Italian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

The atmosphere at Monza is arguably the best out of any race in the championship making it a favourite for drivers and fans alike. To understand why, you only need to look no further than the tifosi. The Italians are mental, and in the best possible way. No other race in the championship brings such passion and devotion to the sport, and this year is no different. The Autodromo di Monza is a true racers circuit made up of high speed straights and corners. So what does this mean for the drivers? They need to have straight line speed, this means a quick car with low downforce and drag compared, and a completely different aerodynamic setup to any other race. Monza is not as hard on the brakes or the tyres as other races on the calendar so engine reliability will be the key over the weekend to drive the car on the limit for most of the circuit. This weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza is shaping up to be tight race, with lap times during practice and qualifying being separated by only a few hundredths of a second.

Webber, who is keen to get a good result this weekend, has not had the best of luck in Italy. His previous 11 visits to the circuit have seen him finish in the points on only three occasions. But hey, twelfth time lucky I guess? The Red Bull driver looked in good stead during practice, posting eighth in FP1, second in FP2, and third in FP3. Webber’s team mate (and I use the word “mate” very loosely here) was on form during practice, posting fourth in FP1 and being the only driver in FP2 to crack sub 1m:25s, and again securing first in FP3. The Red Bulls are proving unstoppable this weekend, and qualifying saw both cars easily make it through to Q3 for Vettel and Webber to line up first and second on the grid.

After weeks of speculation, rumours were finally put to rest with Red Bull announcing that Daniel Ricciardo would replace Webber’s seat at Red Bull in 2014. The Toro Rosso driver was not happy with his practice times however, admitting that he’d made some driver errors and failing to set a fast time in the medium tyres. Eventually posting thirteenth in FP1, seventeenth in FP2, and then back up to sixth in FP3. Despite a rocky practice session, the Toro Rosso graduate was on fine form during qualifying. Ricciardo made it all the way to Q3 and will line up seventh on the grid. Team mate Vergne, who is likely to remain at the Red Bull sister team in 2014 had better luck despite not being happy with the balance of the car, managing tenth in FP1, fifteenth in FP2, and eleventh in FP3. The Frenchman was lucky not to be knocked out in Q2 and will start tenth on the grid.

Lotus team mates demonstrated the team’s policy for equal opportunity by posting synchronised times of 1m:25s.116 in FP2, despite both cars having a different set up. Kimi went with a longer wheelbase during practice, while Romain has stuck with the standard configuration. After the final practice session, Lotus decided that there wasn’t a considerable advantage to be gained, so Kimi will too be racing with the standard configuration tomorrow. A promising result during practice didn’t translate into qualifying with neither Lotus cars making it past Q2. The E21 struggled with grip through the chichanes from the lack of downforce on the rear wings. Kimi will start eleventh on the grid, and Grosjean from thirteenth.

Mercedes had no major issues are happy so far with the balance of the car at Monza. The low downforce set up of the car looked good during practice with Hamilton first in FP1, sixth in FP2 and fourth in FP3. Qualifying turned out to be a disaster for Hamilton as his lap was impeded by Force India’s Adrian Sutil. As a result the Mercedes was knocked out in Q2 and will start from twelfth. Rosberg, while happy with the atmosphere, made steady pace to improve his lap times to catch the Red Bulls, and will start from sixth. Both McLaren’s have been consistent through practice and qualifying, with both cars making it through to Q3. Perez was able to shave a few tenths of a seconds off his lap time more than Button, seeing the silver arrows set to start eighth and ninth.

Though the tifosi are cheering for one man, and one man alone. Fernando Alonso can do no wrong in front of Ferrari’s home crowd, and he did not disappoint during practice posting second in FP1, fifth in FP2, and second in FP3. Despite his strength in practice and in qualifying, the cool Spaniard is keeping his wits about him, and focussing on gaining points over Vettel in an attempt to close the gap in the Driver’s Championship. Massa, who would undoubtably be feeling the pressure to perform well this weekend got off to a nerve wracking start by almost rear ending his team mate at the exit of the pit lane in the dying seconds of FP1. Not the best way to impress the bosses. The Brazilian knows it won’t be an easy weekend, and managed fourteenth FP1, eighth in FP2, and seventh in FP3. Massa ultimately out qualified his team mate with both Ferrari’s making it to Q3. A brief attempt by Alonso to slipstream Massa ultimately came to nothing, and the Spaniard will start from fifth, while the Brazilian starts from fourth.

Sutil’s move on Hamilton saw him receive a three place grid penalty for tomorrow. Di Resta suffered more bad luck with brake disc issues, costing him valuable track time, and as a result qualified sixteen on the grid. Sutil will start from seventeenth just in front of Bottas’ Williams, and the Caterhams and Marussias.

One of the reasons why the Autodromo di Monza is a fantastic race to watch is that qualifying times are in no way as crucial as other circuits. At Monaco, where you line up on the grid can roughly determine what position you will cross the line it. At Monza, the sheer speed down the pit straight and through the first chichane allows for easy overtaking that can shake the grid up considerably.

I feel the Ferrari’s will maintain their strength for the race. In particular I think Alonso will make up places, and a podium finish is definitely on the cards for him (plus I really want to see the tifosi loose their s*** for a Ferrari on the podium). Raikkonen will need to work the hardest if he wants to make the podium given the speed of his E21 today. Though if anyone had to get speed out of a car when it seems to be on the limiter, Kimi is probably the driver to do that. Somehow the Iceman can always do that. I’m torn to admit that I think Vettel will reach the top step of the podium. As much as I love a win from Vettel, I would not be devastated to see him have to work through the grid for a win, it’s too easy for him from pole.

– Alex

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