Monza. It is the cathedral of speed - The fastest circuit on the F1 calendar and the one to have hosted the most number of F1 races since the championship started missing just one.
The home of the Tifosi and Ferrari could have not asked for a better time to enter its home Grand Prix, especially after a disappointing season so far. The team finally won a race this year in the last race at Belgium at the hands of its new and talented recruit - Charles Leclerc.
Ferrari had endured a win drought dating back to the US GP 2018 and in the last race, Leclerc first nailed pole position and then went on to drive a brilliant race to take his maiden Formula One victory to put a balm on Ferrari’s painful season so far.
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While the title challenges are all but dead with a 145-point deficit to Mercedes and another 101-point difference between Sebastian Vettel and leader Lewis Hamilton, the team will hope to do something that it hasn't done this decade this weekend.
For the first time since 2010, Ferrari will feel confident of winning its home race (Fernando Alonso was the last Ferrari driver to win the Italian GP in 2010) and end its arch-rival Mercedes’ winning run in Monza since 2014.
The fastest circuit puts a premium on horsepower and straight-line speed, something that Ferrari has in abundance as was seen in the last race as well at Spa Francorchamps.
Last year, Ferrari was on pole position with Kimi Raikkonen setting the fastest ever lap in Formula One in qualifying lapping the 5.793 km circuit at an average speed of 263.587 km/h. However, on race day, Hamilton came back strongly putting pressure on the Finn and the 2007 champion ran out of tyres giving victory to Hamilton.
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Mercedes AMG Petronas boss Toto Wolff has already sounded out that this week could be another tough one for the reigning champion who is gunning for its sixth straight drivers’ and constructors’ title.
“We don't have the fastest car in a straight line this year. We don’t expect the Italian Grand Prix to be an easy weekend. Monza is ‘the’ power circuit in F1, that rewards high power and low drag. While we have had the fastest overall package on the grid this season, it’s not ideal for a track where straight-line speed is a key performance differentiator,” he said.
Friday’s first practice was run under rainy conditions with numerous drivers having an off but Leclerc came on top to put a smile on the hordes of passionate Ferrari fans. While qualifying is expected to be dry, there are chances of wet weather for Sunday’s race and that would be Mercedes’s only chance to dampen Ferrari’s parade.
(The writer is in Monza at the invitation of Petronas)