Monza is the fastest track on the Formula One tour and until recently was the personal testing ground of the Scuderia Marlboro UPC. Now, except for this weekend, constructors are barred from using it at all.
There are a couple of angles to this. First, the commentators have finally noticed what I’ve been pointing out for years which is that track testing, though expensive, is the only way for new teams to develop the engineering knowledge to become competitive.
You see it’s quite one thing to take your chassis and your aero bits to a wind tunnel and create a downforce/drag model and an entirely different thing to generate a table of tire grip and degradation under various track surfaces, temperatures, fuel loads, and driving styles.
Also tracks are losing revenue from admissions and rent and maintenance is neglected and untested since the circuits are not being used. Monza used to rent out every weekend without an event to Maronello and people would pay to wander around and watch. They’ve just repaved a section and it’s so ripply that people are in danger of losing their compliance boards (you can only scratch a millimeter or 2 off the bottom of your car when you bang the road or a curb). The prancing pony people would have had that fixed.
Another issue is driver preparation. Out of a limited pool of practice hours teams understandably devote the bulk to their primaries. If by circumstance you are forced to start your substitute they will have very little experience in anything except a simulator. GP 2s are a very different car and type of racing and graduates of that program still require 2 or 3 seasons of training in the F1 hardware to be effective which is why you’ll see so many ‘retired’ veterans make a brief comeback no matter how bad they were in their original stint in the big show.
As is happening this weekend, Grosjean is under suspension for taking out Alonso and Hamilton in Turn One at Spa last week. His replacement? d’Ambrosia of no particular reputation other than that of not gratuitously wrecking cars.
Lotus is particularly hard hit this year because after much development they’ve been forced to temporarily abandon their trick passive F-Duct for the 3rd race where it might have made a difference. Europe has been rainy and race weekend practices inundated beyond the possibility of testing. We may or may not see its debut in Suzuka, just in time to make no difference at all this season and legislated out of existence next.
Monza is very very fast and the operative elements are downforce and drag. All the teams will be running the smallest wings they have in stock. The tire compounds are Hard and Medium and at that they will probably go off quicker than you think because of the stress of braking and cornering without aero help. Likewise engines and transmissions (Alonso has already gone through a set of each in practice).
While it’s fast, there’s not a lot of passing opportunities because the engines are so narrowly specified that there’s not a lot of horsepower difference on the straights. Position changes under braking which means it will be a game of chicken in the corners with a lot depending on mechanical (tire) grip. There will be 2 DRS Zones but the cars are already so light I don’t expect them to make much difference.
On form McLarens and Ferraris look slightly better because of beefier engines and because they have problems with getting enough downforce, not being fast in a straight line. Pole will be particularly important though probably not decisive because the interval between the leaders will be low. It will be difficult to get enough of a lead to pit without losing position and hard to regain that once lost unless in an advantageous tactical position (cleary better tires, opponent behind on pits, etc.).
Maldonado did jump start last week, unsure if there was any penalty since he eventually retired anyway.
Speed will repeat Practice and Qualifying starting at 2 am tomorrow with the GP 2 race starting at 6 am and the Italian Grand Prix at 8.