The 2013 Formula 1 world championship moves from Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium to Monza in Italy... from one historic and high-speed circuit to another... and from one circuit steeped in motor racing legend to another.
Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel comes into this race as the favourite. And after an almost flawless cruise to the race win at Spa two weeks ago, very few would dare bet against the Red Bull driver making it three wins in the last four races.
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, based on recent results, is probably the only driver with enough speed in his car to catch the Milton Keynes outfit. The British driver has ruled supreme in qualifying sessions so far this season, with pole position in each of the last four races and a top three start in all but two races.
Sheer speed is always welcome at Monza, so expect Hamilton's team mate, Nico Rosberg, to be there or thereabouts as well. The German has had a quiet time of late but three straight poles between Bahrain and Monaco are reason enough to include him in the weekend's calculations.
Ferrari are the dark horses going into this weekend. Monza is, above all, Ferrari's home track. This is the spiritual and physical home of the prancing horse. This is the cathedral at which all Ferrari aficionados come to pray and Fernando Alonso will leave no stone unturned in making sure the tifosi celebrate a scarlet car at the top of the podium on Sunday.
The race weekend will consist, as usual, of two practice sessions on Friday. There will be a third practice period on Saturday morning, followed by the qualifying. The race is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
Where to Watch Live
Live coverage of the first practice session starts at 8.45am BST on Sky Sports F1. Coverage is also available on BBC Two, from 8.55am BST.
Live coverage of the second practice session starts at 12.45am BST on Sky Sports F1. Coverage is also available on BBC Two, from 1pm BST.
Real-time internet updates are available on the Live Timing section of the sport's official website.
Drivers' Championship Review
Vettel has a very comfortable lead at the top of the table; the champion has 197 points to Alonso's 151 and Hamilton is on 139.
Lotus-Renault's Kimi Raikkonen is only five points behind the Mercedes driver but the Finn has not won a race since the season-opening Australian Grand Prix and has only once qualified in the top three (at China). Raikkonen does have impressively consistent race results - he has five second place finishes to his name. However, the former Ferrari driver needs to start winning races if he is to overhaul Vettel or even Alonso at the top of the table.
Unfortunately for him and Lotus, this is not likely to be that race.
Constructors' Championship Review
Red Bull Racing have utterly and completely dominated the constructors' championships over the past few season and 2013 is no different. The Milton Keynes outfit has benefitted from the fact that both drovers - Vettel and Mark Webber - have produced results consistently. As a result, they lead Mercedes 312 points to 235 with Ferrari a further 17 behind the Germans.
Lotus and McLaren-Mercedes round out the top five, with the latter well off the pace and struggling to keep Force India-Mercedes behind them.
The Autodromo Nazionale Monza is the last of a dying breed. The 5.793km circuit is relatively uncomplicated - there are three long straights punctuated by little chicanes that do very little by way of slowing the cars down. In an era where the sport is, not unjustifiably, trying to control the speed of the cars and reign in the advances in technology, Monza is a throwback to the old ways... when a driver needed an insanely fast car and equally insane reflexes and driving skills to finish the race unscathed, never mind take the chequered flag.
And then there is Curva Parabolica.
At the last race in Belgium, much was made about the infamous Eau Rouge and Blanchimont corners. The Parabolica joins those two and a few others (the 130R at Suzuka, for example) in Formula 1 legend. Cars approach the right-hander at over 330km/h and must simultaneously brake as late as possible and control speed through the corner, touching the apex at 215km/h.
The exit is equally tricky. The car is accelerating all the way out from the apex, so drivers leave Parabolica at 280km/h. However, accelerate too fast and the car will run out of track on the exit (not a good idea at nearly 300km/h). And if the car is slow out of the corner, the driver is setting himself up to be overtaken down the start-finish straight and into Variante del Rettifilo.
There are really only two proper corners at Monza and the fact the Parabolica is one of them should tell you a lot about the circuit. The other is Curva di Lesmo.
Technically, Lesmo is a double-apex right-hander that tightens as the car goes through the second bend. The corner is at the end of a short straight after the Variante della Roggia, which is the second chicane. Basically though, the right-hander forms the break between the second and final straights.
Cars crawl through the opening chicane (Rettifilo) at about 75km/h and accelerate all the way through Curva Biassono and into Roggia, which they reach at 330km/h. The second chicane is a rather scarily fast left-right combination that demands absolute commitment and the driver to hit the kerbs on the inside and exit. Beware, though, of hitting them too fast... the car will jump off the track and into the waiting tyre barriers.
Past Roggia the cars reach 260km/h before braking for Curva di Lesmo. A very tight line is critical through this section because it sets you up for the run down through Curva del Serraglio, Variante Ascari and into Parabolica.
Of all the three chicanes at Monza (the Variantes) Ascari is the fastest and most impressive. Named after the legendary Alberto Ascari (the Italian driver who died at that spot on the track in 1955), this is taken at speeds approaching 200km/h; an ironically appropriate tribute... and one that explains just what Monza is about.
- Name: Monza
- Length: 5.793km
- Lap Record: R Barrichello (Ferrari; 2004) 1:21.046
- 2012 Pole Position: 1:24.010 - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes)
- 2012 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes)
Pirelli have confirmed P Zero Orange (hard) and P Zero White (medium) tyres will be available for Monza, which is not an unexpected move. Pirelli's statement: "Whereas Spa is characterised by a lot of fast corners, Monza is all about high-speed straights. Here, the tyres are subjected to very high longitudinal forces and blistering can be an issue due to the stress put on the tyres under braking. Therefore, the two hardest compounds are also the ideal choice at this race."
The weekend's first session starts at 10am local time and there is excellent news for drivers and cars. Weather forecasts call for clear, sunny and bright blue skies, with a maximum temperature of 27C. Expect the mercury to touch 30C by the start of the second session on Friday, at 2pm local time.
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