Walk the parks here in Monza and the history of the grand old freeway it is inevitable. It overlooks the magnificent dining room and stoically bears down on the cobblestones of the old barn demanding attention in the mossy embrace of time. The temple of speed celebrates 100 years this year, but this weekend for Ferrari – the Monza team, the Italian team – the present is tense. The weight of history is heavy, with expectations inevitably high at the Italian Grand Prix.
The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza was built in just 110 days in 1922. Completed in July, its first race was the second Italian GP in September of that year and established the venue as only the third permanent circuit in the world, after Brooklands and Indianapolis .
The track nestles elegantly in its surroundings outside of Milan with such grace that it can pass through the nearby streets of Lissone without you noticing. However, on Sunday, Monza will come alive to the roar of engines amid a sea of red-clad fans. However, while the tifosi No doubt enjoying the rich history of Monza, they are here to see Ferrari win.
The team is running cars in extra yellow this weekend, the color chosen by Enzo Ferrari in honor of Modena where his team was founded, as the background for the horse emblem to celebrate Monza’s anniversary. However, it was what happened on the track that mattered for Enzo and a tough weekend is still probably in store after a season he would surely have decried as not being good enough.
Ferrari opened with Charles Leclerc’s two wins from three races: he had the car to beat to end his title drought after not having a drivers’ championship since 2007. Leclerc leads Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by 46 points after the third round in Australia, a gap many believed would be difficult for the reigning champion to come back from. However, Italy is 16th and Verstappen leads Leclerc by 109 points. The title is in the hands of the Dutchman. He could win it in Singapore and Japan, the two races after Monza.
Ferrari is faltering after a bright start amid a series of team and driver errors. As they established, Red Bull grew stronger. Where Ferrari’s misjudgments this season have been highlighted by only bringing three tires to Carlos Sainz’s last-lap pitstop at Zandvoort, Red Bull have repeatedly delivered near-flawless races. Red Bull’s biggest advantage was punishing speed on the straight and at Monza, the fastest track on the calendar, it runs with as little downforce as possible and a weak rear wing will probably be unstoppable.
Ferrari are just 30 points ahead of Mercedes in the constructors’ championship, which is excellent considering their car was barely close to the pace of Scuderia for most of the season. Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto believes they are going in the right direction and that stability and timing are key. “Right now, we have to find some good results,” he said. “We are still looking for wins and our intention is to win every race, including Monza.”
Leclerc, who took his second win here with Ferrari in 2019 to their delight tifosi, tried to remain optimistic as his title hopes fade, but was blunt that a repeat at Monza was far from likely. “I think it’s going to be a bit difficult at the weekend,” he said. “We expect Red Bull to be stronger. The characteristics of the track don’t exactly suit our car.”
Ferrari are one down with Sainz starting at the back of the grid with penalties for getting a new power unit. However, with Verstappen also having a five-place penalty for fitting a new engine, Leclerc will have some advantage. However, Verstappen proved with wins in Hungary and Spa that starting at the bottom of the field is no obstacle, such is his current dominance.
Certainly practice showed that Red Bull was fast. In the first session, which was preceded by a minute’s silence in the pit lane in honor of Queen Elizabeth II, Leclerc was on top but Verstappen did not set a time on the soft tyre.
Monza has hosted every Italian bar GP since the world championship began in 1950 and Ferrari’s history is intertwined with that of this great circuit. However, the past will probably offer no solace on Sunday for the team that promised so much this season but must now overcome the sighs of disappointment rather than the roars of approval echoing around the Parco di Monza.