Italian Grand Prix Weekend Preview and Updates

by | Sep 11, 2022 | F1

Weekend Preview

This weekend Formula 1 heads to the self-proclaimed “Temple of Speed” in Milan’s Royal Park, it’s time for Monza! This is Ferrari’s home race, along with Alfa Romeo and Alpha Tauri, and this year there is a celebration of Ferrari’s 75th racing year, with a special livery, overalls, and helmets from the Scuderia. The Tifosi (Ferrari Fans!) are at the track in their thousands, hoping for another win around this famous old circuit, could be in for a stellar weekend with the raft of engine penalties that surround the front of the grid, but a flawless weekend is essential to realizing that dream; in a season littered with mistakes.

Monza was first used as a Grand Prix circuit in 1921 and has featured in every season of the Formula One World Championship, except for 1980, for a total of 91 previous races at this circuit. The original circuit featured the two huge, banked corners connected by long straights that produced astronomical speeds for the day, but were abandoned in 1961 after several high profiled disasters. The track was still the fastest in the sport and several changes throughout the 1970s and further changes in the 1990s did slow the cars down but it’s moniker as the “Temple of Speed” remained. The current circuit has had the same basic layout since the 1970s and provides the teams a different challenge to most other weekends. Unique skinny wings and fresh engines providing the best opportunity for success around Monza, although overtaking opportunities remain limited but with the new spec cars, we shall see if that holds true over the weekend.

As the 2022 season takes its toll on the team’s parts lists, the raft of penalties continues to come forth at every circuit with Lewis Hamilton the first to succumb to needing new engine parts. Both Red Bull cars and the Ferrari’s have the threat of new parts hanging over them, along with Alfa Romeo and Alpha Tauri on the limit of useable parts. This presents some excellent opportunities for those further down the grid to have a positive weekend and bring some much-needed points to their season.

Current Drivers Championship Rank
Current Constructors Championship Rank
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The mood in the paddock took a somber turn on Thursday evening, with the news filtering through that Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth had passed away at the age of 96. Formula One has many British based teams and 3 British drivers, so the loss took an obvious edge off the weekend. Formula One sent out a message of condolence to the British Royal Family soon after the news and has planned for a moment of reflection to begin Friday’s running. May She Rest in Peace.

Friday Practice Update

Free Practice 1

Ferrari led the way in Free Practice 1 with Charles LeClerc, home favorite for the Tifosi, topping the time sheets just ahead of Carlos Sainz and George Russell a quarter of a second down in third.

The day began, however, with a well-respected minute silence in the pit lane from all the teams, drivers and personnel to honor the late Queen, Elizabeth Windsor, who sadly passed away on Thursday afternoon. More tributes are planned for before the race on Sunday and a moving message from President Stefan’s Domincalli was also posted on social media.

When the action did get started, the Ferrari’s showed their cards early and ran a strong pace throughout the session. With Carlos Sainz taking engine penalties and starting at the back of the grid, Ferrari knew they had to show some pace to the packed grandstands. I expect Sainz will be sacrificed in the final qualifying session to provide a tow to try and get LeClerc Pole Position.

Mercedes continued their strong Zandvoort pace by finishing Third and Fourth in the session, albeit over a quarter and nearly half a second behind the leading Ferrari. Mercedes is running a very skinny wing this weekend, probably to aid their top speed deficit, and it showed through the chicanes and the final corner, Parabolica. Still, they should be encouraged by their performance; beating both Red Bulls is no mean feat at a speed circuit.

Talking of Red Bull, their day did not go to plan. Not only were they nearly half a second down on both Ferraris but both drivers will have to take penalties going into Sunday’s race. Verstappen has a 5-place penalty, with Perez taking a 10-place penalty, both for fitting new engines for this race. It is a good track to take those penalties though, speed is king here and although overtaking has been difficult in the past, I expect both Red Bulls to be fighting at the front by half race distance.

Alpine continued their strong performances in recent races, 5 double points finishes in a row, to beat out both McLarens by comfortably half a second. Their overall speed has been lacking this season though, so assessing their performance over the remaining two practice sessions will be vital to understanding their full package. McLaren have their work cut out though, performances at the speed tracks have been weak to say the least, stripping that car of drag but maintaining performance will be critical to a positive weekend. A special mention must go out to Valteri Bottas and Yuki Tsunoda, both didn’t finish the last Grand Prix and take penalties into this race, but both excelled in Practice One, finishing less than a second behind the Ferrari of Charles LeClerc and in the top 10. 

Free Practice 2

Free Practice 2 was much closer than the first session of the day, with less than 0.2 seconds separating the top 3 drivers. Ferrari still showed that they had ultimate pace, with Carlos Sainz topping the time sheets with a time of 1:21.664, but the Red Bull of Max Verstappen was right behind him, and the second Ferrari wasn’t too far behind that. The second Red Bull of Sergio Perez had a better second session, but still found himself with work to do at nearly three quarters of a second behind the leading trio.

The Mercedes cars had a much more difficult second practice session, ending the session over 0.7 seconds down but at a level that many expected them to be at around Monza. Their draggy car is struggling to be effective at a circuit that has such long straights, and with Lewis Hamilton impending drop to the back of the grid, expect his qualifying to be sacrificed to support Russell getting as close to the top as possible.

Lando Norris pushed McLaren back into their fight with Alpine with a strong 4th position finish in Practice 2, being faster than both Alpines and both Mercedes drivers will build confidence in the team and demonstrate to his teammate that a solid lap can be extracted from this car. Alpine still had a strong showing, just under half a second behind Norris and just over a second behind the leading Ferrari, which will develop strong feeling within the team that another double points finish is possible for the French outfit. Alex Albon proved again his abilities behind the wheel with an impressive 10th place finish in Free Practice 2, something he will hope to replicate in qualifying and the race on Sunday.

Fantasy Update

Even with both cars being sanctioned by engine penalties, Red Bull will still be a strong contender for the win on Sunday and should dominate the F1 Fantasy market this week. Coupled with the fact that Ferrari have one driver at the back of the grid, Red Bull and both of its drivers could feature a lot this weekend. LeClerc is an excellent pick this week if Ferrari can keep themselves focused on a solid strategy and pit lane efficiency on Sunday. Russel has an excellent opportunity too, 4 of the top teams’ cars will be hampered by penalties so a strong Saturday should be on the cards from the British driver. Alonso, Ocon and Norris have all impressed today and would provide cover if teams do not want to select those with penalties to their name. Alex Albon provides the budget option again this week as he continually rings the neck of his Williams, even though his teammate continues to run at the back of the grid.

Post-Race Report

As the Formula One circus completes the final leg of this triple header, there is a sense that this year’s title fight is all but over. Another dominating performance from Max Verstappen saw him clock his 5th win in a row. He took a 111-point lead in the title race and proved that Red Bull stepped up a notch in the last few months. Once again, Verstappen powered through the field and on his merry way to a reasonably comfortable victory in the heart of Ferrari’s homeland. A late safety car for the stricken McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo combined with Russell pitting for softs did throw a curveball in proceedings but Verstappen had enough time to pit and return to the track before catching the rather slow safety car and maintain his lead in the race. Notable performances from Sainz and Hamilton, from the back of the grid, saw them climb through the field and finish 4th & 5th respectively and for debutant Nyck De Vries, standing in for Alex Albon who had surgery for appendicitis on Saturday morning, performed miracles with his Williams car in holding off the faster cars behind to finish an impressive 9th in his debut race.

Mercedes – Hamilton 5th/Russell 3rd

Mercedes race pace was once again superb, making analysts question why they can’t turn it on over one lap. Russell again finished on the podium and really kept Verstappen and LeClerc honest up ahead by maintaining a gap around 15 seconds for most of the race. Hamilton displayed his expert skills at overtaking by coming through the field after starting in 19th place, steadily pulling moves on the drivers ahead. He kept Carlos Sainz in sight for most of the race and got lucky at the end when Norris pitted during the safety car that ran the remaining 6 laps of the race.

Red Bull – Verstappen 1st/Perez 6th

Another race weekend, another dominant Red Bull performance that resulted in a win. Even with a combined 15 place grid drop, the team still made up 11 of them over the race, with Verstappen carving his way through the field to lead on lap 11 after LeClerc pitted under the Virtual Safety Car (VSC). It was a position he would never relinquish and quickly built up a strong lead that no driver could match. Perez had a little more work to do, an early pit stop to assist with overheating brakes and a late pit stop to counteract those long running hard tires, meant that Perez did plenty of overtaking but ultimately finished 6th of 6 from the top 3 teams. However, Red Bull again displayed their prowess around an effective race strategy and their ultra dominant car in both qualifying and race trim, with both championships looking to be heading back to the Austrian outfit for the first time since 2013.

Ferrari – LeClerc 2nd/Sainz 4th

The ecstasy of putting LeClerc on pole position quickly evaporated out of Monza when it became apparent that Ferrari were no match for the Red Bull on race day. Ferrari fans cheered every time that a red car drove past them, but they were powerless to the raw speed that their cars lacked. LeClerc had an excellent start, maintaining his lead from an onrushing Russell and Ricciardo on the first few corners and quickly settling into a rhythm but never pulling away from the chasing pack. A ‘cheap’ pit stop until VSC provided an option for Ferrari later In the race, knowing that they couldn’t beat the Red Bulls on pure pace, but LeClerc couldn’t make them last long enough or fight to catch up with Verstappen. LeClerc pitted again under the safety car but it was in vain as the race ended under that safety car. Sainz had a strong race, similar to Hamilton, in that he carved his way through the field to end the race in 4th; taking advantage of the long straights at Monza to provide some entertainment the adoring Tifosi. The move of the day was his, making an overtake going into the Ascari chicane, a very unusual spot to chance an overtake.

McLaren – Norris 7th/Ricciardo DNF

ALPINE – Alonso DNF/Ocon 11th

The race for 4th place in the Constructors Championship and unofficial ‘best of the rest’ took a slight detour from the Alpine onslaught that we had seen in recent races, with McLaren producing a stellar weekend and looking like two cars in the points until Daniel Ricciardo ground to a halt in between the two Lesmo curves. Norris was a solid 5th for most of the race, but a far superior Sainz overtook him on track and then Norris was brought in for fresh softs during the Safety Car period to drop him below both Sainz and Hamilton to end the race in 7th. This was still a much better race that Alpine, who saw Alonso retire due to electrical issues surrounding his battery pack and Ocon struggle to overcome his grid penalty and finish outside the points. The Alpine’s had struggled the entire weekend for straight line speed, a bit of departure from previous performances and they will be hoping that this is a one off race and they can get back on track in Singapore.

Final Thoughts

Whilst the 2022 Italian Grand Prix won’t go down as a classic, the dominant performance of the Red Bulls, the fight back through the field from Sainz and Hamilton and the excellent debut of Nyck De Vries, demonstrates that even on a slow day for F1, there are still bright spots. With the championship almost over, the interest in the season weakens, but you have to tip your hat to the Red Bull team and acknowledge that they have built the best car of 2022; and they love to prove it to you. Formula One heads East, as the European leg of the World Championship ends for another year, to Singapore for the first race there since 2019. How will these new generation of cars handle that twisty and bumpy street circuit, we do not know. We can assume, however, that Red Bull will provide us with another strong display, with hope riding on Ferrari and Mercedes to develop a challenge and make it difficult for the Austrian team.