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Tuesday, October 4, 2022
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Ferrari Pursues Its Potential at Home Race

Sports

Charles Leclerc, driver for Ferrari | Image by Planet F1

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Formula 1 has roared back after its summer break with races on three consecutive weekends, a grueling pace for the teams on the grid but a gift for racing fans worldwide.

This weekend, in the 16th race of the season, they head just north of Milan for the Italian Grand Prix — Ferrari’s home race and one of the most venerated races of the year.

Originally built in 1922, the Monza Circuit was one of the world’s earliest ever constructed racetracks. The Italian Grand Prix has been hosted at Monza every year since 1949 except 1980.

While adoringly referred to as the “Temple of Speed” by racers and fans alike due to its long straights and soft curves, Monza’s speed has made it perhaps one of the deadliest tracks, claiming the lives of 52 drivers and 35 spectators since its inception.

For years, straight-line speed has been the pitfall for the Red Bull team, but they have demonstrated throughout the 2022 season that their power unit is the class of the grid now in this regard, making them a likely favorite to dominate this weekend’s race.

Ferrari seemed to be closing this gap in straight-line speed early in the season while maintaining an advantage in grip and speed out of turns, yet since the summer break concluded, this no longer appears to be the case.

The Italian-based team plans to run “comparative” tests in Friday’s practice, reverting one of their cars to an earlier setup they ran at the Austrian Grand Prix, to see if they have made mistakes in developing the car this season.

Mattia Binotto, Ferrari team principal, said of the need to make changes, “It’s now three races where we have not produced what should be our potential and what we have proved to have as the potential of the car since the start of the season.”

He added, “That’s something that we need to address as soon as possible because there are a few races left.”

After a strong race in Holland, Mercedes looks to step again to the top of the grid at Monza, but the track does not suit their car and its design challenges. Plagued by downforce issues and extreme porpoising, the Mercedes has lacked straight-line speed all season — something they must have to be competitive this weekend at this particular track.

To address this, Mercedes Principal Toto Wolff jokingly said that they would simply remove the rear wing from their car.

“I mean, we have a barn door of a car with too much drag and [with] downforce where we really don’t need it,” Wolff joked.

Within the midfield, the battle is likely between McLaren and Alpine to scoop the most points — two teams that recently battled off the track in what has become known as the “Piasco,” the contract battle for the rights of highly-anticipated young driver Oscar Piastri.

McLaren won that battle when the Contract Recognition Board sided with them; however, Alpine looks to have the advantage on the track this weekend as they have enjoyed better top speed throughout the 2022 season.

Pirelli has selected the middle of the tire range (C2, C3, and C4) for Monza, citing the track’s “high speeds” and “fast corners.”

Mario Isola, Pirelli motorsport director, said of their selection, “This year’s tyres should lead to less overheating at the rear on a track where the cars run low downforce and often use slipstreaming to gain a tow. With no sprint race in Monza this year, the teams will head into the Grand Prix with a bit less information than last time, which means that the strategic approach will be somewhat different.”

And while the last two races at Monza have seen midfield teams stand atop the podium — Daniel Ricciardo for McLaren last year and Pierre Gasly for AlphaTauri the year before that — oddsmakers are not abandoning the current World Championship driver Max Verstappen (-275) as their favorite to win. They also have Charles Leclerc (+600) and Lewis Hamilton (+900) rounding out their top choices for victory.

A Verstappen win could put the 2022 World Championship essentially on ice as he currently leads by 109 points over his two closest rivals, and there are only six races left after the Italian Grand Prix.

While Red Bull goes into the weekend with the advantage on paper, anything can happen on a track as fast and unforgiving as Monza.

PIT STOPS:

Red Bull is not short on potential partners for its new power unit division. Though there have been rumors around a potential partnership with Porsche, the deal may be dead before it truly began over claims Porsche desires too much control and ownership. This comes as Honda is rumored to be considering a return to Formula 1 engine development with an eye on working with Red Bull.

Lewis Hamilton will be taking his fourth engine of the season and with it grid penalties for this weekend’s race.

Formula 1 is currently debating whether to allow Colton Herta a super license even though the IndyCar driver lacks sufficient points to earn one. Without a super license, Herta cannot race in Formula 1.

The current super license point system was formulated as a reaction to the rise of Max Verstappen, 17, who many thought was not qualified to race in Formula 1 as he had not gone through all of the junior formulas. Verstappen has 17 poles, 21 fastest laps, 30 race wins, 72 podiums, and is on his way to his second drivers championship.     

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