Atlas F1

Grand Prix of Italy Preview

Monza, Milan, Italy
25th - 27th July 1997
by Max Galvin, England

For the tifosi, this will be a Grand Prix to remember, with the beloved Scuderia leading both Championships and Michael Schumacher in with a very good chance of winning. This is that Grand Prix that Jacques Villeneuve needs to win (as did Hill in 1994) to get his Championship hopes back on track.

A lap of Monza

Monza The Monza circuit can basically be described in one word - fast. Running little wing to take advantage of the long straights, the cars slip and slide through the chicanes that interrupt the circuit in the name of safety. The first set of chicanes, the Variante Goodyear, are taken in second - the cars bouncing over the kerbs so as not to lose valuable seconds. The track funnels in from the wide pit straight at the entry to this complex, so expect the usual first lap collision between the midfielders as they jockey and dive for position. After the Variante Goodyear, it's off through the flat-out Curva Grande before braking hard down to second for the Seconda Variante. The next two right-handers - the Curva des Lesmos - used to be flat out, but were modified in the wake of the Senna/Ratzenberger tragedies of 1994. The next straight kinks slightly before the cars enter the Variante Ascari complex - a quick, but long, left-right-left flick that's taken in fourth. Exiting in fifth, the cars rush along the final straight before braking to third to negotiate the Curva Parabolica. This long hairpin is tight on entry, but eases out on the exit - the cars run wide, often falling off the road in their quest for speed onto the start-finish straight.

Circuit Length: 3.604 miles/5.766 km Race length: 53 laps (191.012 miles/305.598 km)

What happened last year?

Atlas F1 1996 Italian Grand Prix Review

  1996 Race Results
1. Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1h 17m 43.643s
2. Jean Alesi Benetton-Renault + 18.265s
3. Mika Hakkinen McLaren-Mercedes + 1m 06.635s
4. Martin Brundle Jordan-Peugeot + 1m 25.217s
5. Rubens Barrichello Jordan-Peugeot + 1m 25.475s
6. Pedro Diniz Ligier-Mugen + 1 lap

Pole position: Damon Hill Williams-Renault 1m 24.204s
Fastest lap: Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1m 26.110s


The Field

Arrows come to Monza which, on paper at least, shouldn't be one of the circuits that suits them. That said, both drivers (especially Pedro Diniz) did well in qualifying at Spa and Damon Hill did well at Hockenheim. Whilst their performace has certainly skyrocketed since the arrival of John Barnard, Arrows are still no match for Williams, Ferrari et al. and can probably only hope for retirements. Every race so far I have said that Damon would beat Pedro, but based on the performance at Spa, this might not be the case. Still, I really think that the World Champion will beat his Brazilian team mate again, but the gap will be slight.

Rothmans Williams-Renault
Williams need a win in Italy to stand any chance of winning either Championship this season. Jacques Villeneuve has been promised support in his quest for the title by Heinz-Harald Frentzen, so if the Williams are leading 1-2, don't expect there to be a battle for position. Williams have one of the best chassis for fast circuits and the new evolution of the Renault engine should give them enough power to stay ahead of the pack. I would expect Villeneuve to be the man in qualifying, but for the Canadian to be eclipsed in the race by Frentzen.

Marlboro Scuderia Ferrari
The Scuderia are racing at Monza leading both Championships and looking good to keep the lead for the rest of the season. Michael Schumacher is a man on a mission and although he predicts no win for himself or the team here, I would not count it out. The main bugbear of Ferrari is the way that the F310b uses tyres. So far, in hot weather, both Eddie Irvine and Schumacher have suffered from blistering after very few laps usually costing them a good finish. In front of the tifosi, both drivers will be doing their best, and it is very possible that both drivers end up on the podium. As far as the intra team battle, if Eddie Irvine gets within 0.5 seconds of Schumacher, I would be surprised.

Mild Seven Benetton-Renault
Monza offers Benetton a great chance to secure their second win of the post-Schumacher period. The car performs well on this type of track and both drivers are very experienced at Monza. Benetton seem lighter on their tyres than all the Goodyear front runners and as such should benefit in the advent of a hot race. Gerhard Berger is invariably the faster of the two here, but given his poor run of luck recently he could be behind Jean Alesi all weekend.

West McLaren-Mercedes
McLaren are again in good shape for the weekend with new Adrian Newey aerodynamic modifications. The car is suited for the long straights and fast corners of Monza and the drivers both seem to go well here. Mika Hakkinen is certainly the top dog at McLaren nowadays and will be the leading car in both qualifying and the race. David Coulthard, although no doubt feeling safer now his contract has been renewed has been lacking pace recently and was slower than McLaren tester and Formula 3 driver Nick Heidfeld at the tests last week. Podium finishes are likely if David can match Mika and a win for either could be on the cards.

Benson and Hedges Total Jordan-Peugeot
Monza could the the big one for Eddie Jordan. After several near misses, Jordan are poised to score their first Grand Prix win in Italy. In the recent tests both Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella were the fastest men on the track on different days and the latter emerged as the fastest over the whole test. It seems that the young Italian has emerged as the force in the team, but Ralf is not too far behind. Monza is a track that is more suited to the smooth driving style of Fisichella rather than the "on the edge" style of Schumacher, and if that is combined with the little bit extra a driver gets racing at home, I would expect Giancarlo to end up ahead in both race and qualifying. That said, if the team gets it right, a 1-2 finish is not impossible.

Gauloises Blondes Prost-Mugen Honda
Alain Prost must be wondering what has happened to the early season pace of his team. As usual, late season development is lacking and now Arrows have taken over as lead Bridgestone runners. At the tests last week both Jarno Trulli and Shinji Nakano ran relatively well, but not as well as they should have given the quality of the chassis-engine-tyre combination. Trulli is still the faster of the two drivers, but it seems that the inexperience of the pairing is holding the team back. If the team can get a handle on the setup quickly this weekend, points could be forthcoming, but given the strength of the opposition this is unlikely.

Red Bull Sauber-Petronas
Sauber are another team left scraping what they can from races. While they don't have the pace of the front runners, Johnny Herbert is very consistent and gets the best from the car. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of his various team mates. Gianni Morbidelli is a very good driver (as was Nicola Larini), but seems to be unable to get the best from the Sauber and is usually a long way behind Herbert. The main problem for Sauber is tyres, but not for the usual reasons. The chassis is said to be very easy on tyres, so easy in fact that in qualifying they don't get the best from the Goodyear rubber. This, of course, means that they are in great shape during races where wear is a serious concern. If Sauber get it right, expect Johnny Herbert to be in the top 6 and possibly on the podium, but don't expect the same for Morbidelli.

With the Ford v10 supply in the bag, things are looking good for next season for Tyrrell. It is a shame then that they will be reduced to scrapping with Minardi (whom they should beat) for the lower positions. Both drivers are good, but I suspect with Jos Verstappen almost certain to stay and Mika Salo almost certain to depart, Jos is the happier of the two and as such is driving better. Still, that doesn't mean that Mika will be slower, and as usual expect a massive scrap to see who is the top dog.

There is little to be said about Minardi. Even though much of the news surrounds the possible takeover by BAT and Reynard, the team is still soldiering on in the same way they always have. Ukyo Katayama has dominated Tarso Marques (as he should) and will more than likely do the same here. Sadly, the Hart v8 is well down on power and as such, won't even be in a position to get off the back row without a good deal of luck.

An unpredictable weekend for Stewart. Assuming the Ford v10 can hold together, there is no reason why the team can't get into the points. The driver who is most likely to do this is Rubens Barrichello who has proved that he is capable of leading a team well and mature enough not to overdrive the car. Jan Magnussen on the other hand has proved that his reputation pre-F1 is no good now he is actually in "The Show". Rumours have any number of drivers from Damon Hill to Dario Franchitti sitting in the second Stewart seat for 1998 and Jan is fairly certainly to lose out.

Enjoy the race...

Max Galvin
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