Monza: The need for speed

From one legend to another. Just a few days after a fascinating Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps, Formula 1 heads for another of the sport’s indisputable classics – the Italian Grand Prix.

Ever present on the calendar since Formula 1’s inaugural season 1950, all but one Italian Grand Prix has been held at Monza and the high-speed cauldron of motor racing passion is a place that certainly stirs the emotions, particular for the locals, as we find out from the only Italian set to take part this weekend, Ferrari reserve and FP1 driver for Haas, Antonio Giovinazzi.

At motor racing’s top level, the heat of passion has to give best to cold science, however, and while Monza is all about high speeds, extracting pace from a car requires more than stripping out downforce and turning up the wick. F1 expert Pat Symonds guides us through the process and explains why he thinks the tifosi might have something to shout about this weekend.


Everyone loves a good race stat, an obscure trivia bomb with which to stun even the most numerically obsessed F1 colleague. No problem, from Abecassis to Zunino and the A1 Ring to Zolder we’ve got you covered and as we head to Formula 1's last true temple of speed, here are a few quick-fire numbers to get the race weekend off to a flying start…

2 Just two teams have scored their first win at the Italian Grand Prix – and both of those teams are Italian. Maserati took its first win in 1953 at Monza, courtesy of Juan Manuel Fangio, and in 2008 Scuderia Toro Rosso took its first, and to date, only win thanks to an outstanding drive in the wet by Sebastian Vettel.

7 Drivers have taken their first win in Italy. Vettel is the most recent, in 2008, preceded by Juan Pablo Montoya in 2001. Prior to that you have to go back three decades, to 1971 when Peter Gethin won. And before Gethin, Monza saw first career wins for Clay Regazzoni in 1970, Ludovico Scarfiotti in 1966, Jackie Stewart in 1965 and Phil Hill in 1960.

5 Italian GP wins for Michael Schumacher, all at Monza. Nelson Piquet is next on the list with four, but his 1980 win came at Imola, the only time since the start of the F1 championship in 1950 that the race has been held away from Monza.

3 Just three current drivers have won at Monza before. They are: Fernando Alonso (2007, ’10), Sebastian Vettel (2008, ’11, ’13) and Lewis Hamilton (2012, ’14, ’15).

23 years on the clock for Carlos Sainz on Friday, 1 September. In world news that day the IRA declared an open-ended, unconditional ceasefire that paved the way for peace in Northern Ireland. At the 51st Venice Film Festival, ‘Before the Rain’ directed by Milco Mancevski and ‘Vive L'Amour’ directed by Tsai Ming-Liang were jointly awarded the Golden Lion. In the week of Carlos’ birth, Osaka’s Kansai airport was opened and Adobe released version 3.0 of its now ubiquitous Photoshop software.

27 It’s also a happy birthday to Marcus Ericsson, who turns 27 on Saturday 2 September. On the same day Transnistria was proclaimed a Soviet republic; then Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev instantly declared the decision null and void. In the pop charts, Bryan Adams was midway through a marathon 16-week run at No. 1 with ‘Everything I Do, I Do It For You’.

Pat Symonds… on Monza

High stakes, high seed and always with the potential to deliver high drama, Monza is a circuit like no other on the calendar. Formula 1 technical expert Pat Symonds examines the challenges the circuit presents and forecasts that in Ferrari’s back yard, Mercedes have a tough fight on their hands…

Are you expecting a new speed record this year at Monza?

No, I’m not. The 2017 cars have got a lot of their performance through new regulations that allow the cars to produce a lot of downforce, but downforce also comes with drag and drag is the enemy of top speed. Having said that, in simulations that we did in preparation for 2017 we did decide that Monza was one track where the fact that you would be running so little wing it might be similar to last year. You may see top speeds similar to last year but they won’t be higher.

How much is slipstreaming a factor in Monza?

It’s an interesting circuit for slipstreaming and slipstreaming itself is an interesting subject. You start to feel the effect of turbulence from a car in front at anything around 100m, say 20 cars lengths. Interestingly, when you think that you don’t get DRS activation until you are within a second, which is an awful lot less than 100m, then you obviously have this compromise in how you deal with slipstreaming.

It’s a real double-edged sword. I think over the years I’ve probably seen attempts at using a slipstream to gain advantage go wrong more often than I’ve seen them go right. Also, the more we work with cars with increased downforce, which the 2017 cars have, the more susceptible they will be to this kind of turbulence.

Generally, I’m expecting to see a more negative effect than a positive one from slipstreaming – unless someone manages to just get it right, perhaps at the exit of Parabolica or just getting the correct overtaking into Parabolica or the Ascari chicane.

Monza is the last purely high-speed track left on the calendar. Do engineers still dedicate time to preparing a specific aero package for the weekend?

Yes, they are, but it becomes increasingly difficult and increasingly less rewarding, but it’s just a fact that you do have to do it. When I say it’s more difficult, I don’t mean it’s intellectually more difficult, but with the restrictions placed on the teams as to how much aerodynamic development they can do, you have to apportion that very carefully. The rules don’t allow you to do more than 65 runs per week on average in the wind tunnel. So to spend a lot of time developing a very different aero package just for one race is not terribly productive.

How hard can you attack the curbs, which are pretty high in Monza?

Having said that we have to have cars that can deal with any conditions, the one thing I don’t like is circuits where you have to climb all over the curbs, because that to me is not what racing is about. However, unfortunately in Monza you do have to do that a fair bit.

Those curbs are quite vicious when you hit them, so it’s one of the load cases you design a car to, the Monza curbs. Even now, when they’ve made the curbs less benign than they used to be, you still do need to use those curbs well to get good lap time out of the car, particularly in qualifying where you are prepared to take a few more risks, so there you have to have a car that can clamber over those curbs and more importantly land off them without too much grip.

If it rains, how difficult is the circuit when it’s wet, especially with spray, visibility and trees?

It is difficult. Visibility isn’t really an particular issue. Visibility is just dreadful in any open wheel car in the rain. It’s aquaplaning you have to worry about. The faster you go the more likely you are to aquaplane. Yes, it’s a function of depth of water, but the faster you are going the more likely it is, and Monza is fast and you’re not running much downforce. To be honest, even if you knew it was going to be wet on Saturday and Sunday you would be a brave person to put a lot of downforce on because if it did dry out you’d be passed by everyone. It really is one of the trickiest circuits in the wet.

Does racing at their home track provide a boost for Ferrari and Toro Rosso and is there a greater satisfaction for non-Italian teams to win at Monza?

No. Teams are very international these days and employ people from all over the world. I don’t think it makes any difference. What does give you a buzz there if you get a good result is a) it’s one of the classics and b) a bit like Silverstone, it has a fantastic crowd. I love the podium at Monza; I love the fact that the crowd streams down onto the pit straight. If you’ve got one of your drivers up on the podium and you have that atmosphere, it’s definitely something to remember. It’s those things that make Monza a place you want to win; it’s nothing to do with the chauvinism of nationality.

Given current car characteristics, is this a track at which Mercedes will dominate?

I think that in qualifying Mercedes still do enjoy a little bit of a power advantage, but our understanding is that Ferrari are bringing an upgraded engine to Monza, which I believe was specifically targeted at getting that qualifying performance. So I don’t think we should read too much into what has happened historically to what might happen at Monza.

Mercedes has gained an awful lot this year on circuits where you need high aerodynamic efficiency but equally, as we said earlier, it’s a circuit where you put a very different aerodynamic package on, One of the great things about 2017 is that we really have gone into most races not knowing who’s going to win and I think going to Monza that’s more the case than ever. My suspicion is no one is going to dominate, I think we are going to have a close race.

Ready for an Italian Job

What does the word Monza mean to you?

Monza was [the venue for] my first ever race in a formula car so it is very special track for me and I also took my first win in a formula car there. For every driver home tracks are very special, you have all the fans, a lot of family there. I can’t wait for next Friday, I’ll be there with an F1 car in FP1, so it will be fantastic. It’s a dream come true.

When I was a kid I watched Michael Schumacher drive there with Ferrari, so for an Italian driver to drive in Monza on an F1 weekend is really special. Of course it will be important to be there for Ferrari and on Saturday I’ll have the red jersey on again and will be there as a Ferrari driver in Monza.

You mentioned your first formula race, when was that?

It was at the end of 2012 in Formula Abarth. It was the European Championship and I won. Last year also in GP2 I won in Monza from last and it’s the best podium of any track. You can really see all the people below and in the grandstands. Of course this year I don’t have a chance to do that, but to have been on that podium is amazing.

Are you ready for the attention you’ll receive from your home fans as an Italian at Ferrari, driving at Monza?

You know, being at Monza in Abarth and then in Formula 2, every year more and more people come to me for pictures and autographs, and this year I can’t wait for it. To be the third driver at Scuderia Ferrari and to take part in FP1, I expect a lot of people to be watching, that’s a special thing. I think there will be an even bigger crowd this year too.

You’re driving for Haas in FP1 this weekend. Can you imagine how it will feel to steer an F1 car out of the pit land and onto the track?

I really need to say thanks to Ferrari for this opportunity. Of course the target will be to do as many laps as possible. [My most recent session] at the Hungaroring, it was a shame as I got just eight laps in total, so the goal will be to spend a lot of time on track, do the work for the team and enjoy every lap I do, because I’ll get to see so many people, so many Italian fans.

What are you expecting from a 2017 Formula 1 car around Monza?

It will be quite difficult. There won’t be much downforce on the car, the speeds will be a lot higher than any other track – maybe only China is faster so far. So less downforce, big brakes for the chicanes – it will be quite different. We can’t really use the extra downforce these new cars have, but that’s the same for everyone. The important thing will be to do a lot of laps, gain confidence with each one and do my best for the session.

How do you imagine it will feel at the limit through Parabolica?

It will be crazy! But I think Ascari will also be very fast this year. It will be my first time in Monza with an F1 car. Last year of course I drove in GP2 (now F2), so I think it will be two steps up at least, but I’m looking forward to seeing how much grip we’ll have there.

Can Ferrari win this year?

I think we have been competitive at almost every track this year, and of course a Ferrari win at Monza would be really good for the team, for Sebastian or Kimi. We’ll try our best I’m sure, and we’ll see where we are next Sunday

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