Lap record: 1m 21.046s – Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari (2004)
Monza is a track of extremes and is, along with Silverstone, Monaco and Spa, one of the founder circuits of the Formula One calendar, having rounded off the inaugural season in 1950 and being held there every year, bar 1980 when the race switched to Imola whilst construction work took place at the circuit. It has the highest top speed and fastest average laptime of all, with speeds in excess of 200mph reached on more than one occasion. The high speed makes set-up a no-brainer, with low downforce settings all round, but this makes riding the kerbs at the chicanes a challenge that must be mastered. With a long pit lane and a low fuel effect – the amount the car speeds up as the fuel load decreases – a one-stop strategy is usually the favoured option here. Teams develop a specific low downforce package solely for use at Monza, and the brakes can take a beating thanks to the repeated high-to-low speed changes, but the long straights help to cool them.
Race strategy highlights from last year
While the win was a lights-to-flag victory for Lewis Hamilton, the story of 2012 was Sergio Perez’ storming run from 12th to second thanks to a brilliantly-executed strategy. With lots of dry running throughout free practice, the teams knew that stopping once was quicker by about 10 seconds over a two-stop strategy, but it would hinge on being able to manage wear on the inside of the right front tyre. Further contributing to the preference for a one-stopper was Pirelli’s decision to bring the medium and hard compound tyres, which was seen as a conservative approach when compared with the earlier part of the season. Perez started on the hard tyres from outside the top 10 and ran a long first stint, pitting from the lead on lap 29. He then had a set of the faster medium tyres with which to attack the last 24 laps of the race, while the majority of his competitors were trying to make a set of hards last anywhere between 29-36 laps.
Having rejoined in eighth, Perez was up to fourth seven laps later and it became third as the Ferraris started to struggle badly with worn tyres. Knowing that pitting would see them tumble down the order even further, Ferrari left their drivers out on track and soon the inevitable happened, Massa and Alonso’s times tumbled and Perez was able to breeze into second place with six laps left. Hamilton was also having to nurse his tyres at this point and would have been nervously watching the gap to Perez decrease – 11.2, 10.6, 9.5, 8.4, 7.3, 6.7, 5.8 – but Sergio ran out of time to mount an attack on the lead, finishing 4.4 seconds behind the McLaren.
What to look out for in 2013
As has been mentioned elsewhere in this guide, being on the front row has been vitally important if you harbour realistic chances of winning this race. Since the tyre problems at Silverstone, Pirelli have reacted by bringing a more conservative choice of compounds to each event and the choice of hard and medium tyres for Monza seems to strongly indicate that a one-stop race will be the norm. There is mileage in trying something to the contrary if you’re outside the Top 10, as outlined above with Sergio Perez’ run to second place last year, but this season we are not seeing those same kind of gains from drivers in the midfield and so Monza will probably be a race with little in the way of major changes from the grid positions, accidents or failures notwithstanding.
There will be huge pressure for Ferrari to deliver, and as Fernando Alonso demonstrated in Spa the car is fast, they just need to qualify better and give themselves the platform on which to fight at the front from the outset. Long-range weather forecasts suggest there may be rain around during the weekend, so an action-packed race could well be on the cards, with maybe a surprise victor. Mercedes’ form aside, we haven’t really had an unexpected winner this season, and no-one outside of Red Bull, Ferrari, Lotus or Mercedes have stood on the podium, so maybe Italy will be the race where that changes.
Who has the best record in Italy?
At a circuit which holds so much significance for Ferrari, it is Fernando Alonso who is statistically the best current driver at this track with two wins and three podium finishes in his F1 career. Alonso’s first win at Monza came during his sole season with McLaren in 2007, then in 2010 he gave the tifosi a dream result by heading a 1-2 finish in his first season with the Scuderia. Sebastian Vettel is the only other current driver to have won twice here, with victories in 2008 – his memorable debut win at the wheel of a Toro Rosso – and a second win in 2011. Lewis Hamilton has also won in Italy, last season for McLaren, while Jenson Button, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez have all stood on the famous Monza podium.
How important is pole position?
Rubens Barrichello’s 2009 victory for Brawn, and Michael Schumacher’s win in 2006 for Ferrari, were the only occasions in the last nine races that the Italian Grand Prix has not been won by the man on pole position. Another pole winner this year would put make it four consecutive wins from the leading grid slot, a record only topped by the Circuit de Catalunya which hosts the Spanish Grand Prix, a track where overtaking is not known to be frequent. In 62 Italian Grands Prix, the polesitter has won 21 times, a 33% record.
Tyre wear: 3/10
With only two of the top 10 finishers stopping twice – that being the high-wearing Mercedes pair – the Italian Grand Prix was in the main a one-stop race last year, with stops coming between laps 20 and 29 for the points scorers. Those stopping later will be the ones who commit to an alternate strategy from outside the top 10, looking to run the harder tyre first and attack on the softs for the rest of the race.
For 82% of the lap, the driver’s foot is planted firmly onto the throttle pedal. Monza needs the ultimate low downforce setup in order to fly down the straights – any excess drag carried here will be punished severely.
Average speed: 10/10
The drivers will be travelling at 200mph at several points on the lap, and with only 11 corners on the circuit, Monza is an exhilirating flat-out blast through the woodland.
Track difficulty: 4/10
With three chicanes plus the double-right at Lesmo and the long, sweeping Parabolica that ends the lap, Monza isn’t the hardest track to learn. That tends to lead to very close grids, so the challenge is making every apex count – in 2012 0.8s covered the top eight in final qualifying, so nailing your last lap on Saturday can dictate your whole Sunday afternoon.
Last year 20 of the 51 overtaking manoeuvres completed were done so with the help of DRS, or roughly 40%. With two DRS zones again is use this year, a similar number of passes should be possible.
Monza is one of the great events on the F1 calendar, a riotous, unashamedly pro-Ferrari display that demands success for the red cars. The tifosi – Ferrari’s legendary passionate fans – create a raucous and colourful atmosphere and will be unfurling the giant Ferrari flag on the track after race, whether a red car wins or not.
The car is very efficient and we showed good top speed in Spa, so I expect the same this weekend. We are usually quick at Monza and I remember Paul qualified well last year. Also, it’s the track where I got my best result in Formula One in 2009 so historically it’s one of our best tracks. We got points in Spa, but the next race is a new chance and we’ve got to keep scoring. The races coming up are very nice with some classics tracks: Monza, Singapore, Suzuka. They are some of my favourite tracks and I have a good feeling for this part of the season.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director
We're taking the P Zero Orange hard tyres and P Zero White medium tyres to Monza: the same nomination as we had for Spa. Obviously Monza is our home race, just half an hour from our headquarters in Milan, and it's also the fastest lap of the year thanks to all those famous straights and corners. The higher the speed, the more energy is put through the tyres. There are also some very big kerbs there, where the tyres have to absorb significant impacts as a key part of the car's suspension. But obviously we're really looking forward to it: Monza is a real highlight of the year.