Italian Grand Prix 2011: Preview


Eighty-three – that is the maximum number of points that Sebastian Vettel could possibly now need to guarantee the 2011 Drivers' Championship, regardless of what his rivals achieve in the final seven races. That is equivalent of finishing fourth – equalling the German's worst result of the season so far – at each of the remaining grand prix.

That figure also assumes that Mark Webber, who is currently second in the championship, 92 points behind his Red Bull team-mate, wins all of the remaining races – and he has not actually stood on the top step of the podium since Hungary 2010. The number of points that Vettel will actually need for consecutive titles is likely to be much lower, and the number he scores will probably be much higher.

It is now a matter of when Vettel will wrap up the title. He cannot do it at the Italian Grand Prix, which takes place this weekend in Monza but, nevertheless, the German will want a win at the final European race of 2011.

In 2008, this venue was the scene of Vettel's first ever F1 victory – aged 21 years and 74 days he became the youngest pole-sitter, podium-finisher and race-winner in the history of the sport after driving an un-fancied Toro Rosso beautifully over the course of a very wet weekend.

Vettel gives the now-familiar victory signal after winning his first race in 2008 (Photo Credit: Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Vettel may not have it all his own way this year though. He should have faced stiffer competition at the last race in Belgium but Webber had a poor start, Lewis Hamilton crashed out and Jenson Button, as great as his drive was at Spa, could not mount a challenge to Vettel after the miscommunication with his team in qualifying.

This weekend the McLaren drivers should be fighting at the front once again. The Mercedes engine that powers the MP4-26 is generally recognised as the most powerful on the grid and Monza is a track that will make best use of this potency.

With that in mind, also expect the Mercedes team to go well here – Michael Schumacher has won this race five times (a record at this circuit) and, coming off an excellent drive in Spa-Francorchamps, the seven-time world champion could possibly be challenging for his first podium finish since returning to the sport. Following the same logic, Force India could also be expected to have a decent weekend culminating in a respectable points haul.

Fernando Alonso on his way to victory last season at Monza (Photo Credit: Ferrari)

Of course, in Italy, one can never rule out Ferrari. The raucous Tifosi act as the F1 equivalent of a twelfth man in football and if Fernando Alonso is going to win another race this year, Monza would be the ideal location. The Spaniard stood on the top step of the podium last season in his first Italian Grand Prix driving for the Scuderia, and would he dearly love to repeat the experience on Sunday.

Monza is, like Monaco, Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps, another one of the classic circuits. Corner names such as Curva Grande, Lesmo and Parabolica are instantly attributable to the Italian circuit, which is also well-known for its long straights. It is also the fastest track on the calendar – an F1 car can average around 250kph in a lap around Monza and at four points around the circuit drivers will exceed 320kph.

To achieve the best possible lap times, and minimise the drag cars experience on the straights, teams will run skinny rear wings on the cars. This presents difficulties for the drivers as they fight for grip in the corners, and also has implications for the DRS.

There has been some discussion in recent days about the effectiveness of DRS around Monza this weekend. Sauber technical director James Key expects that the system will make little difference – the logic behind this statement is that, with the cars experiencing such little drag down the straights anyway, there will not be much to reduce by opening the rear-wing, and hence there will be little effect on the top speed.

There will be two DRS zones at Monza this weekend, something that both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, in contrast to Key, suspect will have a big effect on the race. It remains to be seen what will happen but there is a worry that, if either DRS activation zone is too long, then overtaking will become a bit too easy, just as it was, arguably, in Belgium last time out.

One interesting idea is that, if DRS can be relied on to reduce drag down the straights, the teams may opt to put slightly more wing on the car to improve cornering. This strategy would be most effective in qualifying, where DRS can be used in any part of the track, but could well be counter-productive in the race, when use of the system is limited.

This weekend Formula 1 leaves Europe for another year and the Italian Grand Prix should hopefully provide a fitting send-off. It seems that nobody will stop Sebastian Vettel and his steady march towards a second F1 title but, with stories up and down the grid, and at least five potential winners on Sunday, it will worth be tuning in as the sport waves farewell to this continent and heads to Singapore.

  • Qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix begins at 13:00 BST on Saturday and the race starts at 13:00 BST on Sunday. Coverage in the UK is available on BBC One and BBC Radio 5 Live.
  • There will be reports and reaction to events on and off the track throughout the weekend here on thecheckeredflag.co.uk