Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Monza, 2011

Ferrari arrive home with Alonso leading championship

2012 Italian Grand Prix previewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Monza, 2011Monza means three things: heritage, speed and Ferrari.

The sense of history from the parkland circuit and its crumbling banking, last used for F1 over 50 years ago, is unmissable. As is the screaming speed of the cars as they nudge 350kph (217mph on the straights).

And Ferrari’s passionate legions of followers turn the stands into a sea of red. Their sense of expectation can only be increaseed by the fact that this year, for the first time since 2003, the drivers’ championship is yet to be decided and is being led by a Ferrari pilot.

Fernando Alonso has tasted success here twice in the past. However after his 2010 triumph for Ferrari he acknowledged the result went down better with the crowd than it had three years earlier when he won for McLaren.

The F2012 is competitive enough that a home win can’t be ruled out, but Alonso is up against some tough opposition, particularly from McLaren. Leaving Monza with his championship lead intact might be a more achievable target.

Safety and driving standards are a major talking point ahead of the race following the Spa shunt and Romain Grosjean’s one-race ban. Monza saw a destructive first-lap shunt last year too, when home driver Vitantonio Liuzzi smashed into Vitaly Petrov and Nico Rosberg.

Monza has seen dome devastating first-lap crashes in the past, not least the one in 2000 which claimed the life of marshal Paolo Ghislimberti. Grosjean’s ban shows that any driver who transgresses the weekend is likely to be with harshly.

Monza circuit information

Lap length 5.793km (3.6 miles)
Distance 53 laps (306.7km/190.6 miles)
Lap record* 1’21.046 (Rubens Barrichello, 2004)
Fastest lap 1’19.525 (Juan Pablo Montoya, 2004)
Tyres Hard and Medium

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Monza track data in full

As at Spa, a more conservative choice of tyres is the order of the day at Monza: the medium tyre remains but the soft is swapped for the hard.

Last year two-stop strategies were the order of the day for most of the field. Whether the change in tyre compounds will lead drivers back towards single-stop strategies, as was the norm in 2010, will depend on what the weather does.

Pirelli’s motor sport director Paul Hembery said: “Ambient temperatures can be very high in Italy, which places further demands on the tyres, so we would normally expect two pit stops.” A pit stop costs around 24 seconds, higher than average, which adds to the attraction of one-stopping.

Last year’s race was the first two feature two DRS zones and activation points per lap. It remains to be seen if that arrangement will remain for this year.

Italian Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Red Bull

Vettel gave Red Bull their first Monza win last year. The high-speed nature of the circuit has tended not to play to the main strength of their cars – superior downforce – as it usually comes at the expense of top speed.

But the gains Vettel was able to make in Monza’s low-speed chicanes more than made up for that shortcoming. Even when he dropped behind early leader Alonso, Vettel was able to pass the Ferrari on the outside of Curva Grande – despite Alonso edgeing him onto the grass.

The Red Bull clearly does not enjoy the same performance edge this year, so it could be a tougher weekend for Vettel and Webber this time. However Vettel was able to salvage an excellent second in Spa despite not reaching Q3.

McLaren

Jenson Button, McLaren, Monza, 2010Hamilton and Button went for opposing set-ups in Spa: Button preferring the low-downforce wing, Hamilton taking the high-downforce version. Given their qualifying performances, it’s doubtful Hamilton will make the same decision here.

A similar situation unfolded at Monza two years ago when McLaren were using their rear-wing stalling F-duct. Button opted for a high-downforce set-up (pictured) and nearly won the race.

Continuing the parallel with the Spa race, Hamilton retired on the first lap, so we never got to see how the different approaches would have played out.

Such was the margin McLaren showed in Belgium they must arrive in Italy as early favourites, eyeing a third straight win.

Ferrari

Alonso’s first-lap retirement at Spa was a disaster for Ferrari fans who will be anxious not to see a repeat on home ground.

But Ferrari have cause for optimism. Felipe Massa ran some strong laps during the race at Spa and was able to pass and hold off Webber’s Red Bull for fifth.

Mercedes

Schumacher enjoyed one of his finest post-comeback drives at Monza last year, holding third place in the early stages and defending resolutely – perhaps a touch too firmly at times – from Hamilton. He finished fifth.

Mercedes tried and failed to run single-stop strategies at Spa, where Schumacher’s combative side remained much in evidence. He’s enjoying a strong run of form relative to his team mate at the moment, having beaten Rosberg in four of the last five races.

Lotus

Jerome D'Ambrosio, Lotus, Mugello, 2012There will be much interest in what Jerome D’Ambrosio can do as he makes a one-off appearance at Lotus in place of the suspended Romain Grosjean.

D’Ambrosio drove the E20 during the Mugello test earlier this year. Monza is a short and straightforward lap which should offer him a reasonable chance to get up to speed in practice.

Given how competitive the car has been a solid points finish would be a fair target.

Force India

Spa was a windfall race in terms of points for Force India, moving them back in front of Williams for the first time since Malaysia.

Whether they can stay there will depend as much on the performance of their drivers as it will the Williams pair continuing to throw points away.

Sauber

Following their best-ever qualifying performance on Saturday, the consequences of the first-corner crash were heartbreaking for Sauber. But the have the potential to do well here again – their drivers hit the highest top speeds at Spa.

Unusually, both drivers dropped out with gearbox problems at this race last year. Monza is a particular favourite of Sergio Perez following his two wins from 14th on the grid in Formula Three.

Toro Rosso

Italy’s other F1 team capitalised on the Spa shunt for their biggest points haul of the year so far. It will be hard for them to repeat that form here, but they also had strong top speed at Spa and may be in with a chance of scraping into the top ten.

Williams

Pastor Maldonado, Williams, Spa-Francorchamps, 2012Another race, another hat-full of lost points for Williams at Spa. Pastor Maldonado will start on the back foot at Monza as he has a pair of five-place grid drops hanging over his head.

Caterham

Both Caterham drivers had problems in the pits in Italy – Kovalainen collided with another car, resulting in a fine for the team.

They need to fix more than just that to get on terms with the midfield, though having KERS should ensure they are more competitive at Monza than they were last year.

HRT

HRT will make history by a giving Chinese driver, Ma Qing Hua, his first run in an F1 car at an official race weekend.

Ma, a member of HRT’s Driver Development Programme, has mainly raced in Chinese Touring Cars of late, winning the 1600cc category last year. His last entry in a major single seater championship was two starts for Team China in Superleague Formula two years ago, where he was lapped in both races at the Ordos circuit in China.

Marussia

Marussia made clear progress with their upgraded car in Spa.

But Glock urged the team to stay realistic for this weekend given Monza’s particular demands: “We do need to keep our expectations in check though as Monza is a completely different challenge due to the low downforce set-up required and realistically we did not look too strong in Canada, which calls for the same type of set-up.”

2012 driver form

Q avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 5 4.27 1 11 11/12 Form guide
Mark Webber 7.17 5.17 1 11 12/12 Form guide
Jenson Button 6.75 8.58 1 18 12/12 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 5.42 5.9 1 19 10/12 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 6 3.73 1 9 11/12 Form guide
Felipe Massa 11.25 10.36 4 16 11/12 Form guide
Michael Schumacher 8.5 7.33 3 10 6/12 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 8.92 8.17 1 15 12/12 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 7.92 5.25 2 14 12/12 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 6.83 6 2 18 7/12 Form guide
Paul di Resta 11.5 9.73 6 14 11/12 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 11.42 9.73 4 15 11/12 Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi 10.75 9.89 4 18 9/12 Form guide
Sergio Perez 12.92 8.33 2 14 9/12 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 13.83 12.82 9 17 11/12 Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne 16.67 12.73 8 16 11/12 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 10.75 12.22 1 19 9/12 Form guide
Bruno Senna 14.08 12.09 6 22 11/12 Form guide
Heikki Kovalainen 18.17 17.18 13 23 11/12 Form guide
Vitaly Petrov 18.75 16.44 13 19 9/12 Form guide
Pedro de la Rosa 21.45 19.89 17 22 9/11 Form guide
Narain Karthikeyan 23.27 20.29 15 23 7/11 Form guide
Timo Glock 20.82 17.7 14 22 10/11 Form guide
Charles Pic 21.42 18.33 15 20 9/12 Form guide

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Images ?? Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, McLaren/Hoch Zwei, Lotus F1 Team/LAT, Williams/LAT