No place like home as Ferrari hope to draw power from Monza's 'temple of speed'

Ultra-fast track at Italian Grand Prix could help Charles Leclerc challenge championship leader Max Verstappen

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Under mounting pressure to turn their faltering season around, team boss Mattia Binotto has insisted Ferrari will be more competitive on home turf at this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.

And he has good cause to believe they will, at least, be in the hunt for only their second victory since Australia in April because there are three key elements to winning in Monza and his team majors in all of them: power, power and more power.

Monza is little more than three sections of ultra fast flat-out motorway broken up by brake-wrecking chicanes as the speed of the thundering F1 monsters is cut from 360kph to 70 in just 40 metres before ripping back up through the gearbox time and again.

There is precious little need for the intricate balance required at the last two rounds in Zandvoort and Spa. Averaging 250kph, it’s the fastest track in the championship. Not for nothing is Monza known as the "temple of speed".

What is required is a car with plenty of power and svelte aerodynamics and Binotto insists that the top speed deficit to runaway championship leader Max Verstappen so evident at the last power race, Belgium, has already been solved.

The famous red racers (which may have a flash of yellow to celebrate 75 years since their inception) could certainly do with a morale-boosting victory right now. And where better than the home race where they last won in 2019 with Charles Leclerc.

Of course, trailing Verstappen by a cavernous 109 points, Leclerc is – barring a miracle or unthinkable tragedy – no longer in the title hunt. So Ferrari are racing for pride alone.

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In Zandvoort, though, the errors continued with tyres not ready for a pit stop and then being hit with a race-wrecking "unsafe release" penalty for another stupid mistake. Ex-champion Nico Rosberg said such mistakes would not be made even in F3, a category two levels below F1.

Binotto insisted there would be no sackings but were this professional football, heads would have rolled long ago. Probably his.

Ferrari take their hunt for redemption to home turf that is unlike any other venue in F1’s sprawling global calendar. Staged in the largest walled park in Europe, Monza was built by Napoleon’s stepson on to a lavish 700-room neoclassical palace erected for an Austrian emperor.

The high speeds of the circuit built in 1922 primarily as a test track mean its storied history is drenched in blood. Down the years, 42 drivers have been killed along with 36 spectators and staff.

These days, with speeds topping 360kph, an F1 car covers 100m in just one second so accidents are rarely minor.

Such are the vagaries of this race that last year’s surprise winner Daniel Ricciardo returns 12 months on having been ditched by his McLaren team for under-performing.

Mercedes enjoyed an unbroken run of victories for five years from the dawn of the hybrid era in 2014 but have not won since. Lewis Hamilton arrives with all eyes on his relations with Mercedes after dishing out the worst attack of his 16-year career on a team that has been the architect of so much of his glory.

He apologised afterwards but his unfair, expletive ridden radio rant will long remain in the memory coming as it does from the man who always insists "we win together and we lose together".

Hamilton is no doubt frustrated that he is likely to end a season without a win for the first time in his career. But he attacked Mercedes over a strategy gamble that went wrong, conveniently forgetting he could easily have changed the plan just as his younger teammate George Russell did.

And it also slipped his mind that the bungled re-start which cost him the lead and any chance of the win was his fault alone. Hamilton has always had a fragile ego and it won’t be helped by increasing signs Mercedes are tipping in favour of their new boy.

Who can blame them when easy-going Russell, on £2m, is matching and often out-performing Hamilton, earning around £40m? The danger of recruiting such a talent as Russell was always that it would put Hamilton’s achievements in proper context and isn’t that just what is happening?

Win or lose, 2022 and the new era was always going to be a seminal season for Hamilton. Time will tell whether Mercedes are truly back in the reckoning or their turn of speed at Zandvoort was just another blip.

Updated: September 08, 2022, 2:41 AM
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