Can Williams take the fight to Mercedes again?

2014 Italian Grand Prix preview

Start, Monza, 2013After the 2014 season reignited in dramatic fashion in Spa, Monza will play host to the final European race of the season and a crucial battle in the war for the drivers’ championship.

With the highest straight-line and average lap speeds on the calendar, Monza is all about high power and low drag. And with top speeds considerably higher this season thanks to the more powerful turbo engines, we could well see drivers exceeding 350ph in eighth gear throughout the weekend.

Having played host to a round of the world championship in almost every season, Monza’s F1 heritage is arguably richer than any other venue and has played host to some of the sport’s most memorable races and triumphs as well as some of its most appalling tragedies.

However, part of that heritage has been lost this season with the decision to replace the gravel trap around the famous Parabolica with Tarmac run-off. While the decision has been made with safety in mind, it remains to be seen whether the challenge of one of the sport’s most iconic corners has been lost.

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

Although Monza includes some of the heaviest braking points of the season, brake wear is generally minimal due to the long straights between them. That can make sustaining brake temperatures a challenge, and the same goes for tyres as well – particularly as Pirelli have opted for the hardest rubber in their range.

Italian Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Red Bull

Daniel Ricciardo third win of the season may have been possible thanks to the two Mercedes drivers colliding, but it was yet another example of him capitalising on even the slightest opportunity – as well as out-performing his four-time champion team mate.

Red Bull travel to Monza knowing that it will be difficult for them to make it three wins in succession this weekend, but having already won at Montreal and Spa – two circuits where they should never have been in contention for the win – the reigning champions’ chances should not be discounted. The RB10’s low-drag package was surprisingly effective in Belgium.

Mercedes

Thanks to the collision that he was deemed responsible for at Spa, Nico Rosberg arrives at Monza knowing that he will leave with his lead in the drivers’ championship intact no matter what happens on Sunday.

Yet again, Lewis Hamilton is facing an uphill struggle to regain ground to his team mate in the championship battle. Although with every passing race, Hamilton knows he can ill-afford any further setbacks and will need to eat into his rival’s advantage this weekend.

Ferrari

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Spa-Francorchamps, 2014No other team enjoys as much support at a single circuit as Ferrari do at Monza, but you could forgive the Tifosi for being less than optimistic of seeing a Ferrari driver on Monza’s famous podium come Sunday.

Ahead of their home race Fernando Alonso has kept the Ferrari faithful sweet by talking about how he intends to remain with the team for the next two seasons and potentially beyond.

Further encouragement for the team has come from the steadily-improving Kimi Raikkonen, who posted his best result of the season so far in the last two rounds.

But will Ferrari try to persuade their drivers to engineer a repeat of the slipstreaming tactics which didn’t go entirely to plan during qualifying last year?

Lotus

Lotus’s miserable season continued in Spa with two more mechanical-related retirements. And it says a lot that after Spa Romain Grosjean was more eager to talk about the team’s chances at Singapore than the next race at Monza.

“On paper it is not one of the races that we should do that well at,” he added afterwards “But as always we will be fighting hard and trying to get the maximum from the weekend, so that it gives us good momentum for the Singapore weekend later in September when we should be stronger and the track should suit the E22 a little better.”

McLaren

McLaren have been chipping away, making steady progress with their car, and Spa finally edged ahead of Force India in the constructors’ championship. But they have work to do to solidify their slender, two-point lead, and they look increasingly like ending the year behind Williams for the first time in a decade (their 2007 exclusion notwithstanding).

Force India

Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, Spa-Francorchamps, 2014Force India’s points-scoring rate has dropped recently. But Nico Hulkenberg, who performed brilliantly at Monza last year, has high hopes for this weekend. “I expect us to be quite competitive there,” he said. “It should be better for us than Spa.”

“It’s all about power and top speed and we know the engine will be strong. We also have a new low downforce rear wing that we will use for Monza only.”

Sauber

Giedo van der Garde will make another practice appearance – his seventh of the year – as rumours continue to link him with a return to racing for the team next year.

For their current race drivers it’s hard to see Sauber finally scoring their first points of the season at a power track like Monza.

Toro Rosso

The second team to call Monza their home grand prix, Toro Rosso have happy memories of Monza having taken their sole victory here thanks to Sebastian Vettel who scored their single victory in 2008.

A strong performance from Daniil Kvyat in Spa earned the rookie his fifth points finish of the season.

Williams

Felipe Massa, Williams, Hungaroring, 2014Following on from another podium appearance by Valtteri Bottas in Spa, Williams will be expecting another strong showing on the calendar’s lowest-downforce circuit this weekend having identified this track as one of their strongest chances of competing for a win – perhaps even more so than their eye-catching performance in Austria.

“Monza could be a great track for our car,” said Bottas. “We have a track specific aero package that we will take, combine that with the strong power-unit and we could have a very competitive weekend.”

After Felipe Massa’s race in Spa was compromised after collecting debris from Hamilton’s punctured tyre, the Brazilian looks to bounce back around a circuit where he generally performed well during his Ferrari days.

Marussia

Marussia’s priority remains staying ahead of Caterham and, ideally, Sauber. As usual Jules Bianchi is their best hope in that respect, and having settled his ‘contractual issues’ in Spa, Max Chilton will again be in the second seat.

Caterham

Following Andre Lotterer’s short-lived grand prix debut at Spa, Caterham will allow Kamui Kobayashi to retake his race seat for the final European round of the season.

But Kobayashi will not get the privilege of running the entire weekend as Formula Renault 3.5 driver Roberto Merhi will have his first outing in a Formula One car in first practice.

2014 driver form

Driver G avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 6.17 4.67 3 7 9/12 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 5.08 3.40 1 8 10/12 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 5.75 1.67 1 3 9/12 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 1.83 1.82 1 4 11/12 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 6.50 5.08 2 9 12/12 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 9.75 8.82 4 12 11/12 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 14.17 10.83 8 14 6/12 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 18.08 13.86 12 17 7/12 Form guide
Jenson Button 9.08 8.08 3 17 12/12 Form guide
Kevin Magnussen 9.33 9.27 2 13 11/12 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 9.58 6.91 5 10 11/12 Form guide
Sergio Perez 11.75 8.56 3 11 9/11 Form guide
Adrian Sutil 15.42 13.14 11 17 7/12 Form guide
Esteban Gutierrez 16.92 15.14 12 19 7/12 Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne 11.00 10.14 8 13 7/12 Form guide
Daniil Kvyat 10.42 10.75 9 14 8/12 Form guide
Felipe Massa 8.25 9.22 4 15 9/12 Form guide
Valtteri Bottas 7.58 5.27 2 8 11/12 Form guide
Jules Bianchi 17.58 15.22 9 18 9/12 Form guide
Max Chilton 19.17 15.91 13 19 11/12 Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi 18.91 15.14 13 18 7/11 Form guide
Marcus Ericsson 20.50 16.86 11 20 7/12 Form guide
Andre Lotterer 21.00 0/1 Form guide

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2014 Italian Grand Prix

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Images © Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Force India, Williams/LAT

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30 comments on Can Williams take the fight to Mercedes again?

  1. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 4th September 2014, 16:45

    Monza will play host to the final European race of the season

    Everytime I read this each season, I realize how fast the year goes past !

  2. William Stuart (@williamstuart) said on 4th September 2014, 16:46

    Incredible to see that when Lewis has finished, he has never not been on the podium.

  3. If Hockenheim learned us anything, if a Williams can get in front it might be hard for a Mercedes to pass.

  4. I don’t see MB having any trouble from anyone, including Williams. Including Ricciardo. The track is too low-DF for RBR to try their tiny wing as they did at Spa with the same benefit and they can’t go the opposite way because they lack the power to pull a bigger wing. In years past we have seen a split between “high” and “low” DF wings when cars were more equal at the front. E.g., infamously in 2011, when Hamilton went with the bigger wing, ended up qualifying poorly, and then hit Massa trying to come forward.

    As for the Parabolica, I can’t understand the concern about the loss of character. The form of run-off doesn’t come into “character.” Did Silverstone lose “character” when they got rid of those horrifying stakes and wires? Did Indy lose character when the “Safer” barriers were put in? Watkin’s Glen lost no character when they revised the Armo barriers that decapitated Francois Cevert. Indeed, if this is character Watkins Glen could stand to lose a great deal more, as seen in the last NASCAR race there. As for the challenge, this point proves too much: people race on ovals lined by concrete and steel-cable fences at 200+mph over a lap. F1 drivers faced primarily the danger of a tumble through gravel and then some nice rubber tires. If it’s a real challenge we want, in the form of risk of a terrible crash, F1 is sorely lacking.

    • Jules Winfield (@jules-winfield) said on 4th September 2014, 19:02

      There’s a difference between a corner where you’d go off into the gravel and a track where the Armco could kill a driver.

      The vast majority of drivers have managed to navigate the Parabolica without crashing for many years now. What’s the point in providing a run-off area? This is supposed to be the premium tier of motorsport, not kindergarten. F1 is supposed to be a challenge.

    • George (@george) said on 4th September 2014, 19:57

      It’s not about the barriers, it’s about run-off. There’s no longer any great incentive to stay on the track so there’s no definite limit for the drivers to aim for, they can just plant the throttle and hope for the best. It hugely reduces the skill required to get the maximum out of the corner and creates annoying issues like track limit penalties (when Charlie can be bothered).

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 5th September 2014, 7:21

      I can see Mercedes having trouble all of their own. Braking does seem to be a bit of a weak spot on the cars, and then we have the risks of a Nico and Lewis wanting to settle things in their own favor

  5. D (@f190) said on 4th September 2014, 17:03

    Williams did with pole in Austria. I see your point, but the common thought is that Williams will be much stronger in Monza than Redbull. They are expected to really close the gap to Mercedes, whereas Redbull in Spa almost lucked into that result because of the contact. Ricardo did a great job, but he wouldn’t have been close if the contact didn’t take place. I think the headline is perfect as it’s expected Williams can genuinely take the fight to Mercedes here on raw pace.

    • Juzh (@juzh) said on 5th September 2014, 4:41

      Ric wuldn’t be close to merc, but still had more pace than williams. Not sure about monza though, it looked like williams went the wrong way in spa with their set-up.

  6. ME4ME (@me4me) said on 4th September 2014, 17:43

    I somehow think Ferrari will do well this weekend, and expect Alonso on the podium. Their car is not that bad. At SPA, they ran a relativly high downforce, high drag package compared to the others. Had they not done that, maybe they would’ve been a bit quicker on sunday, when it was dry. Also Alonso’s race was troubled, and could potentially have finished higher. To me Williams wasn’t that impressive in Belgium. I had though they would been quicker.

    • Jules Winfield (@jules-winfield) said on 4th September 2014, 19:04

      Williams don’t like the rain (which put them out of position on the grid) and they had a higher downforce set up (as evidenced by their rear wing). Massa had problems with debris affecting his performance and Ricciardo came out of nowhere and showed the world just how good he is (again).

      In the circumstances, third for Bottas was a good result.

  7. Since 1994 Ferrari wins at least once per season and if they are to continue that form Monza is just the best place to do it. Ahem.

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 4th September 2014, 23:01

      Enzo was a mechanic at heart and always wanted his cars to have the most powerful engines , winning at Monza was a way to demonstrate that superiority and almost as important as winning one or both of the championships.

  8. If both of the Mercs get a clean lap in Q3, I’d be extremely surprised to see a Williams ahead of them both. Maybe one of them, but getting ahead of them both requires a near-perfect llap and mistakes from Mercs in my opinion.

    It might be closer than ever before, but when not hounded by failures and other shenanigans, the Mercs have been in a league of their own.

    Will also be interesting to see how Red Bull does in Monza. They had a great package at Spa, which was to be one of their worst tracks on paper. I expect them to be right up there with Williams, tailing the Mercs.

  9. KeithR (@lockup) said on 4th September 2014, 21:07

    Do Williams run a tubular exhaust or a log one like Merc? Istr reading the log exhaust costs 20 bhp.

    Also I’m guessing by now Williams have the split clutched turbo so they can run MGU-H for longer?

    Williams vs Ferrari is a key battle I’m looking forward to, with only 10 points in it.

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