Monza is the fastest circuit on the F1 calendar and the one with the highest straight line speeds, which are expected to reach 360km/h this year, due to the reduction in downforce and drag on the cars. Strategy is also important as there is a long pit lane, which makes for slow stops and as the cars remaining on track are travelling at high speeds, so it is easy to lose track positions with wrong strategy moves.
Monza has tended to be a one-stop race, but this year Pirelli has been making moves to encourage one more stop than in 2013. However, due to the heat build up in the tyres from the high wheel rotation speeds, they are obliged to bring the medium and hard compound tyres, which are likely to maintain the one stop strategy. Evaluating the tyre performance during the Friday practice sessions will be vital.
But one stop doesn’t mean a lack of strategic tension; how you attack the race, what tyre you start on and when you make your stop will still be pivotal to the outcome.
In 2012, we saw Sergio Perez move up from 12th on the grid to second at the flag thanks to a bold strategy of starting on the hard tyre, running a long first stint and then picking off cars struggling for pace in the later stages, by using the faster medium tyres. It worked perfectly and he got a podium for Sauber.
Monza is not particularly hard on the tyres as there are few fast corners, which put energy into them. The track is basically a series of long straights, punctuated with chicanes. There are only three corners in a traditional sense; the two Lesmo bends and the Parabolica.
Overtaking is common at Monza, but the influence of the DRS is reduced here because the cars run in low downforce specification, with less wing, so there is proportionately less of a drag reduction once the DRS is employed.
One of the key decisions is how to balance the use of the DRS wing (giving a 6-8km/h speed boost) while not hitting the rev limiter. This year teams have fixed gear ratios, but can add an 8th gear and some might make change to add in the top ratio with top speed in mind.
Monza – 5.793 kilometres. Race distance – 53 laps = 306.72 kilometres. 11 corners in total. Average speed 247km/h. Historic race track in a Royal Park.
Aerodynamic setup – Low downforce. Top speed 360km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing)
Full throttle – 74% of the lap (high).
Time spent braking: 11% of lap. Number of brake zones – 6. Brake wear- High)
Total time needed for pit stop (at 80km/h): 25 seconds (ave/high)
The Italian Grand Prix is the thirteenth round of 19 in the 2014 FIA F1 World Championship.
In a season dominated by Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo has won three races, including the relatively low downforce Canadian Grand Prix. Due to various circumstances, the Australian has led 68 laps in the last two races, compared to 27 laps for Hamilton and Rosberg combined!
Meanwhile Mercedes has dominated pole position, apart from Austria, where Williams came out on top. Williams has a low drag car and is likely to feature strongly this weekend. Red Bull has never had the best straight-line speeds, but managed to win the race in 2011 and 2013 due to clever gearing which kept Vettel ahead on acceleration out of the chicanes. It has been a good circuit for McLaren over the years too. The Mercedes power unit advantage is likely to help them once again, as it will Force India, although they have fallen behind recently on development.
From a driver perspective, Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton are the only drivers in the field who have won the Italian Grand Prix; Vettel three times, Alonso twice and Hamilton once.
The weather forecast predicts a warm weekend with temperatures of 27-29 degrees, but there is a 40% chance of rain on Saturday morning.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for Monza: medium (white markings) and hard (orange markings). This combination of tyres was seen in Malaysia, Spain and Silverstone.
Monza is not particularly hard on tyres, as there are no high energy corners to speak of apart from the Parabolica. However as it is a low downforce circuit, the tyres will tend to slide more, especially under traction out of the low speed chicanes and this increases the degradation. Also with the biggest stop of the season from 360km/h down to 75km/h in Turn 1, with little downforce to help, it is easy to lock a wheel up and flat spot a tyre.
Another concern is that the very high wheel rotation speeds when the car is travelling at up to 360km/h, can cause blistering on the inside shoulder.
One thing the teams have to watch out for is that the track temperatures tend to fluctuate a lot at Monza, as the race is held in the early Autumn, so with cloud cover the temperature drops, while it quickly heats up in direct sunshine. This can have an effect on performance.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
The key factor in swinging this race towards just one stop is the slow pit lane time at around 25 seconds, combined with the speed of the cars out on track.
Last year most people did just one stop. The difference in pace between the medium and hard could contribute to the order in which the tyres are used and for cars which are on the fringes of the top ten there could be something in starting on the hard tyre and running a longer first stint in traffic, to around lap 24, then attacking on the faster medium tyre at the end. Having new tyres will help to stretch out stint lengths.
As always, if it turns out that drivers have to stop twice, the ones who plan it from the outset and space out the stops ideally will have an advantage over those pushed into it by fading tyre performance.
Chance of a safety car
The chance of a safety car at Monza is statistically very low at 43% and 0.4 Safety Cars per race. There was however a Safety car three years in a row recently from 2007- 9.
Recent start performance
Starts are a critical part of the race and strategy can be badly compromised by a poor start, while good starts can make strategists change their plans in the hope of a good result. Much can change, especially at Monza, where the cars arrive at speed and are sorted out in a tight first chicane. Incidents are common.
As far as 2014 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season on aggregate as follows:
Net gained positions
15 Bottas, Ericsson
14 Hulkenberg, Kobayashi
13 Raikkonen, Chilton
10 Hamilton, Massa
4 Alonso, Lotterer
Net lost positions
1 Rosberg, Vettel
Melbourne Notes: Kobayashi, Massa eliminated in a first corner accident; Perez, Gutierrez pitted at the end of Lap 1; Bianchi, Grosjean started from pit lane. Malaysia Notes: Perez started from pit lane, Bianchi pitted at the end of lap 1 Bahrain notes: Vergne pitted at the end of lap 1 after contact China Notes: Sutil lost power at start and dropped 8 places, retiring soon after. Monaco notes: Maldonado did not start, Ericsson started from pit lane, Perez crashed Lap 1. Canada Notes: Gutierrez started from pit lane; Bianchi and Chilton crashed lap 1; Ericsson pitted lap 1 Austria Notes: Grosjean started from pit lane GB Notes: Raikkonen and Massa eliminated in 1st lap accident Germany notes: Massa eliminated in 1st lap accident, Magnussen and Ricciardo dropped back as a result Hungary Notes: Hamilton, Magnussen, Kvyat started from pit lane Belgium Notes: Grosjean and Bianchi collided on lap one, Kobayashi absent and replaced by Lotterer.
Pit Stop League Table
Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds by F1 teams.
However with safety measures introduced by the FIA, following a loose wheel incident in a pit stop at the 2013 German Grand Prix, teams now focus more on consistency rather than outright pace.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the Belgian Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it.
Pit Stop League Table
Red Bull 22.675s
Force India 22.977s
Toro Rosso 23.202s
Who do you think will do well this weekend at Monza? Leave your comments in the section below.
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli.