Ferrari look strong ahead of home race (Italian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Monza, 2010

It’s very rare for pole sitters to get beaten off the line at Monza – and Fernando Alonso has a straight-line speed advantage of more than 11kph over fellow front-row starter Jenson Button to boot.

With Felipe Massa starting close behind the two Ferraris have a chance to score the first one-two for the Scuderia at home in six years. Can they do it?

The start

Here’s some good news for Alonso: since the first chicane at Monza was re-profiled in 2000, the pole sitter has kept the lead at every F1 start there with one exception: Juan Pablo Montoya in 2002.

Alonso and Button have collided at the first corner once already this year. But they both know they have to make the most of this opportunity to convert their strong grid positions into a decent championship score.

Starting off the racing line appears to be a disadvantage here but Button’s unusual high-downforce set-up may help him on the short sprint to turn one.

But history tells us that that driver who starts second on the grid here has to keep an eye on whoever starts third. In 2006 and 2007 the driver who started second was passed by the third-place starter off the line – but re-passed them around the outside of turn one.

For Button, once the cars are up and running out of the first chicane his lack of straight-line speed could leave him vulnerable. Here are the maximum speeds the drivers in the top six drivers on the grid registered during qualifying:

1. Fernando Alonso – 341kph
2. Jenson Button – 329.5kph
3. Felipe Massa – 341.1kph
4. Mark Webber – 339.4kph
5. Lewis Hamilton – 344.3kph
6. Sebastian Vettel – 336kph

The advantage of Button’s set-up in a racing situation is that he should be able to carry higher speed through the corners, making it harder for a chasing car to get much of a tow off him. But even so a 12kph top speed deficit on a track that’s 70% full throttle is a worry.

Hamilton might only be fifth on the grid but it won’t be lost on him that he’s sandwiched between his closest championship rivals on the grid and has an opportunity to extend his points advantage over them.

The narrow width of the Monza track makes it difficult for drivers to gain a lot of places at the start. That’s bad news for Vitaly Petrov who’s been relegated to 20th on the grid and faces another long slog to bring his Renault home in the points. However he’s made some very good starts this year (as well as one conspicuously bad one in Canada).

Strategy

All the drivers in the top ten are starting on soft tyres. As for those outside the top ten, it’s the usual story of being able to gamble on the harder tyre if they wish, but it doesn’t look like a good deal: they’ll be slower at the start and potentially vulnerable if the safety car comes out.

Bridgestone expect the first pit stops to come around lap 14. The Monza pit lane may be short but because the cars passing it are going so quickly drivers lose the best part of 20 seconds coming into the pits.

So they’ll be keeping an eye on what’s going on around 24 seconds behind them – and not pit until they know they’re going to come out in clean air.

Lap 14 is also around the time the front runners are likely to reach the first of the lapped cars. In final practice we saw a perfect example of Monza’s ‘traffic roulette’ in action: Hamilton caught a slower car on the back straight and used the slip stream to set the fastest lap of the session.

Then Alonso came along and caught another car a few metres later and had to follow it around the Parabolica, losing time. But a spot of bother in traffic may be the only thing that can get in his way tomorrow.

Otherwise, starting from pole position, alongside a car that’s 11.5kph slower in a straight line, and directly in front of his team mate (who, as we all know by now, is not allowed to beat him), it’s looking very good for Fernando Alonso.

How do you think the Italian Grand Prix will unfold? Who’s your tip for victory? And how will Button’s unusual set-up work for him in the race? Have your say in the comments.

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90 comments on Ferrari look strong ahead of home race (Italian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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  1. Even though I’m NOT a Ferrari fan, I expect Ferrari 1-2 tomorrow.

    • miguelF1O (@) said on 12th September 2010, 0:18

      I made that prediction yesterday hopefully ill win a prize. Hamilton must have made a mistake or didnt had the tyres properly heaten cause he had been faster on q2 than hes final q3 time anyway mclaren should have told him that higher downforce with the rw28 would be better cause despite being very close on practice we all now that Hamilton is quicker than Button

      • miguelF1O (@) said on 12th September 2010, 0:24

        at Vairano Ferrari must have created that tiny f-duct maybe the best balance between set-ups comparing to mclaren red bull must have made some new wings cause both the front and back seem very skinny, mclaren seem to be running the same package they had brought for spa just a new engine cover and rear wing visually it worked out but it seems too low downforce the same mistake made by mercedes.Williams and renault seemed to be able to make a tiny f duct and maybe thats why williams is so confortable

    • Sideshow Bob said on 12th September 2010, 1:11

      Button’s tyres are going to last longer because of his high-downforce setup. I think he’ll finish in the top two tomorrow. Massa is not exactly a force to be reckoned with…

      • F1iLike said on 12th September 2010, 8:12

        I still except Massa to shine on monza and make it a Ferrari 1-2. And also Hamiltons overtaking skills and top speed will make him 3rd I think. I’m a Vettel fan, but this track was never gonna be Red Bulls. So for once I’m just gonna relax and enjoy whatever happens! Gonna be a great race!

  2. bosyber said on 11th September 2010, 18:33

    Ferrari were looking strong in qualifying, so my feeling is that Alonso should be able to win. I think that Button might have to hope that the extra fuel affects them more than it does him, and get a good start to get a win. If Hamilton doesn’t get into an early fight with Webber, I would not be surprised to see him take third though.

    • Is Webber running less wing than Vettel (i ask because of the speed trap difference of 5 kmh), or maybe even without F-duct?

      I expect Webber to give it a good fight and don’t count Massa out quite yet. If he is feeling right on it, he might be a tough overtake as well.

  3. Another interesting choice by Button. He looks pleased with himself, and why not, but he needs to get a boost in raw speed against his teammate in order not to have to rely on gambles and chance next year.

  4. James_mc (@james_mc) said on 11th September 2010, 18:54

    Now, I am not a Button fan, but given that he prefers to drive in such a fashion that allows him to carry as much speed as possible through the corners (a senior McLaren employee said that at the start of the season), whereas Hamilton will take a sharper, “spiker” line through the corner, a higher-downforce set-up allows Button to drive in precisely that fashion. Furthermore given the well-documented problems last season of getting his Brawn’s tyres to “turn on”, higher downforce (I believe, correct me if I’m wrong on that!) allow the tyres to warm up easier.

    All in all, I don’t feel that Button gambled, I think that given the circumstances he made the decision which suited him best. Hamilton did likewise, unfortunately made an error exiting Ascari on his best lap, and as Bernd Maylander notes, carrying speed through Ascari and getting a good exit is key to the lap.

    • That’s an interesting insight about the driving styles. I recall that Michael Andretti also had this distinctive style of “diamonding” the corners, and he was dominant on road courses in his heyday.

      In this vein, who else heard on SpeedTV that Button actually refused the McLaren “afterburner,” which Buxton called a gas pressure something or other, but Hamilton likes it and used it at Spa.

      • miguelF1O (@) said on 12th September 2010, 0:29

        didnt knew that nice intel, bbc comentators didnt mention that

      • That’s interesting. Am I right in thinking that’s their mechanism of pushing gases through the defuser when the throttle is off (ala Red Bull) to in theory increase downforce.

        I think Button could be the surprise package today – if he can get off the line and overtake into the first corner that might bunch the rest and allow him to avoid slipstreaming and come round 1st.

        Likewise I think we could see a return of #### or bust driving from Hamilton on the first lap – abet after the first corner (i.e. he’ll let them sort themselves out then look to get past a lot of cars on the straights).

  5. I hope Massa is faster than Alonso. And if he is, I hope Rob Smedley says the magic words to Alonso: Massa is quicker than you, do you copy? It would mean absolutely nothing, but it would be sweet sweet revenge. Plus it would give most of us a good laugh :).

    • Has he been quicker than Alonso yet? (i ask that seriously, not as a smart a$$). that would be pretty funny though…

    • Even if he would be faster, they just make Massa turn down the engine a bit and Alonso leave it on full rev, so he won’t be even able to get close.
      His only hope would be Alonso running behind Button so there’s a buffer in between them. But that would make for some very interesting team strategy, maybe including letting Button win it to have Alonso get in 2nd.

      • Too many ‘ifs’. There is no way Massa is in the same league as Alonso. Alonso has outclassed him all season long, and one Hockenheim incident doesn’t prove that Massa is quicker than Fernando. If Massa wants to be a number 1 driver, he better start driving like 1 first.

  6. Vivek Sundar said on 11th September 2010, 18:56

    I think the McLaren’s are still tha favourites.
    Jenson will make his tyre last atleast 5 more laps after alonso pits. This will allow him to win the race, even if he loses a position to Massa.

    Hamilton has his work cut out. He has the fastest straight line speed. He can win only by overtaking.

    So for button, it is pitstops, and for Lewis it is purely by overtaking

    • I think McLaren is the title favorite too. Disagree about the button pit pass though. 1) alonso is also good on tires, button is only really great on tires compared to hammy, 2) the Ferrari has enough pace to be faster anyway and 3) with the high downforce set up button himself said that he has to be very aggressive through the turns and therefore very aggressive on his tires…

      If anything, Massa on the clean line will have a chance at button into turn 1

    • I would not be to sure about those tyres. On the one hand his car will be sliding around less, which might be of advantage. On the other hand the extra downforce will work the tyres more on his car.

      • I thought that what destroyed tyres were the lateral forces that shift the rubber around. higher downforce places more pressure on the rubber, and therefore less lateral movement.

        Also when the tyre slides across the road surface this causes rubber to become overheated and can be ripped off the tyre. Higher downforce should mean less sliding and more consistent temps.

        • John H said on 12th September 2010, 9:15

          Ady is correct. Higher downforce is better for the tyres when chicanes are involved.

          • Not 100% true, at this track, the higher downforce car has to push extra hard through the turns to make up for lack of high speed, so the tires will wear relatively evenly

    • kbdavies said on 11th September 2010, 23:35

      “So for button, it is pitstops, and for Lewis it is purely by overtaking”

      Well, nothing unusual there then!

  7. Tomorrow we are going to see absolute chaos at either Rettifilo or Roggia.

    These guys are with full tanks, braking harder than at any time during the season. Tension is mounting due to the championship position and so many are still in the mix.

    I hope it doesn’t happen, but I’m predicting a red flag on the first lap tomorrow.

    • yea, it’ll be hairy, lets hope for a worst case yellow or SC and no red flag

      • I second that. I’ve posted above on Hamilton getting racey on the first lap (which I think he should do and I love) but I think there is a real risk with massively different top speeds on full tanks could see someone making a big mistake.

  8. I did never know Button’s straight speed. first I saw the result, I thought Button with F duct is right choice, and Hamilton without F duct is wrong. Now I think Hamilton’ choice is not worse. in the race Hamilton would be faster than Button in my guess. His 5th position is not fault from aero package but not good situation of Q3. but Hamilton is also not good enough, due to lack of downforce. the one is lack of downforce, another is lack of max speed. it should be not easy to fight against Ferrari duo, but I still believe they could beat Red Bull.

    So, I bet Alonso will win if there’s no exeptional incident or mistake, and Massa will pass Button easily thanks to so many full throttle area of Monza. Mclaren duo will be 3-4, but I’m not sure Button could defend his position. as I mentioned, I think Hamilton will be faster than Button in the race.

    • Actually it might turn out a bit like in Turkey, where Hamilton was able to follow Webber and Vettel, but never really able to get close enough to make a move.
      It will have to be some fabulously cornering from Button to make it work though. Let’s hope for great images of Button fighting off Ferrari or even fighting to get past.

  9. Dutch Guy said on 11th September 2010, 19:26

    Did Jensen (one again) prove that he is better racer than Lewis by choosing the a better setup? I am not questioning Lewis’s speed and overtaking. I personally think that Lewis is faster than Jensen. But racing is more than about being fast. It is about understanding the track conditions and the car. Previous examples from this season may include th rain hit races where Jensen chose a strategy which gave him the better result in the end. What do you guys thing?

    • Prost v Senna lite perhaps??? The pragmatist v the passionate??

      • less of the lite… these 2 are going to have years of battles yet I feel. Jenson reminds me a lot of Prost he has an excellent head for reading races and getting the maximum out of his tyres and fuel load. Lewis has the passion and amazing talent that is reminiscent of Senna, but he is also developing a cooler head and the ability to process the bigger picture that to makes him look he might well earn himself a place alongside the greatest of the sport.

    • judo chop said on 11th September 2010, 20:08

      Lewis’s basic setup is the same as all the other top driver. If his setup choice is wrong then he’s not the only one wrong since Jenson’s the only driver running the steep wing + f-duct setup (though to be fair I think only McLaren could make this setup competitive). Lewis simply failed to nail his qualifying lap. Jenson’s rain hit wins weren’t due to preconcieved strategy but to bold gambles and luck. Credit to Jenson for being decisive but fortune doesn’t always favour the brave. Look how Alonso’s gamble on wet tires at Spa backfired. Besides which I believe it’s the pitwall that deserves 95% of the credit – good or bad – for strategic calls.

      • Dutch Guy said on 11th September 2010, 21:21

        Right.. but can one come up with the situations where lewis called such brave calls for tricky situations and succeeded… I must say that before this season I didn’t think so highly of Jensen, but so far he is proving me wrong. I would very much like to say it is all due to luck luck (to make myself true).. but so far he is proving me wrong…

      • For someone who “gambles” so much, it’s odd that luck more often than not favours Jenson. First Melbourne, then Shanghai, now Monza qualifying. You’d almost think there was some method in his madness, with that sort of success rate….

        But nah. It’s Button. He must just get lucky. Over and over again.

        In other words: there’s a difference between a gamble on more rain when your race is already wrecked, for example Alonso last time out; and a tactical decision designed to maximize what you can get out of the car given the track conditions.

        • judo chop said on 11th September 2010, 23:30

          Successful gambling and good luck are not the same thing. Vettel’s retirement in Oz was a lucky break for Jenson. Jenson’s early switch to slick tires in that race was not luck but an astute gamble on his part. At the moment he made his choice he weighed up the risks v rewards and took a punt which paid off (unlike Alonso in Spa). At the same time it wasn’t part of the early pitstop plan that he’d nearly spin off, which if he hadn’t recovered from would’ve made the same decision look foolish.

        • judo chop said on 11th September 2010, 23:39

          Also Jenson’s Monza “gamble” hasn’t off yet (I hope it does). Even if gets to the first corner first he’s still got a lot to do to win.

        • Button might be making more gambles than Lewis, but it is worth remembering that not all gambles are 50/50. Poker is a game of gambling, but you have players that consistently win by make good choices.

  10. People are saying that Button’s lack of top speed will hurt him…but with more downforce and hence drag he will stand to benefit more from a slipstream than the other cars…

    Plus he will be able to brake later, carry more speed through the corner AND have better traction on the exit…and he should be mighty through the Parabolica…

    I’m not writing him off for the win…but he should get at least a podium assuming he doesn’t get too close to Vettel and get taken out again….

    • I agree. I can easily see Button slipstreaming and then outbraking Alonso for 1st place. It just depends on how much later he can break for any given corner. Contrary to some people, I wouldn’t be surprised if Button kept his position at the first chicane. Remember, the start is all about power and traction, and he’s got both in spades.

      • According to James Allen the average speed deficit is more like 4kph as a lot of the “ultimate” top speeds were set when other cars were getting a slip-stream…

  11. See that’s what annoys me about Alonso. He shows he has the ability and is a great driver, but he continually moans and brings chaos with him wherever he goes, if he just got the head down and got on with it ala Robert Kubica or Nico Rosberg, he would be respected alot more around the paddock. I beleive he is good enough on his own merit to lead the Scuderia and todays pole position backs this up, he doesn’t need Massa’s backing to be the best. I am still amazed he is still in outside title contention, considering he has had awful luck this year, if he gets the rub of the green on the run in to Abu Dhabi, Alonso is definately good money ;)

    • I think Alonso thrives on that chaos though… or at least he thinks he does which is in effect the same thing. However it does bug the bejesus out of me and I also wonder if it doesn’t loose him more than it gains him.

      • there wasn’t any Alonso chaos until 2007. at minardi and renault he quietly dominated, ever since 2007 he has been different

        • I guess Hamilton really got under his skin and made him paranoid or something?

          • qUattrO said on 11th September 2010, 22:50

            No, but Ron Dennis did.

          • Staffan said on 12th September 2010, 2:49

            Yeah, seems like he stopt caring aboute people after McLaren, lets hope the ferrari family can bring him back.
            Alonso-Massa should be the team to beat, they are both super great drivers.
            Lets hope for a good last 6 races now to make this DC last to the end!

            Will be intresting to se what webber will have up his sleeve tomorrow (today)will he start fighting with button and hamilton in turn 1 it will be tight for sure.

        • I dunno about renault, bare in mind it was being run by briatore. Like the guy or not, he’s a genius at covering stuff like that up.

    • He did put his head down in 2005 and 2006 and dominated….now he is a 2 time champion and probably thinks he “deserves” certain things….

    • qUattrO said on 11th September 2010, 23:13

      Huh, sorry but you sound like you started watching F1 very recently?

      Some quick facts:

      * F Alonso is the youngest world champion in history of F1
      * He has already beaten M Schumacher (driving a competitive Ferrari) to two world championships
      * Very recently he was voted by his fellow drivers to be the best overall driver in F1 today
      * He has destroyed Massa at first yeat at Ferrari, even though Massa should know that car/team much better

      The list can be made longer… Bottom line is, he had achieved at 25 more than what most F1 drivers (including Kubica) will ever manage.

      I am not surprised though reading such comments about Alonso. Brittish media is very often treating Alonso in a bad manner. And no, it did not start in Germany…I think it started in 2007.

      • small correction to your facts:

        Lewis Hamilton is the youngest world champion in the history of F1 at this current time:

        F Alonso won WC at 24yrs 58 days beating the previous record by Fittipaldi.

        L Hamilton than brok that record winning the WC at 23 years 301 days

        • Harv's said on 12th September 2010, 1:33

          He has already beaten M Schumacher (driving a competitive Ferrari) to two world championships…

          05′ ferrari was not very competitive, mclaren main opponent

      • if a whole team is behind one man,,,,,a driver can win easily….so nobody is better than other in this case….best example is alonso the selfish and hamilton in 2008 and michael too but atleast from 2002

        • qUattrO said on 12th September 2010, 10:38

          I would not call Hamiltons win in 2008 easy, barely winning by one point and relying on Glock in last minutes of the championship.

          “.best example is alonso the selfish and hamilton in 2008 and michael too but atleast from 2002″

          You see, this is what I mean when I talk about media. If people take everything that madia is serving them as hard FACTs then they actually are programmed by media to believe exactly what they want ppl to believe…

  12. I’m not enthusiastic about this one, I was absolutely gutted to watch a re-run of the qualifying after a long days work. I’m depressed possibly?

    That fella at the front, what a lap, fantastic driving! Who’s behind him? Oh great, the two who can’t or won’t overtake. I hope i’m wrong, but you may aswell hand Alonso and Button 1st and 2nd place now…

    Maybe Webber/Hamilton/Vettel can get past Alonso’s wing man and provide a challenge to the front runners.

    • Lap 1, turn 1 might just be the most exciting part of the race

    • Button is not exactly bad at overtaking. He showed nice moves on thrack when needed both last year and this year.

      Maybe not as ballsy as Hamilton and not as often, but part of it was, that he did not needed to pass anyone.

      • Exactly BasCB!!! Sure he’ll have a go at Alonso through turn 1, why not? It’s always the best chance to get past someone. However history shows us it’s unlikely at Monza.

        After that, will he gamble? No, because he will feel he doesn’t need to pass Alonso. 18 points in the bag with Massa holding up his main challengers will do him ok. I do hope i’m wrong though, but can you see Button having a go other than on the first lap?

        I’m not doubting his overtaking ability, I think he’s well capable. But just imagine if we had Hamilton alongside Alonso on the front row, now that’s mouth watering.

        • But it would be just a wasted chance to see them both crash if Lewis and Fernando would be there.

          • Remember their battle at Indy in 2007?

            We’re not talking about Webber or crash boy here, Lewis and Fernando are the two best in F1 and are capable of racing without crashing into eachother.

        • A straight Alonso v Hamilton scrap would be bloody exciting, that’s for sure. But don’t write Jense out yet. He can read the conditions perfectly, and whenever he feels the time is right for passing, he usually goes for it without much fuss (remember Turkey).

  13. I hope we finally get to see Lewey-laa and Mar-Qwebber sluggin it out on the track. This hasn’t happened since Australia I don’t think. C’mon Lewey-laa!!

  14. If Massa gets the jump on Button, he will back them all up won’t he… sigh.

    • Yes, and from then on it’ll probably be the most boring race of the year.
      If Alonso wins I hope he can do it without help and special soft treatment from Ferrari International Assistance…

    • if Massa backs them up Lewis will blow them all away. right up to second anyway.

  15. I expect the first three to keep position till the end. Vettel will hit someone again and he will not finish the race (this guy gets heated when he tries to pass for more than 10 laps and eventually makes mistakes). I hope that driver will not be Hamilton but I am worried. It will be a good race for Alonso, Button, Massa, so-so for Webber and Hamilton in terms of points towards the championship…

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