Herta’s F1 chances and the Tifosi in full voice – 5 storylines we’re excited about ahead of the Italian GP
The final race of the European season takes place at an iconic circuit before the Formula 1 paddock heads to Asia, and plenty of talking points remain as the season enters its final third. So let's take a look at some of the topics that are likely to be doing the rounds this weekend in Monza...
1. Titles in the distance
Okay, I’m going to be honest, it’s not that I’m saying we should necessarily be excited about this storyline, but you have to admit the relentless consistency of Red Bull and Max Verstappen has been impressive.
Zandvoort saw Verstappen take his fourth straight victory and 10th win this season, and they certainly had to work for it with the curveballs thrown in by the Virtual Safety Car and Safety Car periods, but as a partnership the team has shown their strength in such situations.
With George Russell finishing second, Verstappen took another step towards this year’s championship, as he opened up a 109-point lead over Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez, with 190 remaining on offer this season.
That means if Verstappen also wins in Monza, he will have a chance of securing the title during the following double-header.
The permutations are far from simple though even in that unlikely scenario, because there are so many drivers vying for second place behind him. As it stands it’s Leclerc and Perez level on points, but Russell is just 13 points further back after securing his third podium in four races, and Carlos Sainz is only a race win away from being Verstappen’s nearest challenger.
At 43 points off second place, Lewis Hamilton remains in that fight too as Mercedes has proven to be a threat for victory in two of the past three rounds.
2. A unique challenge
Whether Red Bull once again has the strongest package will become clear on Friday, but all of the teams will be facing a special test when they get to Monza as the circuit requires the lowest-downforce set up of the year.
In fact, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza is so unique that teams prepare specific packages for this track, with skinnier wings to reduce drag and increase top speeds in a straight line. Cars still need downforce for the higher-speed corners of the Lesmos, Ascari chicane and Parabolica, but the remaining corners are low-speed chicanes and the focus is on the car being as slippery as possible.
Braking stability is also an important aspect, with the deceleration from some of the highest speeds of the year to some of the lowest a crucial differentiator, while the lower levels of downforce make braking zones longer than usual. It’s not always the usual suspects who are the only teams that are quick at Monza…
3. Alpine and Williams on the hunt
Every season we see teams developing their cars around certain concepts, with some managing to extract performance in different ways. That leads to situations where specific tracks can be particularly good or bad for any given team, depending on how they generate their lap time.
We’ve seen from both Alpine and Williams that they are able to achieve impressive straight-line speed this year thanks in part to their lack of drag, with extremely efficient cars ensuring they are strong at venues with long straights.
In theory, that should mean both are more competitive than usual at Monza because of the emphasis on straight-line speed and low downforce, but there’s the added complication of the low downforce packages that could change the characteristics of both the Alpine and Williams, but also their rivals’ cars.
Often teams that are strong at Spa continue to be at Monza, and if that trend follows through then Alpine will be looking to lead the midfield at the very least - if not nip at the heels at the top three - while Williams will be targeting points once again.
4. Herta’s hopes
The past two weeks have seen plenty of discussion surrounding McLaren and Alpine when it comes to the driver market, and we finally got a Contract Recognition Board (CRB) decision that allowed McLaren to confirm Oscar Piastri as one of its race drivers for 2023 last weekend.
While the CRB won’t be needed, attention now turns to another driver waiting for a decision to see where they will be racing next season, after Helmut Marko confirmed Red Bull’s plans to run IndyCar star Colton Herta at AlphaTauri.
The sticking point is whether there are grounds for the 22-year-old to be given an FIA Super Licence, with Herta falling short of the required 40 points at this stage but potentially able to argue that the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on his progress towards that tally.
Marko suggested the Italian Grand Prix would be the event where Herta was confirmed if the Super Licence was granted, but there’s no firm timeline from the FIA at this stage as to any requests. It all has an impact on a former Monza winner, too, with Pierre Gasly an option for Alpine if AlphaTauri secures the American as his potential replacement.
5. The Tifosi
How can you talk about Monza and not mention the tifosi? The Ferrari fans always come out in force, whether their team are in contention for a race victory or not, and the podium celebrations lead to one of the most incredible sights of the year.
Ferrari fans will be looking forward to this weekend with even more anticipation than usual, after a season where their team has been able to fight at the sharp end at the majority of races.
But as pointed out above, the unique packages that teams will have to use during the weekend at Monza makes the competitive order even more unknown than usual, so whether they get to celebrate a victory or not remains to be seen.
Charles Leclerc even fears that Monza won’t suit Ferrari this year, but regardless of the final result, the race always provides an iconic way to end the European season.