There are few circuits as evocative as Italy’s Autodromo Nazionale Monza.
Europe’s oldest motor racing circuit and the second-oldest still-operating racetrack in the world, Monza has borne witness to some of motorsport’s most iconic moments and fundamental chapters.
In modern Formula 1 its place on the calendar represents the end of the European leg of the season. It’s when the final pieces of the silly season start falling into place and when minds begin to look towards 2024.
Watch the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix 2023 live and ad-break free in racing on Kayo Sports on Sunday, 3 September, at 11:00pm AEST. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
But on the track there’s still business to be done. Another strong weekend from Max Verstappen will set a new benchmark for consecutive victories and keep him in the frame to equal the record for earliest championship victory in the sport’s history.
But the always enthusiastic tifosi packing the tribunes will be hoping for what would be the upset of the season. Ferrari is expected to be stronger this weekend, but could it possibly be that strong?
CAN VERSTAPPEN AND RED BULL RACING END THE RECORD DEBATE?
Of all the races Verstappen and Red Bull Racing could win this year to set new records for domination, this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix could be the most important.
This will be the one that satisfies even the most particular of motorsport anoraks.
New fans to Formula 1 may be either interested or irritated to learn that not all Formula 1 championships over the category’s 74-year history are quite the same.
The early days of the Formula 1 world championship were chaotic and messy by modern standards. Races were run to completely different distances, two of the first four years were run to Formula 2 regulations, and for a decade the Indianapolis 500 counted for points despite not only being run to a different set of rule but also being governed by a completely different regulatory body.
It didn’t seem to matter much at the time, when the series was established specifically as a world championship of drivers. It’s only more recently that matching the statistics with the formalised modern championship has become more problematic.
It’s the inclusion of the Indy 500 that is particularly incongruous. Rare were Americans prominent in the European-centric series, and rarer still were the sport’s continental racers making the trans-Atlantic trip to the Brickyard.
Which bring us back to Verstappen and Red Bull Racing’s status in the record books.
PIT TALK: Max Verstappen has won a record-equalling ninth grand prix that one Red Bull boss says ranks him among the all-time greats. And what‘s Daniel Ricciardo’s outlook after breaking his hand, and what does it mean for his 2024 chances?
Conventional wisdom states that Sebastian Vettel was the first driver to accumulate nine straight wins, a benchmark matched by Verstappen last weekend.
That same wisdom says that Red Bull Racing matched and then beat McLaren’s 1988 record for 11 consecutive victories in Britain and Hungary respectively.
Please put on your anoraks now.
In 1952–53 Alberto Ascari won nine grands prix in succession if you exclude the 1953 Indianapolis 500, which he didn’t enter despite it being a championship race. You could argue he’s entitled to credit alongside Vettel and Verstappen.
Further, his wins contributed to Ferrari winning 14 grands prix in a row in those years, along with wins from Piero Taruffi, Giuseppe Farina and Mike Hawthorn.
Red Bull Racing currently sits on 14 wins in a row, dating back to last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Victory in Monza for both Verstappen and Red Bull Racing will end the debate once and for all and crown both as having enjoyed the longest runs of success of any driver or team in championship history.
CAN FERRARI GIVE THE HOME FANS SOMETHING TO CHEER ABOUT?
Depending on how much weight you give those strict readings of the records, Ferrari might suddenly appear to have quite a bit on the line at its home race given it has a stake in both.
Alberto Ascari was Ferrari’s first world drivers championship and integral to the Scuderia’s domination of 1952–53.
It no longer holds either record outright, but it can at least prevent them from being snapped on its home territory.
It would take a mighty turnaround in form for a red car to top the podium, though.
Ferrari has been becoming decreasingly competitive relative to Red Bull Racing the longer the season has progressed. What started as the second-quickest car on one-lap pace has slipped to being fourth best, with Aston Martin threatening to demote it another place if its recent round of upgrades prove successful.
The team’s race pace is generally more dire, and Ferrari has admitted it will need to start next season with a fresh design if it’s to have any hope of catching up in this regulatory cycle.
But Monza should at least give it a short-term reprieve. The evidence of the season so far is that the configuration of long straights and chicanes — meat and potatoes stuff — will suit the SF-23, certainly much more the Zandvoort’s slower bends.
Think about the twin poles in Azerbaijan, the strong race performance in Canada despite bungling wet qualifying or even the reasonable returns in Belgium, all of which were run on tracks that reward straight-line speed.
If Ferrari is going to return to the podium this season, its home race is the most likely place.
Verstappen wins NINE races in a row | 01:20
CAN LOGAN SARGEANT STEP UP AT WILLIAMS?
You get the sense that Williams would like to hold onto rookie Logan Sargeant. He’s shown more than a few flashes of strong speed and has a reasonable pedigree suggesting he can establish himself in the sport.
But after 13 rounds he’s yet to string together a complete weekend, and with every passing race a small bit of doubt creeps into the equation: can he actually do it?
It was at the Italian Grand Prix last year that his predecessor, Nicholas Latifi, must’ve known his time was up. With the writing already on the wall, Nyck de Vries jumped in Alex Albon’s car and scored points on debut while Latifi toiled to 15th.
Without talking down De Vries’s race, the car was clearly capable of strong points at slippery Monza, yet Latifi couldn’t pull it together to grab them.
Williams is expected to be fast at the temple of speed again this year, where the car’s simple aerodynamics can be easily pared back to boost straight-line speed.
While no-one is expecting an Albon-level performance from rookie Sargeant, maiden points must be the target.
In Zandvoort again there were signs that the Floridian is within touching distance of establishing himself when he cracked Q3 for the first time in his career. But then he crashed out of qualifying when there was more on the table for him.
His first lap in the wet was then too cautious, and he fell to the back of the pack once the race got into its rhythm, though his subsequent crash was found to be a hydraulic problem rather than driver error.
Notwithstanding the team’s unexpectedly strong weekend at Zandvoort, Monza is likely to be Williams’s last very good chance for points before perhaps Las Vegas — which means it could be Sargeant’s last chance to make a big impression before the silly season wraps ups.
Shock Sargeant crash triggers safety car | 02:02
CAN LIAM LAWSON CEMENT HIMSELF AS A PLAYER IN THE DRIVER MARKET?
Liam Lawson ticked all the boxes in his surprise F1 debut substituting for the injured Daniel Ricciardo last weekend in the Netherlands: he brought the car home in one piece and learnt a lot. As a bonus he even got a few good chances to get his elbows out and flex his credentials.
The bar will be set considerably higher this weekend, when the Kiwi will have the full complement of practice sessions at a circuit he’s raced at more often. It’s also the Faenza-based AlphaTauri’s home grand prix.
The odds are Lawson will get at least one or two more cracks at a full race weekend given Ricciardo’s injuries. While team and driver haven’t committed publicly to a return date, Singapore and Japan will arrive less than a month after the Aussie went under the knife for an injury most suggest needs at least six weeks to fully recover from.
But Lawson can’t afford to count on it. He’s been gifted a golden chance to insert himself into a driver market that looked at risk of passing him by only a few weeks ago. If he wants to give the Red Bull hierarchy a real headache over AlphaTauri’s driver line-up, he needs to strike this weekend.
He won’t need to beat Tsunoda — though that’ll be sure to grab attention — but a weekend consistently close to his teammate will go a long way to turning some of the pressure on him back outwards and potentially back onto Ricciardo when the Aussie eventually returns.
WILL THE NEW TYRE RULES BE ANY MORE SUCCESSFUL?
Pirelli will trial its alternative tyre allocation rules this weekend, following on from its first experiment at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Rather than the usual 13 sets of tyres, each driver will get only 11 for the weekend, comprising three hards (up from two), four mediums (up from three) and four softs (down from eight).
But the more noticeable change is to the qualifying format, in which drivers will be required to use the hard tyre in Q1, the medium tyre in Q2 and the soft tyre in Q3.
The culmination of those changes in Hungary was that drivers completed fewer laps during practice, with teams keen to preserve rubber for multiple runs in qualifying and for the race. Several driver criticised the lack of action on behalf of spectators who paid to attend the circuit.
Ricciardo BREAKS HAND in crash at P2 | 01:16
But the flip side was that qualifying was a less predictable and more exciting. George Russell and Carlos Sainz, for example, were both caught out and eliminated before the top-10 shootout, and while both could point to extraneous circumstances, the need to run on the harder tyres certainly played a role.
Lewis Hamilton went on to become only the second non-Red Bull Racing driver of the year to take pole — again, with other factors at play but with the tyre allocation being a factor.
With a straightforward dry weekend forecast, Monza will be a better representative test of alternative tyre allocation for better or for worse.
HOW CAN I WATCH IT?
The 2023 Italian Grand Prix is live and ad-break free during racing on Kayo and Fox Sports.
First practice starts tonight at 9:30pm (AEST) ahead of second practice at 1:00am.
Final practice is from 8:30pm Saturday before qualifying at midnight.
Pre-race coverage for the Italian Grand Prix starts at 9:30pm, with lights out at 11:00pm.