli, and there will be plenty of questions as to the reasons for the change.

The historic circuit and Ferrari-mad Tifosi make Monza a special venue © Sutton Images
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Trivia

  • Like last weekend at Spa, the Italian Grand Prix is one of only four events surviving from the original 1950 world championship at the same venue, the other two are the Monaco and British grands prix
  • However, the Italian Grand Prix is one of only two races to have been ever-present on the calendar, the other being the British Grand Prix
  • This year's race will be the first time since 1968 that there has not been an Italian driver in the field for the Italian Grand Prix
  • The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza was originally constructed in 1922 and the grand prix used to take place on the full 10km circuit - including a banked oval - until 1961

Fast facts

  • Michael Schumacher has won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza the most times, with five victories
  • Rubens Barrichello holds the lap record around Monza with a time of 1:21.046 set in 2004
  • Drivers spend 83% of the lap at full throttle
  • Qualifying is important; seven of the last ten races at Monza have been won from pole position

Circuit

A circuit steeped in history, 'La Pista Magica' is one of the classic tracks on the Formula One calendar and a firm favourite with the fans and drivers. A high-speed blast through the Royal Park at Monza, long straights are interrupted by chicanes and sweeping corners such as Curva Grande and Parabolica. Good top speed, stability under braking and traction out of the chicanes is crucial, as well as a car that can ride the kerbs well. Overtaking opportunities come in to the Variante del Rettifilo and the Variante della Roggia, while the slipstream effect means driver scan also look to pass before Variante Ascari and Parabolica.

FIA driver steward

Former Benetton driver Emmanuele Pirro makes his sixth appearance as the driver steward this weekend, and his fourth this season having previously fulfilled the role at the Chinese, Bahrain and European grands prix.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

There looks like being no chance of a repeat of Spa's Friday washout, with a settled forecast for hot, dry weather this weekend. The only slight chance of any showers comes on Friday, but the teams should still get plenty of running in the dry to help them ahead of qualifying and the race which both currently have no threat of rain.

Betting

Despite his wing issues in Spa and failing to make it past the first corner, Lewis Hamilton is favourite with the bookies at 3/1. The McLaren is quick, so Jenson Button is a better bet at 5/1 - especially having beaten Hamilton on both occasions they've raced as team-mates at Monza previously. Kimi Raikkonen is 4/1 despite still waiting for that first win, but Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg are both at 8/1 to finish on the podium and certainly worth a look.

ESPN prediction

Having finished second at the last two Italian grands prix and now with a much quicker car at his disposal than on either of those occasions, ESPNF1 is tipping Jenson Button to make it back-to-back victories and pull himself firmly back in to the title frame.

Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1

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Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1 Chris Medland, who in his youth even found the Pacific GPs entertaining, talked his way in to work at the British Grand Prix and was somehow retained for three years. He also worked on the BBC's F1 output prior to becoming assistant editor ahead of the 2011 season