The Autodromo Nazionale Monza in Italy hosts the 13th round of the 2014 Formula 1 season this weekend.
Following the drama and action of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, the sport moves from one iconic track to another for the final European round of the year.
Despite the addition of chicanes to slow the cars down, Monza remains the fastest track on the calendar and is a huge challenge. The mix of long straights broken up by tight corners pushes the drivers and cars to the limit and produces a thrilling spectacle.
It is Ferrari’s home event and the fanatical Tifosi pack out the grandstands, creating a sea of red. However, with the current dominance of Mercedes and Red Bull Racing always being there to pick up the pieces when the championship leaders trip up, it looks unlikely that the team will add to its table-topping tally of 18 F1 Italian Grand Prix wins.
Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver in the event’s history, having won it five times (four driving for Ferrari). Nelson Piquet is next up with four victories, while Sebastian Vettel is the highest current driver on the table with three first place finishes.
This year’s event will be the 65th time that it has appeared on the F1 calendar and the 63rd to take place at Monza, as the 1980 Italian Grand Prix took place at Imola. It is one of four current tracks to have been raced on in the inaugural F1 season in 1950 – the others are Silverstone, the Circuit de Monaco and Spa-Francorchamps.
A lap of the 3.600 mile circuit kicks off on the long start/finish straight, with the pit lane entry and exit to the right. The first two corners make up the Variante del Rettifilo chicane, which is approached at well over 210mph.
Stability under braking is crucial at the Monza circuit due to the number of straights that are followed by slow corners. The tricky right-left chicane is difficult to get right and is notorious for first lap crashes. It is the best overtaking place on the track, particularly as it follows the first DRS zone, and the run-off area and escape road helps to save those who get it wrong.
Traction out of the chicane is crucial for the long run under the trees and through the flat-out Curva Grande. The long, sweeping bend is the final corner in the first sector; with the second part of the lap starting as the cars hit the brakes and head under the bridge for the Variante della Roggia.
The challenging left-right chicane, like the first two corners, features high and unforgiving kerbs. It is very easy to spin here due to applying too much power, and we may see even more of this in 2014 as the cars have more torque. A short burst of power leads on to the Curve de Lesmos.
This two-part corner will be even more challenging this season thanks to the rule changes. The first right-hander is slightly banked, with the second being taken at marginally higher speeds. A good exit here is important for the long run to the Variante Ascari.
The straight – which is where the second DRS zone will be positioned – features a gentle left-hand bend and heads downhill first, before the cars then travel uphill for the eighth, ninth and 10th corners.
The braking zone for the first part of the Variante Ascari section is bumpy and tricky, as the drivers pass under the famous banking of the old oval track. The first part is a medium-speed left-hander, with speed gently increasing through the following right.
Turn 10 used to be taken flat-out (that could change this year) and there is plenty of run-off area on the exit of the left-hander. Getting the entry to the first part right is crucial to carry momentum through the next two corners and onto the next long straight. The Parabolica hairpin is approached at close to 210mph, with a heavy braking zone for the entry.
Speed gradually increased during the long final corner, providing a sling-shot onto the start/finish straight. Changes have been made for this year, with the gravel trap being replaced by tarmac run-off area. It has received a mixed reaction from drivers.
The lowest downforce set-up of the year will be used at Monza, as aerodynamic efficiency, high power and braking stability are all important ingredients for a fast lap. Pirelli will take the hard and medium compounds to Italy.
Mercedes AMG Petronas will certainly have the fastest car once again, but the team has failed to win a race since Germany. Red Bull Racing’s Renault-powered RB10 may lack straight line speed, but don’t rule out the four-time champions just yet. Ferrari should also be competitive, as will the other teams with the Mercedes power-unit.