From one nostalgic circuit to another, Autodromo Nazionale Monza, barring 1980, has hosted every Italian grand prix since the very beginning. It all started way back in the early 1920′s when the Italians built a track obsessed with speed and till date it carries over the same attributes that only few tracks would have. The versatile track is also home for Le Mans series, WTCC, SBK and World Sportscar events. It has earned the honorary status of hosting the European GP seven times since its inception in 1922.
In the early days, a loop track and a road course formulated the circuit and the worst motor racing crash in Italian history, claiming the lives of Emilio Materassi and 27 other spectators temporarily confined the action to the high speed loop layout. In 1938, significant revamping took place and after the world war the new layout contested races from 1948 until 1954. A new high-speed oval was accommodated in 1954 as part of the renovation work. The track also hosted the popular Race of Two Worlds in the late ’50s. Jim Rathmann won the event in 1958 and went on to be Indy 500 champion a couple of years later.
The use of oval in F1 ended in 1961 when Wolfgang Von Trip’s Ferrari collided with Lotus of Jim Clark and went airborne, killing 15 other spectators along with him at the Parabolica curve. The decayed banking held the last race in 1969 with the 1000 km of Monza race and is now used only for the Monza Rally. The chicanes of Curva Grande and the Ascari were added for slowing the cars down in 1972, but with the technology increasing, new chicanes, run-offs, kerbs and tyre walls were forced upon to reduce the speeds in the years to come.
After the death of Ayrton Senna, modifications were done to facilitate gravel traps and the first chicane was changed from double left-right to a single right-left chicane. The re-profiled second chicane claimed a marshal in its first year of racing during the 1997 season. The track has been so uniquely characterised that only Canadian GP circuit resembles to it in some ways, particularly the long straights. About 80% of the lap is spent in full throttle, so no wondering why Pirelli had chosen the hardest compounds to run for this weekend.
Lateral forces endured by the tyres are high and good braking stability along with good traction out of the corners are essential. The winglets on the rear has to compensate for the low-downforce nature, so the wing angle is usually less to cut the drag as well. The severity on the gearbox reaches the peak as more shifts are needed on the high-speed course and brake wear should also be accounted for significantly.
The straight-line speed is the most vital ingredient to win a race at Monza which emphasize the top line speed and power extracted from the engine. The grid could be mixed up as Monza requires a special package to be run on the whole weekend. Since grip level is low, understeer is a major headache and there could always be a compromise made to handling.
A Lap around Monza:
Heading out from the grid and down to turn one which is all about braking; decelerating from 340kph, getting a good exit out of the right-left Variante del Rettifilo chicane matters much to the rest of the lap. Out of turn 2, immediacy on throttle takes to the turn 3, Curva Grande, into the trees blasting through the curve down to the Variante della Roggia chicane after negotiating a short straight before braking. The kerbs are viscous and bumpy and the braking point is just under the bridge, again pressing the brakes hard from 330kph.
This part of sector 1 makes more chances for overtaking in the circuit. Into the fourth gear for the two Lesmos, which are both very slippery. The first one is slightly banked so a mid-corner understeer followed by exit oversteer is possible, getting it wrong will put you trapped up in gravel, then leading up into Variante Ascari is a downhill straight which is very bumpy as well.
The Ascari itself has tricky corners, crucial for timed lap. Braking is difficult because it’s bumpy and after turning in, you jump over the inside kerb. The next right and left-handers are taken flat out and then straight back onto throttle for the famous Parabolica curve. The car feels nervous there, apexing in fourth gear at 215kph and exiting in fifth gear, then accelerating into start/finish straight. Slip-streaming the driver at Parabolica is extremely difficult and getting closer while heading through the main straight will provide an overtaking opportunity down into turn one. This is a lap of Monza.