The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza has been home to the Italian Grand Prix and is a hallowed stomping ground to Ferrari's tifosi ever since the San Marino Grand Prix's Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari--located 80 kilometers east of Ferrari's Maranello factory--was removed from the Formula One calendar. In the 59 years of modern F1 world championship, only time Monza didn't host the Italian GP was in 1980 when the race was held in Imola.
The 5.793-kilometer Monza circuit is the last truly high-speed circuit in F1 today with the long straights allowing the cars to go as fast as 350 kilometers per hour (kph) while setting average lap speeds of 250kph around the track. It has a fast second corner that's taken at near flat-out speeds by the drivers and a sweeping ninth corner which subjects the drivers to lateral forces that are over three times their body weight.
As a fast track, Monza puts a premium on a car's power coupled with a low downforce aerodynamic set-up to minimize drag. When running at full throttle 70 percent of the time with the circuit's few run-off areas, Monza tests both a driver's skill, his team's strategy and the car's set-up. This was proven by Sebastian Vettel last year when he claimed his and Red Bull Racing team's maiden win.
At third place in the driver's championship and 19 points behind the top-ranked Brawn GP driver Jenson Button, Vettel is in a quandary since he'll undoubtedly want to win the title. Vettel, however, is already on his eighth engine--the last he can use for the rest of the season based on F1 rules. He has no choice but to baby his powerplant until the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November.
Meanwhile, Button's dismal performance in the last five races has led many to question his confidence. If Button is to keep his title hopes alive, he has to score some decent point finishes or, better yet, score some vital back-to-back wins.
This season could also be Rubens Barrichello's last good chance to win the world title. Rumor has it that Brawn GP is eyeing WilliamsF1's Nico Rosberg to partner Button next season. There's also word going around that Mercedes-Benz is looking in to buy into Brawn GP and bring Rosberg to the fold. The pressure on Barrichello mounts.
Another driver who will also be under pressure this weekend is Giancarlo Fisichella who is replacing Luca Badoer. Poached by Ferrari from Force India after an impressive run in Belgium, Fisichella gets to finally live his boyhood dream to drive for Ferrari. Fisichella has been racing in F1 for the past 13 years, he's expected to run close to teammate Kimi Raikkonen's pace since the Italian did a good job of shadowing the Flying Finn two weeks ago.
McLaren and Ferrari's Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) seem to be maturing well as both teams have split two of the last three races between them. With Monza's reputation as a fast track, we can expect these two to maximize their KERS to the fullest as witnessed in the last race at the equally fast Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps where Raikkonen's KERS-equipped Ferrari held back Fisichella's challenge in a non-KERS-equipped Force India. The KERS is such an advantage at circuits with long straights that it's no surprise Renault is also bringing its system back after not using it in the past few races.
This year's Italian Grand Prix could hold more surprises for everyone. Stay tuned.