Grand Prix 2012 Italian Grand Prix Practice, Qualifying & Race Discussion

After a long summer break, F1 has it's second race in a week as the circus rolls onto Monza for the last European race of the season and the season is finely poised as Championship protagonists Alonso and Hamilton failed to score after a lap one crash in Belgium. McLaren team-mate Button took his second win of the season to keep alive his Championship hopes and is 'only' just over 60 points behind Alonso and 16 points behind Hamilton.

Just as Spa is famous as a historical track, Monza is similar. Monza is the definition of speed and is one of the most famous tracks in history. But it's a track that has seen as much tragedy as success with several drivers losing their lives at the circuit, notably Ronnie Petersen and Jochen Rindt. This led to modifications in the circuit with the banking sections no longer used and chicanes added in to slow the cars down with the last change being in 2000 with a change to the first corner. However, drivers are still at full throttle for the majority of the lap and it presents a major challenge to the driver, even if overtaking isn't the easiest.

Going into the Italian Grand Prix, McLaren seem to be in the best form after taking 2 victories in the last two races but were very Jekyll and Hyde as in Hungary, Hamilton won as Button struggled, and in Belgium Button won while Hamilton crashed, but we will never know how Hamilton would have got on in the race but he was certainly not the happiest after believing a wrong rear choice hampered him in qualifying as he was eight tenths behind his team mate who took his first pole position since the Monaco Grand Prix in 2009.

Alonso's DNF played into the hands of Red Bull and especially Vettel who nearly halved the deficit to Alonso despite not making Q3 he took advantage of the carnage at the start, allied with some strong overtaking, notably at the last chicane to finish second and reduce the gap to less than a race victory. Webber also benefited despite not finishing on the podium as he reduced the gap to 32 points and only 8 points behind his team-mate. A race win in Ferrari's home territory for either Webber or Vettel would really strike home at Maranello and reduce the gap to almost nothing and would be a major psychological boost, just as it would if a McLaren driver takes the flag on Sunday.

The big disappointment of Belgium was Lotus, many expected them to be fighting for the win and had said that they had the best package going into the weekend, but their only produce was a third for Raikkonen, some way off the leaders after spending much of the first half of the race fighting with Schumacher. Team mate Grosjean caused a huge crash at turn one and as a result is banned from this weekends race as punishment. Lotus will be extremely disappointed not to have turned a very strong car and good performances into a win with 2nd place being the highest they've finished so far this season and a few times both drivers have been on the podium but the top step has been elusive. They won't be too confident of changing that in Monza as the track doesn't suit their strengths and they could well be behind McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari in terms of raw pace. However, just like in 2003, Raikkonen's consistency and abilty to bring the car home in the points means he's 4th in the Championship and is a major part of the championship despite having yet to win a race.

Mercedes certainly have the quickest car in a straight line and that will make them very competitive, as shown in 2011, but they suffer from very poor rear tyre wear which affects their traction and with slow chicanes that will cost them on Sunday but they could act as the joker in the pack with a strong qualifying performance and it was this that compromised Hamilton's race in 2011 as he was stuck behind Schumacher for the early part.

For Galahad's write up on the circuit -
I see Vettel has sneaked up the table again. I believe Redbull still have the fastest car and Gary Anderson has commented on how they are struggling to unlock the car's potential due to its sensitivity to setup changes. This could be 2010 all over again.
I for one will be interested to see what strategies the teams employ, as over the last few seasons there has been a shift from the traditional thinking, with Vettel winning last year running a high (relatively speaking) downforce setting, seemingly relying on a good lap time overall rather than top speed.
Hmmm, yes. I seem to recall gear selection also having a big influence, with some "topping out" on the revs 3/4 down the straight but scoring big time on post chicane grunt?
Quite right gethinceri. I know that the DRS effect will be somewhat smaller at Monza as downforce levels are so low already, but it's still a useful tool that will be completely nullified if top gear is set too low. Remember Hamilton v Schumacher last year? Lewis couldn't get past for about 30 laps, but after he eventually did (at the pit stops?) he was blindingly quick in clear air.
The Red Bulls suffered similarly at Spa last weekend to an extent, in that they would run out of puff half way along Kemmel when trying to overtake, even with the DRS open.
I see Vettel has sneaked up the table again. I believe Redbull still have the fastest car and Gary Anderson has commented on how they are struggling to unlock the car's potential due to its sensitivity to setup changes. This could be 2010 all over again.

I agree, well at least Red Bull clearly has the fastest race car. If Vettel would have started at the front at Spa he'd of been right with Button all the way. If Vettel can get a car on pole then we'll see 2011 repeats, like it looked in Valencia. For whatever reason their car struggles in qualifying this year, or at least seems very temperamental and sensitive to minor condition changes.

What is strange is that McLaren for the past few years have always been faster in the race than qualifying and Red Bull have been the opposite. This year they have replaced each other! I think several McLaren people including the drivers and technical staff have inadvertently commented on the fact that they have more qualifying pace this year than in the race. Almost as though they know the reason themselves - like they have a clever gizmo. I wonder if Lewis being idiotic and posting these lap comparisons with JB will now reveal this.

Either way, another factor in comparison is definitely that the McLaren suffers from degradation during races, however, I've noticed at races where tyres actually suffer "wear" such as Spa, Canada, Barcelona, etc, Red Bull have struggled more and McLaren have been ok. But at most other races where the tyres have supposedly not been wearing but there has been thermal degradation, the McLaren has really struggled and the Red Bull has exceeded. This analysis or well the terminology may not be spot on, but I've definitely noticed at certain circuits where Pirelli specify the tyre wear will be more related to the actual forces put through the tyres rather than the thermal heat degradation and possibly also traction based degradation, there has been a pattern emerging. I know Red Bull have been playing round all season with engine maps that stop the tyres spinning as much under traction, with this coming to a head at the German GP with their engine mapping - but they've been doing it in a lesser form all season.
Two DRS zones for Monza this year, slighlty shorter than 2011.

Zone 1: detection is entry of T11, activation is 115m after the start-finish line
Zone 2: detection is entry of T7, activation is 230m after T7
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