ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 36 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   The Italian GP Preview

Monza, Italy by Ewan Tytler, U.S.A.

Leaving Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, Formula One heads to the home of the Italian Grand Prix: The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza. At 5.778 km, Monza is the third longest and is the fastest active Grand Prix circuit. The historic Monza circuit dates back to 1922 and in the modern era, 49 of the 50 Italian Grands Prix have been held at Monza.

Sir Frank Williams sums up the feelings of many of the Formula One teams about this venue: "I love racing at Monza. The track is fast with some very demanding high-speed corners and it's also very tough on the cars. This really is a true test of reliability. I guess it's the crowd that makes the difference and what separates this race from the others. I have always thought of them as the Italian winter football crowd warming-up for the season, but whoever they may be, they provide a palpable atmosphere which is enthusiastic and highly supportive, even if we are not in Ferrari red. I am looking forward to this weekend."

Before chicanes were added in the Seventies, Monza was famous for slipstreaming battles that typically ended in a Grandstand finish. And although the original circuit at Monza was less hazardous than Spa-Francorchamps, it was a much more lethal circuit: nine Grand Prix drivers, at least 5 motorcyclists and over 40 spectators had been killed at Monza by 1978.

The recent history of Monza has been a series of safety experiments, some successful and some not. In 1972, the Variante Goodyear and the Variante Ascari were added and in the mid Seventies, the Curva della Roggia was added. The latest in a long line of safety experiments are modifications made this year to the first and second chicanes. Jordan's Heinz-Harald Frentzen explains: "The Goodyear chicane has been altered slightly this year from a double chicane into a single right left combination that has become even slower. The speed into the chicane has been reduced from 80 km/h down to 60, so lap times will have about an extra two seconds added on to them. It will be interesting to see how the field copes with the new chicane at the start as it is even tighter and slower than before, which could cause quite a few problems."

These changes seem to have added about three seconds to lap-times, compared to Mika Hakkinen's 1999 pole time. Jordan's Jarno Trulli is ambivalent about these changes. "In terms of safety it might be better," the Italian says, "But for racing it is worse. The first corner is now a lot tighter and taken in first gear, which will make the start even more interesting than usual." Ferrari's Michael Schumacher added, "It is a definite progress in safety terms, and that is what it is all about. It might be difficult for the 22 cars to go through without accidents, but it is up to the drivers to avoid these situations."

Benetton's Technical Director, Pat Symonds, explains the challenges presented by Monza: "It is obviously a very high speed circuit often likened to Hockenheim. It does, however, have significant differences in that represents the tight stadium section found at Hockenheim. The very long straights are interspersed with some slow chicanes and few challenging corners. The requirements of the car are to have high power, low drag and very efficient brakes as this circuit is the hardest on brakes of any of the current Grand Prix venues. In addition, particularly at the first chicane, it is essential to have a car that can ride the kerbs well as this is paramount to a good lap time At Monza, the main overtaking opportunity is into the first chicane and this is where much of the action will take place. It is likely, however, that pit-stops and qualifying positions will have a greater outcome on the final result than racing itself."

BMW-Williams' Ralf Schumacher added a driver's perspective: "Along with Hockenheim, Monza is one of the quickest tracks we have in the Formula One. Downforce settings are very low and this means low wing levels - vital for speed but allowing less grip through the chicanes. For a good lap time, it's also important to find good mechanical grip for the slower corners. Monza is also very demanding on the engine and brakes."

Pitstops and tyre strategies

Attrition can be moderate to high at Monza, so finishing is everything. Fourteen cars finished the 1997 race, thirteen cars were running at the end of the 1998 race, eleven were classified in 1999, while only ten finished in 1996, 1995 and 1994.

In last year's race, most finishers used a one-stop strategy, while the Prost team opted for a two-stop strategy. The pitstop window is quite small at Monza, with those on a one-stop strategy pitting between laps 33-36, while the Prost made their first stops on laps 16 and 17 last year.

On tyre choice, Bridgestone will be supplying the teams with a choice of the Medium or the Hard compound tyres. Bridgestone Motorsport's Technical Manager, Yoshihiko Ichikawa, stated in June, "The Soft compound isn't ideally suited to Monza. The harder compounds are more resistant to the high temperatures and blistering."

The Teams

McLaren now lead the Constructors' Championship by nine points. McLaren have won at Monza seven times and have scored 73 points during the 1990s. Their horsepower reliability and aerodynamic advantages may, once again, prove to be crucial in Sunday's race.

Mika Hakkinen has extended his lead in the Drivers' Championship, after his victory at Spa-Francorchamps. Hakkinen has had some success at the Monza: he finished second in 1995, third in 1996, fourth in 1998 and 1994 for McLaren. Hakkinen set the qualifying record of 1:22.432 for the 5.77km circuit in 1999, and he set the race lap record of 1:24.808 in 1997 and fastest lap in 1998. However, it all ended in tears in last year's race, when Hakkinen threw a sure victory away by accidentally selecting first gear and spinning off at the Variante Goodyear. Hakkinen will not make the same mistake again this year, as Monza has been modified so that first is now the correct gear selection for this corner...

David Coulthard is still third in the Drivers' Championship. After the Belgian Grand Prix, Ron Dennis stated, "David's Championship is most definitely not over and we will continue to give both drivers equal treatment at Monza." Coulthard commented, "I don't believe there will be any team orders. Things have been said in private that make me very confident I will be given my chance to race for the title. I am certainly not giving up on the title. Why should I? There are 40 points available for maximum finishes in the next four races and I am 13 points behind Mika. Things have gone well for him and not so great for me but I have picked up points even though it has been a bit of a struggle at times and I am still there. I know it is going to be very difficult now and when I go to Monza, I have to really come away with a win."

Coulthard won the Italian Grand Prix in 1997 for McLaren and was classified as sixth in 1994 at his first Italian Grand Prix, when his Williams stopped on the last lap at the approach to the Parabolica. Coulthard led the 1998 and 1995 races, and set the pole position and fastest lap in 1995.

Ferrari are still second in the Constructors' Championship. The Italian team have tested a new low-downforce aerodynamic package and the latest development 049C engine, which might be used in the race as well as qualifying. Ferrari have won the Italian Grand Prix twelve times - the most recent victories were in 1998 and 1996 - and have scored 57 points at Monza in the 1990s.

Michael Schumacher is still second in the Drivers' Championship, six points behind Hakkinen. "Obviously winning the Italian Grand Prix in a Ferrari is something very special for any racing driver, but right now it would be more special to win this next race for the sake of the Championship," Schumacher said, also admitting that, "We have not been as competitive as McLaren in the last two races and we have been working 110 percent to change that for Monza. With only six points between us and four more races to go, I am still optimistic like the rest of the team about our chances. One win or a retirement before the end of the season can change the whole picture either way."

Michael won the Italian Grand Prix in 1998 and 1996 for Ferrari. He also finished third in 1992 and fifth in 1991 in his first race for Benetton, and sixth in 1997 for Ferrari. Schumacher set fastest lap in 1996 and set pole position in 1998.

Rubens Barrichello is still fourth in the Drivers' Championship. Barrichelo confessed, "I have dreamed about being a Ferrari driver since I was a boy. To sit on the grid in a Ferrari is still a thrill for me. To do it in front of the tifosi at a circuit so steeped in history like Monza is a very special moment. If I could finish on the podium or even win at Monza this year would be as big a thrill as my first win in Hockenheim."

Barrichello finished fourth in 1999 for Stewart, fourth in 1994 and fifth in 1996 for Jordan. Barrichello's highest grid position was in sixth in 1995 for Jordan.

Williams are still third in the Constructors' Championship. BMW Motorsport Director, Dr Mario Theissen, stated that, "After Hockenheim and Spa we face another circuit that places the highest demands on the engine. We are looking forward to racing at Monza for the first time and because it's Ferrari's home race, it's special place on the Formula One calendar is much loved, especially by the tifosi. We are going to race the same engine specification in Monza that Ralf finished third in Spa with. Although our pre-race Monza test was interrupted by bad weather, we are satisfied with the preparation achieved for this race in that we did both race simulation and qualifying exercises."

Williams have been a successful team at Monza, winning the Italian Grand Prix five times, but they haven't won since 1994 and have scored a total of 47 points at Monza in the 1990s.

Ralf Schumacher has climbed to fifth in the Drivers' Championship, and the young Schumachert the fastest time of last week's testing at Monza. Ralf commented, "Our performance in Spa was very satisfying and resulted in the accumulation of more important points. The team continues to work hard with the development of the FW22 and I am confidently looking forward to the remaining races. Because of the unusually bad weather in Monza last week, we couldn't complete our testing programme but nonetheless, we are looking forward to this weekend's Italian Grand Prix."

Ralf finished second in 1999 for Williams and third in 1998 for Jordan. Ralf's highest grid position was fifth in 1999, and he also set the fastest lap in last year's race.

Jenson Button, on the other hand, admitted, "I haven't raced a Formula One car at Monza, but I do know the circuit reasonably well from F3 and recent test sessions with the team. It's a very fast circuit and one that puts great demands on the car, particularly on the engine. Our performance last weekend in Spa was very rewarding and I will be doing my best to carry that momentum through to Monza. The car felt well balanced last week during our test and I'm looking forward to the prospect of racing at what is arguably one of the quickest and most challenging circuits on the calendar."

Benetton are still fourth in the Constructors' Championship, and oddly enough, bad karma has struck Benetton ever since they announced that Alexander Wurz will not be driving for them in 2001: Giancarlo Fisichella destroyed two B200s and neither Benetton finished at Spa-Francorchamps.

Nonetheless, Benetton have won the Italian Grand Prix once, in 1995, and have scored 37 points at Monza in the 1990s. In last year's race neither Benetton finished.

Rome's Giancarlo Fisichella has slipped to sixth in the Drivers' Championship. He finished fourth in 1997, and his highest grid position was third in 1997. His teammate Alexander Wurz has yet to finish at Monza, retiring from both the 1998 and 1999 Italian Grands Prix, his highest grid position was seventh in 1998.

Jordan have climbed to fifth in the Constructors' Championship. The team have won once and have scored 26 points at Monza. Heinz-Harald Frentzen, now ninth in the Drivers' Championship, stated: "In Spa we were not able to keep up with McLaren or Ferrari during the race, but I hope to be able to fight more with them in Italy. Our testing programme at Monza, where we concentrated particularly on brakes, has been successful. I really enjoy racing in Monza as it is the fastest circuit of the calendar and handling the car through the fast corners is a big challenge. A good grid position is important because overtaking is surprisingly hard, and I feel we can fight for the front row of the grid in qualifying."

Frentzen won last year's race for Jordan and finished third in 1997 for Williams and third in 1995 for Sauber. Frentzen's highest grid position was second, in 1997 and 1999.

Pescara's Jarno Trulli has slipped to tenth equal in the Drivers' Championship, and he admitted that, "Monza is a very important circuit for me personally. Our car will be strong as it is suited to circuits like Monza. I would say that this is one of the last circuits were we can really challenge for podium positions and I look forward to producing a good performance in front of my home fans." Trulli's best finish was tenth in 1997, and his highest grid position was tenth in 1998.

BAR have now slipped to sixth in the Constructors' Championship and the team's Technical Director, Malcolm Oastler, stated: "After this week's Monza test, we're happy we have made considerable progress since the last low downforce race, at Hockenheim, and therefore expect to be fully competitive at Monza. The challenge of having to achieve high straight-line speeds while still retaining sufficient downforce for the chicanes and corners is one to which we look forward. Monza has a fantastic heritage when it comes to Formula One racing, and it will be a special privilege being Honda''s partner there in the company''s 200th Grand Prix."

Jacques Villeneuve is still seventh in the Drivers' Championship. Villeneuve has had limited success at Monza, finishing fifth in 1997 for Williams. Villeneuve's highest grid position was second in 1996.

Ricardo Zonta is still fifteenth in the Crivers' Championship, and the young Brazilian revealed that, "After this week's Monza test, I feel a lot more confident. We were on the pace there and the car felt good, so I hope the team will be able to achieve a good result in the Italian Grand Prix. I like the layout of the track and enjoy racing there. It would be great to get a good result at a Grand Prix that is such an important one for Honda. I will be giving the maximum to do that." Zonta did not finish, after qualifying 18th, in last year's race.

Sauber are still seventh in the Constructors' Championship. The Swiss team have scored ten points at Monza, finishing fifth in 1998, fourth and sixth in 1995, and fourth in 1993.

Mika Salo has slipped to tenth equal in the Drivers' Championship. "I've had a lot of good races at Monza, and I seem to have scored points there every time that I've finished a Grand Prix," Salo stated this week. "We confirmed that our car is good in low downforce trim in Hockenheim, so there is no reason why it should not be strong in Italy too. I'm hoping for another competitive race."

Salo finish third in 1999 for Ferrari and a creditable fifth in 1995 for Tyrrell. Salo's highest grid position was sixth in 1999. His teammate, Pedro Diniz, finished sixth in 1996 for Ligier and his highest grid position was 14th, also in 1996. Diniz commented, "Monza is another fast circuit which I really enjoy, and because its low downforce nature will suit the C19. I am looking forward to a strong qualifying and race performance."

Arrows are still eighth in the Constructors' Championship, and the team have not scored a point at Monza since Eddie Cheever and Derek Warwick finished third and fourth in 1988. In last year's race, the Arrows team filled the last row of the grid and neither A19 finished.

Both Arrows drivers are still thirteenth equal in the Drivers' Championship. Pedro de la Rosa stated, "We're looking forward to Monza, especially after the disappointment at Spa. The car should go well there as it is a circuit with a lot of long straights, so hopefully we will get a better result."

De la Rosa did not finish last year's race, after qualifying 21st on the grid. His teammate, Jos Verstappen, finished eighth in 1996 for Footwork, and his highest grid position was tenth in 1994 for Benetton. "Monza has a lot of long straights where our car is good, but it may take some work to be consistently fast around the whole circuit," Verstappen commented. "We've been testing there for three or four days now, so hopefully we have improved the car for the weekend."

Jaguar are still ninth in the Constructors' Championship. Team founder Jackie Stewart won twice at Monza and the Stewart team scored three points there. Technical director, Gary Anderson, commented: "The mood is pretty good at the moment. We were heartened by the result in Spa as we expected a much tougher time. We're hoping to carry the momentum forward to Monza and have a solid weekend and hopefully compete for points."

Eddie Irvine is still twelfth in the Drivers' Championship and is still a crowd favourite at Monza. Irvine stated, "The Italian Grand Prix is always a bit of a special weekend because of the fantastic atmosphere at Monza. We made some progress at last week's test, but the rain rather got in the way." Irvine finished second in 1998 and sixth in 1999 for Ferrari. His highest grid position was fifth in 1998.

Johnny Herbert admitted, "I like Monza a lot and always look forward to qualifying there. You have to get the balance of the car just right so you can brake deeper going into the chicanes and keep a smooth rhythm. The new chicanes are quite tight but the new surface is very good and has no bumps in it. Having said that it remains to be seen if overtaking will be any easier." Herbert won the Italian Grand Prix for Benetton in 1995, wearing the lucky underpants he had worn, two months earlier, at Silverstone. Herbert's highest grid position was fourth, also in 1995.

Prost saw a ray of sunshine during the rain at Spa-Francorchamps and while team owner Alain Prost won three times but his team has yet to score a point at Monza.

Jean Alesi has the most driving experience at Monza, with eleven Formula One starts and one F3000 start. Alesi has tasted success at Monza as well, finishing second in 1997 and 1996 for Benetton, second in 1993 for Ferrari, fifth in 1998 for Sauber and fifth in 1989 for Tyrrell. Alesi set pole position in 1997 and 1994, and led the 1997, 1996, 1995 and 1994 races.

Minardi have yet to score a point at their home Grand Prix. Pierluigi Martini's seventh places in 1989 and 1993 were their best results. In last year's race, both Minardis were eliminated by collisions with an Arrows A19.

Marc Gene did not complete a single lap after qualifying twentieth in last year's race, and rookie Gaston Mazzacane soldiers on at the back of the pack.

My Predictions

If it is dry, I'm going to pick McLaren, Ferrari, and Williams as the top three teams for qualifying with Jordan and Benetton making up the top five.

Starting grid:

  1. David Coulthard
  2. Michael Schumacher
  3. Mika Hakkinen
  4. Rubens Barrichello
  5. Ralf Schumacher
  6. Heinz-Harald Frentzen
  7. Jarno Trulli
  8. Jenson Button
  9. Eddie Irvine
  10. Giancarlo Fisichella
  11. Jacques Villeneuve
  12. Alexander Wurz

The Italian Grand Prix Preview in a Nutshell:

  • Monza is a test of power and reliability. Qualifying is important, since overtaking is quite difficult. Pitstop strategy and reliability are likely to determine the outcome of Sunday's race.

  • With four races to go and only 40 points left in the Drivers' Championship, pressure is mounting on the McLaren and Ferrari drivers. A DNF at this Grand Prix could completely change the momentum of the championship.

  • McLaren-Mercedes should have an advantage at Monza, and Mika Hakkinen's mission will be to extend his lead in the championship, while David Coulthard will need to find a strategy that brings him victory.

  • Ferrari want to please the thousands of tifosi that appear at Monza. Michael Schumacher needs to find a way to out-maneouver the McLarens and needs Rubens Barrichello's support at the front of the pack to achieve this.

  • Williams are the Best of the Rest and set the pace during testing: can Jordan, BAR or Arrows add to their points tally?

  • Always in the points at Monza in the 1990s: McLaren.

  •       Related Articles:

    A Lap of Monza

    The Atlas F1 1999 Italian GP Preview Issue
    (Sep-8, 1999)

    The Atlas F1 1999 Italian GP Review Issue
    (Sep-15, 1999)

    Ewan Tytler© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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