Tifosi will expect nothing less then a win at Monza
The red cars have some work to do if they are to restore their season-long dominance in front of their home crowd on Sunday.
Ferrari clinched the world championship for constructors in Hungary, and in Spa Michael Schumacher cemented his seventh drivers title. But the German did not win the Belgian Grand Prix. That fell to Kimi Raikkonen in the revitalised McLaren.
Can Ferrari fight back? Naturally, given 12 victories in the preceding 14 races, the odds favour yet another Italian win, but Schumacher had a very heavy accident in testing at Monza last week following tyre problems on the straight, and a red result may be less of a foregone conclusion than we have come to expect.
Certainly, McLarens excellent performance at Spa-Francorchamps owed much to the MP4-19Bs aerodynamic excellence, and that prompted a beaten Schumacher to say: We were not strong enough at critical moments today, as he raced home second.
Monza is a some what different type of track, however, even though it is very fast. Spa demands great aerodynamics. Monza is a power circuit, out and out, and is the place where teams run the lowest downforce of the season. On the long front straight and the long haul from the Ascari chicane to the Parabolica, cars are at their maximum top speed for a long time (only Indianapolis is longer), so minimal drag is critical.
Its consequently hard on the engines, with the highest average speed of the year (around 260 kph/160 mph) and around 70 percent of the lap spent at full throttle, and the brakes take a lot of punishment too. Drivers need to shed 280 kph/174 mph as they slow to 80/50 in just a couple of seconds going into the first of the two chicanes, so brake efficiency and stability are other critical factors. On the plus side, tyre wear is not much of a factor, and most teams expect to run either single, or two-stop races.
All of them know the track well in its current form, since they all tested there last week following the summer months test ban. Apart from Ferrari, McLaren admit that the win at Spa does not make them the favourite for Monza, and the tests bear that out. Antonio Pizzonia eventually set the fastest time of 1m 20.010s and the Brazilian will remain aboard the Williams in place of Ralf Schumacher.
The speed of the Williams will also be pleasing for Jenson Button, who said this week that one of the reasons he wants to go back to the team is that he believes it will be much more competitive in 2005. The Englishman was fifth quickest for BAR and hopes that he will be able to exploit Hondas power at Monza to score his first victory, but Rubens Barrichello and Fernando Alonso were also faster than him.
Renault are feeling optimistic, and for his home race Jarno Trulli will have a new chassis in a bid to answer the peculiar loss of performance problems he suffered at Spa. The race for second overall between Renault and BAR is still finely poised.
Meanwhile, Williams must also be considered a serious threat after their test performance, BMWs V10 being particularly well suited to the track characteristics. They need a strong result to keep ahead of McLaren for fourth place.
Sauber, Jaguar and Toyota all have aerodynamic developments for the race, as do Jordan and Minardi.
The 53-lap Italian Grand Prix is the 15th round of the 2004 championship and the last in Europe, and begins at 1400 local time.