Round 13 of the 2014 Formula One World Championship brings us to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix, held at the Autodromo di Monza.
Lewis Hamilton: The Italian Grand Prix is always a special one for me in terms of the memories I have there - going right back to my early career. The karting championships used to race in Italy quite often and it's also where I met Nico - so that's where our rivalry really began. Monza is such a historic circuit and to win there is a really special feeling. I had that experience in 2012 and I'd love to do it again in 2014. Last season we really struggled at this race - but we have a fantastic car this year and I'm confident we can make up for it this time around. One thing I always love about racing at Monza is the fans. They're just so passionate about motorsport and the buzz around the place is unbelievable - particularly on the podium. Hopefully we can reward them with some exciting racing. My aim for the weekend, of course, is to claw back the gap in the Drivers' Championship. It's as big as it's been all season so I've got a lot of work ahead of me - but anything can happen in this sport. I won't give up until the flag drops in Abu Dhabi and there's still plenty of points to be won before then, so it's far from over yet.
Nico Rosberg: Monza is a circuit I really enjoy going to. Firstly, the history of the place is fantastic and then there's the fans - the Tifosi - who make an incredible atmosphere. I've not had much luck at this race in the past - 2011 in particular where I didn't even make it past the first corner! But this year things are different. We have a great car and with the Mercedes-Benz Hybrid Power Unit behind us I feel confident we can get a really great result. It's still all to play for in the Championship and with the double points race in Abu Dhabi anything can still happen. I'm focused on taking the maximum points possible in the remaining seven races and I know the team is too - starting with a top result this weekend.
Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: After a tough weekend in Belgium, our attention is now fully focused on the next race at Monza. We have a quick car but we have not delivered our full potential in recent races and that must be our target this weekend. It's no less than the people at Brackley, Brixworth and Stuttgart deserve, with everyone working flat out to ensure we finish the job this season. Of course, Spa was a reminder to us as a team that our competition are never far away and we must continue to tackle every weekend as if it could be the defining moment of our season. Monza is a fantastic venue - a legendary circuit with incredible fans and a truly great standing in motorsport history. When the Silver Arrows first took on the Italian Grand Prix back in the 1950s it could not have been a better story, with victories in both races. We approach this weekend with a repeat of that achievement firmly in our sights.
Paddy Lowe, Executive Director (Technical): Despite the end result, it was encouraging to see the potential of our car in Belgium - both in wet and dry conditions as we saw during qualifying and the race respectively. Spa, of course, brings with it quite unique aerodynamic requirements - also a factor at Monza, which sees the lowest drag configuration of the year. We therefore approach this weekend very much in the hope of showing similar pace to that seen in Spa. Demands on the cars at Monza are numerous and significant - with long straights, tight chicanes and high kerbs making it particularly tough on engines, brakes and suspension. The drivers spend a large portion of the lap at full throttle and temperatures can often be relatively high, so there is plenty to manage in terms of both endurance and setup to maximise performance. It's a fantastic location for a Grand Prix. Weaving through parkland and with many elements of the original layout - including the spectacular high banking - still present as a reminder of the heritage and standing this place holds within world motorsport. The fans too are second to none in terms of their passion and enthusiasm - and that's what makes Formula One such a great sport. The combination of each of these aspects makes it all the more special and satisfying to win at Monza. It's a venue that has produced mixed results for both of our drivers in the past, with last year's race proving to be a tough test for the team as a whole. We fully intend to rectify that this time around.
The Inside Line
Lewis: Monza is bellissimo! It's the fastest circuit we get to drive throughout the year and coming across the long start / finish straight you really are absolutely flat out - maybe even approaching 360 km/h with the new Hybrid Power Units. It's a very technical track which is all about late braking, riding and bouncing off the kerbs... it's pretty spectacular!
Finding the braking point into Turn One is not easy. You generally run a lot less downforce on the car at this circuit and you're arriving at much higher speed, so braking distances change quite a bit. Of course, this year we have less downforce at the rear of the car anyway, so that will make it even trickier.
You have to position yourself nice and straight coming out of Turn Three as, once again, braking into Turn Four is tricky. The front of the car gets quite light on the way into the corner and the exit kerb is really bumpy, which loses you a lot of traction. Into the two Lesmo curves and you're now driving through the shadows thanks to the trees above the track. For both of these, you need to get the front hugged in and then nail the exit - especially out of the second corner as there's a long straight immediately afterwards.
This straight is interesting for a number of reasons. There's the first DRS zone of the lap, it's quite narrow at the start and there's a crest in the middle of the track which means the car is bumping and bouncing all the way down to the Ascari chicane. Turn Eight is really difficult - important not to take too much of the corner on the way in but crucial to maintain as much speed as possible for the run down the next straight to the Parabolica.
The final corner is really misleading, as you carry so much speed into here and it feels like the car has turned. You then have to be fully committed once you get on the power as any lift will lose you so much time across the start / finish line and back into the first corner of a new lap where it's easiest to overtake.
Nico: The Monza circuit as a venue is very unique - very special. It's the most high-speed track on the calendar and, with the new Hybrid Power Units, we'll be going even faster this year - maybe in excess of 350 km/h which is just a crazy number! There aren't many circuits where we even use eighth gear but here we'll definitely be using it - and using all of it. That's almost what it's made for - just so you can carry maximum speed all the way to the end of the Monza straight.
There's always a lot of action in the race at Monza as there are so many long straights, so we usually see a lot of overtaking. The most difficult part to get right is actually the first chicane, as it's such a hard braking zone and then a really tight sequence of corners to the right and then immediately hard back to the left again. It may not look so difficult from the outside but if you don't get your braking 100% right you can lose a lot of time there.
On the Pit Wall
Set-up: Monza will see the highest straight line speeds of any circuit on the calendar. However, there is still a compromise to be found between drag and downforce. Drivers must achieve high exit speeds from the final corner, the Parabolica, and carrying that momentum all the way down the long start / finish straight into Turn One. The higher the exit speed and the better that momentum is maintained, the greater peak speed on the straight will be. The new Hybrid formula introduced for 2014 has produced Power Units which accelerate right through the range, meaning that speed can be built all the way to the end of the straight - whereas in previous years in may have flattened off a little. Interestingly, though, what has been seen so far in 2014 demonstrates that top speed is not necessarily defined by the length of a straight - but by the exit speed carried out of the preceding corner. When assessing wing choices for Monza, the differential between low and high drag in terms of ultimate lap time is surprisingly flat. Of course, top speed is important due to the length and quantity of straights. However, the exit of the Parabolica, plus the requirements of the Ascari and Lesmo Curves, call for good apex speed - which indicates a need for downforce. This creates an interesting dynamic in terms of where you are racing in the pack - one that is very difficult to optimise and will see drivers trialling various options in practice. If two cars of equal performance are set up with a 20 km/h difference in straight line speed, however, the driver with less drag will always be able to make his way past. More often than not, this will lead teams to adopt the low drag philosophy in order to avoid being swallowed up in the race.
Engine: Alongside Spa, Monza sits at the very peak of the scale in terms of the demands placed on engines. Sustaining full throttle for a large portion of the lap, the engines run within a very different operating regime to that seen at most other venues - high loads and high RPM for extended periods of time. At these circuits and at this point in the season, those who are treading a fine line in terms of engine life cycle may well suffer.
Tyres: Previous seasons have seen a mixture of one, two and even three stop strategies. However, this year's allocation of the hard and medium compound remains the same as that of 2013, where almost the entire field adopted a one stop strategy. The reason for nominating the two hardest compounds is that potential top speeds at Monza are extremely high - potentially to the tune of 360 km/h with the 2014 Power Units - and are sustained for a significant period of time. The most durable rubber available is therefore required to cope with such forces. One of the many interesting features of Monza is also the quantity of traction events - especially out of Turns Two and Five. Overtaking in these areas is often prevalent as a result, but this characteristic also places high demands on the rear tyres. Conversely, the front tyres have a relatively low amount of energy worked through them - but spend a lot of time being cooled down by straight line air flow. Maintaining temperature in the front tyres is therefore a challenge and drivers are often seen weaving a lot to achieve this - particularly in qualifying.
Kerbs: Cars need to be able to ride the kerbs at Monza - through the chicanes at Turn One / Two and Four / Five in particular. Adapting to this requirement should not affect the performance of the car around the rest of the circuit, however those who find the best suspension setup to manage the kerbs will gain a significant amount of time through the first sector. The opening phase of the lap does require good straight line speed - but is more affected by how hard the driver can hit the kerbs.
Overtaking: Monza is one of the more straightforward tracks on the calendar in terms of overtaking. However, the cars are absolutely on the limit of braking as the drivers decelerate into Turn One - with some of the highest levels of longitudinal g-force seen at any circuit coming into play. As a result, mistakes are often seen into the first corner - particularly early in the weekend. This is all part of what makes Monza interesting, as it creates a very dynamic situation where drivers are able to carve their way from the rear to the front of the field. The effect of DRS, however, is dramatically reduced compared to most other circuits. With cars erring towards a low downforce setup, there is less drag to shed from the rear wing.
Safety Cars: Safety Car probability has traditionally been relatively high at Monza in both wet and dry conditions - making appearances in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011. Despite not featuring in either of the past two seasons, the characteristics of the circuit do lend themselves to incident - both in terms of the track action and reliability. As mentioned previously, the demands on both tyres and engines are extremely high, resulting in an elevated attrition rate from a mechanical perspective. Then, there's the main overtaking zone - the first chicane. Drivers are braking from exceptionally high speeds into a very tight right hander that turns through more than 90 degrees, then back into very much the same severity to the left. To make a pass stick the driver must be fully committed to the move as, once again, the cars are on the limit in terms of braking. This naturally leads to incidents.
Climate: Weather conditions have traditionally been consistent at Monza. Ambient temperatures usually sit around the mid-twenties with track temperatures at a similarly manageable level, meaning cooling should not be a key consideration. There are, however, seasonal considerations specific to Monza which can have an effect. Much of the circuit is lined with trees which, given the September calendar slot, will inevitably lead to a build-up of leaves and other debris in the sidepod radiator grills. A car which may not have been marginal on temperature may well lose a few degrees of cooling as a result - often requiring alterations to pit stop procedure in order to give the crew a chance to reach in and clear away the debris. Furthermore, in drying conditions, the tree cover results in certain parts of the track drying out more slowly than the rest of the circuit. This is most prominent through the Lesmo curves, which can catch drivers out during early laps on the slick tyres.
Fans: One characteristic that always stands out in Monza is the fans, who are allowed to camp around the circuit and can be seen enjoying themselves throughout the day and late into the evening on a race weekend. They may often have a natural inclination towards a certain team in particular, but there is little animosity as they enjoy Formula One and the make it a big part of their lives. It doesn't matter if a team is first or last - the fans are there for the show and create a fantastic atmosphere for everyone involved.