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Italy preview - magic Monza ready to cast its spell 06 Sep 2012

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari signs autographs for the fans.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Preparations, Monza, Italy, Thursday, 8 September 2011 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4/26.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monza, Italy, Saturday, 10 September 2011 Race winner Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing on the podium. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 11 September 2011 Stefano Domenicali (ITA) Ferrari General Director and Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, Belgian Grand Prix, Practice, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Friday, 31 August 2012 Race winner Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren celebrates with Martin Whitmarsh (GBR) McLaren Chief Executive Officer, Jessica Michibata (JPN) and the team.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, Belgian Grand Prix, Preparations, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, 2 September 2012 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB7.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 11 September 2011 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing and Christian Horner (GBR) Red Bull Racing Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, Belgian Grand Prix, Practice, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Friday, 31 August 2012 Jerome d'Ambrosio (BEL) Lotus E20 Third Driver.
Formula One Testing, Mugello, Italy, Day One, 1 May 2012 Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Caterham and Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 on the drivers parade.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, Belgian Grand Prix, Preparations, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, 2 September 2012 Ma Qing Hua (CHN) HRT Formula One Team HRT F112 Development Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, Belgian Grand Prix, Preparations, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, 2 September 2012 Pirelli tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Preparations Day, Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, 26 July 2012 The safety car leads the field. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 11 September 2011 Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes GP MGP W02 leads Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/26 and Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4/26.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 11 September 2011 Fans invade the track after the  race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 11 September 2011 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari celebrates his third position on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 11 September 2011

Monza stokes the fire of the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship this weekend as Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull, Lotus and Mercedes go head-to-head at motor racing’s cathedral of speed.

Ferrari are, of course, desperate to show well on their home ground and to open up the points lead that Fernando Alonso saw decimated in Spa last weekend.

McLaren are aiming for three wins in a row, and to get their drivers right back in the title fight.

Red Bull want to capitalise on the luck that flowed their way in Belgium.

And as Lotus aim for their first win of the season, Mercedes look to get back on top for the first time since China.

Could any scenario be better?

Even though Alonso’s lead went from 40 to 24 points after he was taken out by Romain Grosjean last weekend, Stefano Domenicali believes that Ferrari are still in control of things. "We left Belgium with the awareness that the championship is still in our hands," he says. "It is in the hands of all the people at Maranello, who have to improve our car, because it is not yet at the level it should be.

"The competition is still very open and Fernando is still leading the championship and that is the basis on which we can look ahead.

"There is a special feeling for our home race, but the reality is that the number of points on offer are the same as at the other 19 rounds, all around the world. I would like to think we can leave Monza having scored very special points at what is a very special race for us.”

McLaren, however, believe they are on a roll, especially after Jenson Button’s low-downforce win at Spa.

“Having won in Hungary and Belgium, we’ll be aiming for a hat-trick of wins in Italy!” team boss Martin Whitmarsh says. “Our victories in Hungary and Spa hardly feel like back-to-back wins because they were achieved so far apart, but they give us enormous encouragement because they demonstrate that we can win on circuits of distinctly different character.

“While I still think that making predictions from race to race is largely futile, it’s satisfying to see there’s some shape to our performances. We’ve qualified a car on the front row of the grid for seven of this year’s 12 races - and that’s hugely motivational for our designers and engineers because it shows that we’re able to develop and refine the car successfully from track to track. There’s no reason why that shouldn’t continue. Our low-downforce potential was clear to see in Spa and we’re hopeful of picking up where we left off in Italy.”

Meanwhile, at Red Bull, team boss Christian Horner believes that a setback for Ferrari was inevitable after Alonso’s season-long run of luck, but doesn’t expect it to follow automatically that his own team will be as dominant at Monza as it was in 2011.

"I think with the way this season has been, everything from last year does not really count," he says. "So we will go there and hope to be competitive.”

Spa was a huge disappointment for Lotus. They were the pre-event favourites yet never looked remotely like winning. And to rub it in, Grosjean’s first-corner antics have earned him a ban for Monza. Thus test driver Jerome D’Ambrosio gets his first chance of a race ride since the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2011.

With so much doubt about Michael Schumacher’s future, the German is desperate for a 92nd victory to prove his merit. Team principal Ross Brawn believes that a better set-up could enhance their chances after a disappointing showing in Belgium.

Elsewhere, Williams need a good result after all their recent disappointments, but Pastor Maldonado’s two five-place grid penalties won’t help their cause at a time when Force India’s low-downforce performance at Spa jumped them ahead in the constructors’ points table.

Caterham are on notice to improve their performance, while there’s news down at HRT where it’s Pedro de la Rosa’s 100th Grand Prix, and Shanghai-born test driver Ma Qing Hua will make some history on Friday morning by becoming the first Chinese-born driver to officially drive at a Formula One Grand Prix.

“This is a very important step towards my dream of becoming a Formula One driver,” he says. “It will be my second time in the car, after the Young Driver Test in Silverstone, and I’m very excited about driving at a circuit like Monza.

“The objective of this session is to continue advancing with my programme, rack up more miles and experience at the wheel of an F1 car and help the team with whatever they need. I’m excited but also calm about it because I’ve been training hard in the past months to be prepared when the opportunity presented itself. I’ve also worked on the simulator to get to know the circuits a bit better and how a Formula One car reacts.

“In the last months I’ve been with the team at Grands Prix I’ve also learned a lot from the engineers and my team-mates, who have shared information and their experience, which will be very useful.”

Monza is the highest-speed circuit on the calendar, which is why Pirelli have again chosen the two hardest compounds in their range, the P Zero Silver hard and P Zero White medium, just as they did in Spa.

Three sections of the track place particularly heavy demands on the tyres: the first chicane, which demands heavy downhill braking, the Ascari curves - with their several rapid direction changes - and the famous Parabolica, a wide, open-radius corner that puts a lot of lateral stress through the tyres. Monza also has some of the fastest straights, where speeds top 340 km/h, which means that tyre temperatures can peak at up to 130 degrees Celsius.

“Monza is probably the most important race of the year for us, as it is our chance to come home and showcase our tyres and specialised technology in front of so many of our people and the passionate Italian fans,” says Pirelli motorsport director, Paul Hembery. “There is a really special atmosphere to this race that is unique to Italy. Not only that, but Monza is one of the most demanding circuits that we visit all year due to the high speed and significant lateral loads on the tyres. After Spa, it is the second-highest set of forces that they experience all year. Coming to Monza directly from Spa for the first time means that the teams will be fully up to speed with the hard and medium tyres, while there is a huge amount of momentum behind the championship now. Ambient temperatures can be very high in Italy, which places further demands on the tyres, so we would normally expect two pit stops.

“Strategy turned out to be a key ingredient to success last year, with the podium places only decided on the final lap, and we would expect the same again this year. With the cars at full throttle for so long, it’s hard for anybody to gain a big lead unless they use strategy to their advantage.”

There have been just minor changes to the 5.793 kilometre (3.599 mile) circuit since 2011. The wall on the driver’s right approaching Turn One has been moved closer to the track and an additional marshal post provided 150m before Turn One; the track has been resurfaced from the exit of the Ascari chicane (Turn 10) to a point after the exit of Parabolica (Turn 11); and the pit wall fence has been renewed.

As in 2011, there will be two DRZ zones, each with its own detection point. The first is on the start-finish straight, with detection just prior to the Parabolica. The second is down the back straight, heading into Ascari, with detection between the two Lesmos.

Sunday’s race starts at 1400 hours local time (two hours ahead of GMT), will run over 53 laps or 306.720 kilometres (190.589 miles). And at last the ambient temperature at a Grand Prix should be conducive to fast running throughout the weekend, with predictions of sun and 27 degrees Celsius-plus from Thursday through to Sunday.

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