Length: 5.793 kilometres
Monza is Formula 1 hallowed ground. No circuit has hosted more championship grands prix than Italy’s La Pista Magica, which this year celebrates its 101st birthday. With an average speed exceeding 260 kilometres per hour and a top speed of more than 360 kilometres per hour, the track’s ‘temple of speed’ moniker needs no real explanation. Passionately attended by legions of Ferrari’s tifosi, the Italian Grand Prix is one of the brilliant jewels in F1’s crown.
Winner: Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing)
Max Verstappen controlled last year’s race despite starting a penalised seventh. The Dutchman took just five laps to recover to second behind Charles Leclerc, who gambled on a two-stop strategy that gifted Verstappen a lead he looked likely to take anyway and which he duly turned into his 10th win of the year.
Red Bull Racing starts the 14th round of the season undefeated, having won all 13 grands prix of the year to date, 14 in a row dating back to last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and 23 from the last 24. The team’s last defeat came all the way back in July last year at the Austrian Grand prix.
Championship leader Verstappen was untroubled taking pole and seizing victory at his home Dutch Grand Prix at the weekend — despite two attempted interventions by the weather — to equal Sebastian Vettel’s record of nine consecutive wins.
The battle for best of the rest is tumultuous. McLaren and Mercedes appeared to be vying for second-quickest car in Zandvoort, but Aston Martin, with its latest upgrade package, was the team to actually get to the second step of the podium, with Fernando Alonso scoring his first rostrum since June.
Ferrari, however, has been struggling for consistency and endured a difficult weekend in the Netherlands, the team seemingly mystified about its lack of performance.
They don’t call Monza the temple of speed for nothing. Success around this circuit is defined by acceleration and top speed more than any other on the calendar. Just as Monaco makes unique high-downforce demands of the car, teams often arrive in Italy armed with specific low-downforce packages designed specifically to cut drag and boost velocity.
The second-order priority for performance is, ironically, slow-speed manoeuvrability. With the exceptions of Curva Grande and Parabolica, the track’s other corners are all slow, including three chances, good exits from which are critical. To ride the kerbs well and be able to get the power down early will define how much speed a car can amass down the straights.
This combination ought to suit Ferrari among the teams behind Red Bull Racing. The Scuderia has typically been among the fastest in the speed traps and has enjoyed decent form at the calendar’s other high-speed circuits, with Charles Leclerc notably nabbing pole in Azerbaijan earlier this year.
Inversely, McLaren is bracing for a difficult weekend. The car is doesn’t yet have a low-downforce aero package thanks to the effort required to produce the significant upgrades of recent months, and this burnt the team badly in the dry in Belgium, where top speed is similarly important. It’ll need some major revisions to its current kit to hope for a strong result.
Further back, Williams has pegged Monza as a prime opportunity to score some strong points given its long-running affinity for high-speed, low-downforce circuits.
The British team’s recent cars have been relatively unsophisticated when it comes to aerodynamics, but that’s meant they’ve been very easy to trim down to a low-drag specification that makes them almost unbeatable in a straight line, which counts for so much here.
Last year rookie Nyck de Vries was able to score points standing in for the unwell Alex Albon despite receiving the call-up on Saturday morning. Without wanting to detract from the Dutchman’s personal performance, the car was clearly up to the challenge.
But there’s no reason not to expect Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen to do as they did last year and set the pace from beginning of the weekend.