All will be forgiven if Ferrari wins at Monza. It’s been a season to forget for the tifosi, as the team from Maranello has elevated snatching defeat from the jaws of victory to an art form. If there is a single path to redemption for the Scuderia, it runs through Autodromo Nazionale Monza.
The Italian Grad Prix is unique and historic and exceptional among Formula One races. It is effectively the Ferrari Grand Prix, but it would be awkward to name a race after a constructor. While Monza is also considered a home race for Alfa Romeo and AlphaTauri, the former is actually a Swiss team (Sauber), and the latter is more Austrian (Red Bull) than Italian. No, Ferrari lays sole claim to the Italian Grand Prix, and that’s what you see throughout the stands: a sea of rosso corsa (racing red).
Personally, this is the race I most want to attend as both journalist and fan. I’m not an F1 partisan. While there are teams and drivers for which I’m a bigger fan than others, I’m more a fan of the sport. When it comes to the fabled Temple of Speed, though, I’m a diehard Ferrari fan. Next to winning the championship, there’s nothing better than a Ferrari win at Monza, as Charles Leclerc did in 2019. Coincidentally, I test drove the incredible Ferrari Superfast the day after that historic victory, and it was the same yellow as this year’s fire suits. If I ever get the chance to experience the Italian Grand Prix, I’ll be wearing a Ferrari jersey and hoping to storm the track when the home team takes the checkered flag in victory.
Alas, does Ferrari look poised to deliver this year and redeem its 2022 campaign?
We head into the Italian Grand Prix in much the same way we entered Spa…with a bevy of grid penalties, triggered by new power units and the like, that will shake up the order. There are nine in all including Verstappen, Perez, Sainz and Hamilton. This is splitting up the top three teams on the grid, which will be quite the conundrum for team strategists.
Shortly before qualifying, Alex Albon was diagnosed with appendicitis. The Dutchman Nyck De Vries was tapped to drive for Williams in his place just hours before the start of quali. Despite my hopes, it looks as though Riccardo will take a season off and possibly join Mercedes as a reserve driver. De Vries was a front-runner to take Latifi’s seat for 2023, assuming it didn’t put Williams too much into the red (financially). Given F1’s surge in popularity, one would think the team could attract legitimate sponsors (as opposed to those buying a seat) to make the team profitable. Why not sell the naming rights? Why is the team still called Williams when it’s owned by an American PE firm? At any rate, De Vries handily out-qualified Latifi, earning a spot in Q2. And he’ll start from P8 after all of the penalties.
It wasn’t looking good for Ferrari in FP3, when Verstappen topped the time sheets, and then the championship leader put in the fastest Q1 time with Leclerc and Sainz trailing by three and four tenths, respectively. Haas and Aston Martin were eliminated in Q1, and Bottas barely made the cut in 14th. He was three tenths off of his teammate, but he’s also taking a grid penalty for a new power unit.
Sainz came out in Q2 and set the fastest time on lap one. The tifosi went nuts. He was nearly four tenths clear of Verstappen and eight tenths clear of Mercedes. Leclerc then went second on his following lap, putting Ferrari one and two as we got ready for Q3. Bottas, De Vries, Zhou, Tsunoda, and Ocon were eliminated. The surprise performance came from Danny Ric with a lap time just hundredths off his teammate, which earned a spot in Q3. The McLarens are looking competitive, and neither has a grid penalty.
Team tactics came into play for the final lap of Q3, as Sainz set up to give Leclerc a tow, and Hamilton did the same for Russell. After the first lap, Sainz and Leclerc led Verstappen, Perez, Russell, Norris, Hamilton, Riccardo, Gasly and Alonso. Yep, the tifosi went nuts, as Sainz was on provisional pole. Starting the final lap, the two Ferraris were leading the procession with green and purple sectors. Verstappen was right behind them doing the same. It appeared Leclerc had the edge with a slipstream from Sainz. Leclerc’s time put him on provisional pole ahead of Sainz. Will Verstappen best it? No! But he did split the Ferraris with a 0.145 gap to Leclerc. Yep, the tifosi went nuts! You could feel it through the television, as Ferrari secured its 22nd pole position at Monza.
What might this portend for Sunday’s race? Leclerc and Russell start on the front row with Norris and Riccardo right behind them. Verstappen starts seventh alongside De Vries in the first race of his F1 career. They have Alonso and Gasly on the row ahead of them. Sainz and Hamilton are 18th and 19th respectively. Verstappen’s first lap at Spa was something to behold. His passing was impressive but more so the way he stayed out of trouble. The first chicane at Monza is notorious for contact, as it’s perhaps the most challenging braking zone on the F1 calendar, and the cars are full of fuel on cold tires. For Verstappen, it’s about overtaking Gasly and Alonso while avoiding contact from Latifi and Zhou behind him. This ought to be spicy.
In the front two rows, Russell will want to challenge Leclerc into turn one. The two McLarens will challenge one another, as Riccardo has nothing to lose, and they’ll each want to take advantage of a slow start from either Leclerc or Russell. Will there be contact into turn one? I’d say the odds are better than even. Will Ferrari take the win? Those odds are probably less than even, though it’s the outcome most the F1 universe will be rooting for. And the tifosi will go nuts.