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Practice at one of the most unique tracks on the calendar is over, as two hours of track time at Monza has been completed for the Formula 1 drivers and teams. Let’s look into the Italian GP practice analysis, to see what conclusions can be made from Friday at the circuit often referred at as “the Cathedral of Speed”.
Ferrari strong at home
One of the strong suites of the Ferrari SF-23 has been its performance in low-drag high-speed circuits. Its performances in Canada, Austria and Belgium serves as an indication of it and this has been confirmed in practice today. In a revised livery and with its fans filling the grandstands, this race is deemed crucial for the Scuderia, in a season that has been disappointing overall.
The competitiveness of Ferrari has been confirmed in a variety of conditions, even despite a small setback because of a suspension change for Charles Leclerc in Free Practice 1, which cost him a little bit of track time. Its speed on hard tyres was apparent during FP1, as were its one-lap efforts and its race pace in FP2.
Carlos Sainz was fastest in the second free practice session, despite aborting his first fast lap thanks to a mistake in the second chicane. Leclerc was sixth, with a lap that was far from ideal, but he was much more competitive on the medium tyres.
Both Leclerc and Sainz are in good form this season, although the Monegasque has achieved all three of Ferrari’s podiums in 2023. Another one is the expectation for Monza and the Tifosi have good reason to be optimistic regarding this weekend.
Struggles for Mercedes and Aston Martin
For Mercedes and Aston Martin, the difficulties were expected heading to Monza. The layout of Monza, consisting of long straights, are not playing into the strengths of the Mercedes power unit in particular. That has shown to be able to work well in long straights only in conjunction with a low-drag aerodynamic design, such as the one of Williams.
Mercedes split their programs, running a higher downforce setup for Lewis Hamilton in Free Practice 2. He voiced his displeasure and will probably revert to the lower downforce setup, used by George Russell, ahead of Saturday. The younger driver was the fastest of the pair on both the soft and the medium tyre compounds, while his teammate ended the second session in sixteenth.
Even with the lower downforce package, Russell was not fast in a straight line. In fact, he was seventeenth fastest in the speed trap, thirteen kilometers per hour off the top speed, achieved by Alex Albon. Hamilton was a further three kilometers per hour down and he was second to last, only ahead of Lance Stroll, who had his own issues.
For Aston Martin, the day did not go well either. Fernando Alonso ended the second free practice in eighth, one place ahead of Russell. His pace was not great though, confirming the car is not well suited to the track. For Lance Stroll, the day was a waste. He was replaced by Felipe Drugovich in FP1 and a fuel system issue forced him to stop early during FP2, thus recording no lap time.
A surprise from McLaren
One other team that entered the weekend of the Italian Grand Prix with low expectations was McLaren. The British team has struggled all season long with high speed tracks, as its car has appeared to be very draggy. One such demonstration was at the Belgian Grand Prix, which was the most difficult Grand Prix for the team since its big upgrade package in July.
But with Lando Norris second and Oscar Piastri in fourth, there is reason for optimism at the team. Perhaps the reason behind the improvements is the newest upgrade package, which was delivered at Zandvoort, but the improvement is apparent in the speed trap.
McLaren’s good lap times were not only produced by the good top speed, but thanks to its good grip too. McLaren were -marginally- the fastest team in the second and third sectors, which consist of a few corners which are key to a good lap time, like the Lesmos, the Ascari chicane and the Parabolica. All these are high-speed corners, in which McLaren has excelled at in recent races.
Ηaas to return to the points?
For Haas, Monza presents a great opportunity to add to its tally of eleven points in 2023. Its performance today was good, as Kevin Magnussen was eighth in the first session. In the second, Nico Hulkenberg headed the charge in tenth, one place ahead of his teammate.
But one-lap pace has not been a problem for the American team this season, as Hulkenberg in particular has reached Q3 on a number of occasions. The problem for both drivers has been race pace, which is falling off very quickly thanks to high tyre wear.
And this may not change in Monza. Pirelli has brought the three softest compounds in its disposal at the track, which is bad news for Haas. The signs of overheating, especially on soft tyres, were apparent in both sessions and even with a good result in qualifying, things will be tough for Haas on Sunday.
Alpha Tauri in the mix
Alpha Tauri is competing on home soil this weekend and there is a good chance it will be able to score points for the fourth time in 2023. Yuki Tsunoda drove a great race in the last high-speed circuit, at Spa-Francorchamps, despite scoring just a single point.
The Honda power unit is very much considered the best on the grid and the team from Faenza should benefit from that. Tsunoda confirmed the team’s potential by finishing ninth in the first free practice session. In the second one, he was only fifteenth, but expectations are high for the race.
On the other cockpit, of course, we find Liam Lawson in his second Formula 1 weekend. The Kiwi performed admirably in Zandvoort to finish thirteenth, in conditions much more difficult than he hoped. With a week of preparation, in a circuit he knows well and better conditions, he will be able to show off his talent.
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