by Adrian-Liviu Dorofte

Italian F1 Grand Prix 2012: Preview (VMM)

Monza is one of the most iconic racetracks in the world. Built in 1922 in a royal park north of Milan, the circuit is an eclectic mix of old and new: the crumbling banking that formed part of the original layout still lies adjacent to the modern racetrack, which is the fastest of the 2012 season.

In four places around the 3.6-mile/5.8km lap the cars exceed 200mph. Such relentless speeds force the teams to use low-downforce wing configurations on their cars, which reduce aerodynamic drag while trying to maintain braking stability. Suspension settings are also critical to a quick lap because the cars need a smooth ride over the circuit’s high kerbs to allow the drivers to get the power down early on corner exits.

The vociferous Italian fans, known colloquially as the Tifosi, are sure to give every team a lot of support during this, the last European race of the 2012 season. Neither Lewis nor Jenson has previously won at Monza, although Jenson has finished second in each of the past three races at the track. Both men are looking to make amends this year.

Race distance - 53 laps (190.596 miles/306.720km)
Start time - 14:00 (local)/13:00 BST
Circuit length - 3.600 miles/5.793km
2011 winner - Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing) 53 laps in 1hr20m46.172s (227.848km/h)
2011 pole - Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing) 1m22.275s (253.476km/h)
Lap record - Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari F2004) 1m21.046s (257.320km/h)

McLaren at the Italian Grand Prix

- Wins: 9 (1968, 1984, 1985, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1997, 2005, 2007)

- Poles: 10 (1977, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1999, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009)

- Fastest Laps: 11 (1984, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2011)

Car 3: Jenson Button
- Age: 32 (January 19 1980)
- GPs: 220
- Wins: 14
- Poles: 8
- FLs: 7
- 2012 points: 101 (6th)
- Italy record: 2011 Q3 R2; 2010 Q2 R2; 2009 Q6 R2; 2008 Q19 R15; 2007 Q10 R8; 2006 Q5 R5; 2005 Q3 R8; 2004 Q6 R3; 2003 Q7 R-; 2002 Q17 R5; 2001 Q11 R-; 2000 Q12 R-

“I head to Monza absolutely full of motivation after a fantastic result in Spa. It was the perfect weekend for me – it’s not only put me back in contention for the drivers’ championship, but it’s shown that we have a car that can definitely fight for the constructors’ title.

“It’ll be great to be back in the car so soon after the victory. Monza is one of the greatest circuits in the world and our car seems to be particularly well suited to high-speed circuits, so I’m optimistic that we’ll be competitive again this weekend.

“For some reason, the car we’ve brought to Monza in the last two seasons has been really well suited to me. I’ve really been able to work with the balance and enjoyed pushing the car. The success we had with a low-downforce configuration at Spa also gives us cause for optimism.

“I’ve finished second here in both my previous races for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes – I’ll definitely be going for the win this weekend.”

Car 4: Lewis Hamilton
- Age: 27 (January 7 1985)
- GPs: 102
- Wins: 19
- Poles: 22
- FLs: 11
- 2012 points: 117 (5th)
- Italy record: 2011 Q2 R4; 2010 Q5 R-; 2009 Q1 R12; 2008 Q15 R7; 2007 Q2 R2

“Spa was just one of those weekends – but the beauty of these double-header races is that it’s already firmly behind me. And Monza is such a unique and invigorating circuit that it’s easy to put my disappointments to one side and just focus on driving as fast as possible this weekend.

“For me, there’s something about Formula 1’s older circuits that’s very special; despite each being very different, the newer tracks all seem to have the same character and the same sort of rhythm, but the older circuits are very different. They feel like the land has shaped and influenced them rather than the other way around. I like that – it means you never fall into any particular comfort zone and you’re always pushing the car one way or the other to get the best from any lap.

“The first laps out of the pits on Friday always feels incredible because we have such little downforce and the ratios are so long. It feels like you never stop accelerating – and then you hit the brakes and the car feels really unstable, because the wings aren’t doing much to keep it settled. You soon get used to it, but it’s always exciting to be driving flat-out around Monza because it’s such a different experience from anywhere else we visit.

“I’ve never won at Monza before – I’ll be doing everything I can to take the victory this weekend.”

Martin Whitmarsh
Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

“Our victories in Hungary and Spa hardly feel like back-to-back wins because they were achieved so far apart, but they give us enormous encouragement because they demonstrate that we can win on circuits of distinctly different character.

“While I still think that making predictions from race to race is largely futile, it’s satisfying to see there’s some shape to our performances. We’ve qualified a car on the front row of the grid for seven of this year’s 12 races – and that’s hugely motivational for our designers and engineers because it shows that we’re able to develop and refine the car successfully from track to track. There’s no reason why that shouldn’t continue.

“Our low-downforce potential was clear to see in Spa and we’re hopeful of picking up where we left off in Italy. In fact, Monza is the only truly high-speed circuit remaining on the Formula 1 calendar. In the past, it was comparable to the old Hockenheim and, in some ways, to Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, but Monza’s heritage gives it a unique character. It’s a track where the past comes to life and it’s an honour to tread upon the same Tarmac as some of the sport’s true greats.

“Having won in Hungary and Belgium, we’ll be aiming for a hat-trick of wins in Italy!”

McLaren has a long history of success at Monza, which is one of the oldest and most revered racetracks in the world. Here’s how the team defined 10 days in the history of the Italian Grand Prix.

1. September 8 1968
Bruce McLaren takes an early lead after starting second, but he drops out of contention mid-race when he’s forced to pit for more oil. Denny Hulme takes up the fight for McLaren in the second M7A and survives a close battle with Johnny Servoz-Gavin and Jacky Ickx to take his first win of the season.

2. September 9 1984
Survival of the fittest. Niki Lauda starts fourth and keeps out of trouble to win the race, which is blighted by an unusually high number of retirements. At the end of the race, Niki and second placed Michele Alboreto are the only drivers on the lead lap.

3. September 8 1985
Alain Prost’s fifth win of the season. He qualifies fifth and works his way to the front, taking the lead with six laps to go when Keke Rosberg retires with engine trouble. The possibility of two McLarens on the podium is over when Niki retires with transmission problems.

4. September 11 1988
Ayrton Senna dominates the race, until lap 49. He converts his 10th pole position of the year into a convincing lead, but comes unstuck while lapping the Williams of 11th placed Jean-Louis Schlesser at the first chicane. They collide and Ayrton is taken out of the race, handing victory to Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari. Had Ayrton won that day, McLaren would have won every race of the 1988 grand prix season.

5. September 11 1989
Ayrton starts from pole position and dominates the race until lap 45, when he’s forced to retire with engine trouble. Alain, who has just been confirmed as a Ferrari driver for 1990, inherits the lead and takes an emotional win from Gerhard Berger.

6. September 9 1990
The race is red flagged on lap one after Derek Warwick crashes at Parabolica. At the re-start, Ayrton converts pole position into a convincing lead, which he never loses. Gerhard runs second for much of the race, but the chances of a McLaren 1-2 fade with Gerhard’s brakes late in the race. Prost passes him, demoting the Austrian to third place.

7. September 13 1992
Ayrton’s second and final victory at Monza. Williams dominates the early stages of the race, but both FW14s retire with hydraulic problems and Ayrton is left out front. Gerhard comes home fourth in the second MP4/7.

8. September 7 1997
A brilliant start from David Coulthard sees him jump from sixth on the grid to third by the end of lap one. He takes second place when Heinz-Harald Frentzen pits and then follows race leader Jean Alesi into the pits on lap 32. McLaren executes a brilliant pitstop under pressure and DC exits the pits in the lead. He’s 1.9s ahead of Alesi at the flag.

9. September 4 2005
Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya are first and second fastest in qualifying, but Kimi drops 10 places on the grid after an overnight engine change. Juan Pablo inherits pole and is never headed in the race, despite tyre trouble late in the race. Kimi comes home fourth in the second MP4-20.

10. September 9 2007
Our only one-two finish at Monza to date. Fernando Alonso starts from pole and is never headed; Lewis Hamilton starts second and ably back him up in the race. Lewis looks set to challenge Fernando at the start, but he’s hit by Felipe Massa under braking for Turn One and settles for second place, rather than risk an accident with his team-mate.

~ Official photo and details courtesy of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes ~

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