Italian Grand Prix - Preview

Monza, venue for Sunday's Italian Grand Prix, is often described as the most traditional of all the circuits Formula One visits.
Opened in 1922 and set in a Royal Park, the track has hosted all bar one race during the modern Championship era.
However, one perhaps unwelcome tradition Monza has also acquired is that of controversy.

The last two Italian Grands Prix have both brought controversy aplenty, the 2006 race seeing Championship protagonist Fernando Alonso penalised five places on the grid after being adjudged to have held up Ferrari driver Felipe Massa during qualifying.
Last year found the paddock in ferment ahead of the decision which saw McLaren fined $100 million and thrown out of the Constructors' Championship for their part in the 'spying' saga involving confidential Ferrari information.

Turn the clock back to 1976 and the Italian Grand Prix also played a part in perhaps the most tumultuous season the sport has ever seen.
Having come close to death following a crash in the German Grand Prix, Ferrari's Niki Lauda drove at Monza just 43 days later, amazingly finishing in fourth place.
But Championship rival James Hunt was an early retirement, the Englishman having spun off the track attempting to move through the field from the back of the grid - McLaren having been penalised for fuel irregularities.

Warm welcome?

Hunt was jeered by Ferrari's 'tifosi' fans as he headed back to the pits and, fast forwarding 32 years, you sense the same welcoming committee will be out to greet McLaren's current golden boy, Lewis Hamilton, this weekend.
The contentious decision bound to cast a shadow is, of course, that to demote Hamilton from first place to third following his battle with Kimi Raikkonen during the latter stages of last Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix.
The defending World Champion lost the Spa duel but it was all in vain for Hamilton after Massa was subsequently awarded the win.

With McLaren's appeal against the decision still to be heard, Monza therefore sees Hamilton holding just a two-point lead over Massa with five races remaining.
Meanwhile, Raikkonen has dropped 17 points behind his team-mate and also slipped to fourth place in the Drivers' Championship behind BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica.
Despite his increasingly desperate position, Raikkonen is nevertheless determined to score his first victory since April in Ferrari's home race.
"We will try our best to win for the team and the fans at the real home of the Prancing Horse," the Finn said. "I've nothing to lose, so I will go flat out."
Although the size of Hamilton's Championship lead currently depends as much on the skills of McLaren's lawyers as those of their star driver and engineers, the man himself reckons there's more to come on the track.
"It is just going to be a very tough fight," Hamilton said of the battle ahead. "But I will do everything I can to make sure I go to the next race just as strong, if not stronger.

"I know I can get stronger, as we the team are going to, and we are going to keep on improving."
None of this year's contenders has yet to win the race, with Hamilton and Raikkonen respectively managing second-place finishes in 2007 and 2006.
But Monza appears something of a bogey track thus far for Massa, whose best results in five outings are a pair of ninth places.


Sunday's race will likely be the quickest of the year, with Monza's long straights producing top speeds upwards of 210 mph.
However, with Monza and Spa constituting the toughest races in terms of engine use, teams will be careful to manage their V8s - particularly those coming to the end of a two-race cycle.

Cars will also be set-up to generate the lowest amount of aerodynamic downforce produced during the season, with drivers therefore needing to be careful of nervous handling through the corners and over the chicanes.
One footnote to ponder regarding the latter: the Autodromo Nazionale Monza has two chicanes, one of them, the Rettifilo, being the first corner cars approach at the start of the race.

Given the fact that several drivers are usually forced to straightline the Rettifilo, Hamilton-style, each year, then last Sunday's decision could leave Monza stewards working overtime.