Italian Grand Prix 2006 Preview

Italian Grand Prix, Monza, 2005, startThere are only four rounds left for Michael Schumacher to overhaul Fernando Alonso if he is to win a record eighth drivers title. But the next one, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, surely offers him the best chance of drastically cutting Alonso’s lead.

Beating Alonso into second place is no longer enough for Schumacher – he needs team mate Felipe Massa to take points off Alonso as well. Massa’s maiden win in Istanbul could be just the boost the Brazilian needs to raise his game to that level.

But the other major talking point about Monza concerns Massa’s future at Ferrari – and, of course, Schumacher’s. Is the seven-time champion about to call time on his own career? As dramatic as the last two rounds have been, Monza could be a turning point in this year’s championship.

If there is one strength that Ferrari have wielded all season long it is their superior straight line speed. Even when they took a hammering at the Hungaroring, Schumacher could still keep his pursuers at bay for laps on end thanks to his speed down the start/finish straight.

On the strength of that, then, they might as well parcel up the trophies for first and second place and post them to Maranello tomorrow. It would at least reduce the chances of another podium embarassment for the FIA.

Alonso produced two immaculate performances in Hungary and Turkey, both of which deserved far greater reward in terms of championship points.But however you dress it up, Renault have a mountain to climb at Monza.

Their mass damper system that was controversially banned would have been of immense value over Monza’s bumpy chicanes and kerbs.

Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren-Mercedes, Istanbul, 2006There are a few question marks that the defending champions may capitalise on. The Monza track has been resurfaced in parts without the full knowledge of the two tyre companies, which could mean one or both bring tyres that are not wholly suitable.

Renault have an engine upgrade which both drivers will use. Alonso even passed up the opportunity to install a new engine for Istanbul (he was entitled to after his Hungary retirement) to make use of the revised unit.

In a similar move Honda are deploying their 2007 specification early in a bid to gain the upper hand on their rivals before the freeze on engine development comes into effect.

Jenson Button, Honda, Istanbul, 2006Jenson Button looked bulletproof in Istanbul after his Hungary victory, and his resurgence is beginning to show up team mate Rubens Barrichello again as it did at the start of the year.

Kimi Raikkonen has had a poor couple of races yielding two DNFs at a time when the McLaren looks reasonably competitive. Pedro de la Rosa has scored a good run of points and is building a strong case for himself as a race driver for 2007.

Nick Heidfeld, BMW, Istanbul, 2006The championship battle between Toyota and newcomers BMW is very tight. Toyota capitalised in Turkey thanks to Nick Heidfeld’s DNF. Both are reputed to have strong engine packages, and Monza will show how true that suggetion is.

The battle between Honda and Toyota will be fought out at the back of the field as well as the front – between MidlandF1 and Super Aguri. Super Aguri driver Sakon Yamamoto out-qualified more experienced team mate Takuma Sato in IStanbul – can he repeat the feat?

Vitantonio Liuzzi, Toro Rosso-Cosworth, Istanbul, 2006On the other hand Scuderia Toro Rosso with their rev-limited V10s must be dreading Monza. Even the recent increase to their rev limit will do little to imrpove their top-end speed. Expect Vitantonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed to struggle.

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