From a sea of orange, Formula 1 is set to be greeted by an ocean of red at its next venue - the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza. A September regular, it’s time for the Italian Grand Prix at the land of the tifosi.
The Italian Grand Prix is the only event, alongside the British Grand Prix, to be held every year since the inception of Formula 1 in 1950. The first-ever Italian Grand Prix took place a century ago in September 1921 at a circuit near Montichiari. The Monza circuit was constructed a year later and was the third purpose-built autodrome in the world after Brooklands in the United Kingdom and Indianapolis in the United States. The race was temporarily shifted to Imola for the 1980 season as Monza underwent a major renovation programme.
Historical circuits have a distinct characteristic about them. Monaco is tight and twisty with an average speed of about 170 kph. Monza, a complete contrast with its long straights and fast flowing corners is all about express pace. The venue is aptly termed the ‘Temple of Speed’ as 85% of the lap distance is run at full throttle, the highest of any Formula 1 track. Lewis Hamilton smashed the record for the fastest lap in Formula 1 during qualifying last year with a ripping average speed of 264.362 kph. He surprisingly did so without receiving a tow and without going fastest in two sectors.
The track is 5.793 km long and drivers reach speeds of around 360 kph before braking for the first turn. Over the course of a lap, drivers navigate through eleven corners, the second-lowest amongst all circuits this year after the Red Bull Ring. Monza is a multi-layout circuit and several configurations have been used for the 70 races held here. The infamous Pista di Alta Velocita banking corner that leads to the main straight was last used in 1961. Races in the hybrid era have witnessed an average of 35 overtakes and the effect of the tow is expected to be around 0.7 seconds. Hence, expect drivers to tuck in behind their rivals to gain an advantage, especially during qualifying.
Sprint qualifying returns this weekend and teams will expectedly be better prepared after the format was first tested at the British Grand Prix. Pole-sitters have won 35% of the races here, but that number shoots up to 71% since 2000. Only one driver has won the Italian Grand Prix after starting lower than tenth - Peter Gethin in 1971. That race also witnessed the closest finish in the sport’s history, a record that still stands 50 years later. Owing to its late spot on the calendar, eleven drivers’ champions have been crowned at Monza, the last of which was Jody Scheckter in 1979.
Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher are the most dominant drivers here with five wins apiece. Fittingly, Ferrari have taken more victories (19), poles (21), podiums (69) and fastest laps (19) at Monza than at any other circuit. The only time a Ferrari-powered car won a race for a different constructor other than the Scuderia was coincidentally also at Monza in 2008, when Sebastian Vettel took a shock victory driving a Toro Rosso.
Hamilton could also break the record for the fastest laps at a single circuit this weekend. He’s set the fastest lap at Monza on seven previous occasions and is currently tied with Michael Schumacher who set a similar number at Barcelona. The Brit also has 3999.5 career points to his name and is on the brink of becoming the first driver to breach the 4000-points club.
Mercedes have the upper hand here in the hybrid era. They have five wins, five poles and five double podiums at Monza in the last seven years. On the other hand, Red Bull haven’t won the Italian Grand Prix since 2013 and Max Verstappen hasn’t done better than fifth here. That said, Red Bull have been running rampant off lately and will want to take top honours at this circuit by rewriting the stats books. If the Dutch anthem plays on Sunday, Verstappen will have emerged victorious on three consecutive weekends. He’s already done it earlier at France and the Austrian double-headers.
Lastly, the tifosi have been longing to see an Italian winner at this prestigious circuit. The last Italian to win a home race was Riccardo Patrese when he won the 1990 San Marino Grand Prix driving a Williams Renault. Monza hasn’t seen a local winner since 1966. But all it takes is a small pinch of chaos to bring out a surprise winner, like in 2020. So, never say never.
- Sundaram Ramaswami
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