Red Bull‘s straight line speed has been impressive throughout 2022 which makes Max Verstappen the clear favourite for victory at the Italian Grand Prix.
The defending champion is 109 points ahead of Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez in the Formula 1 driver standings with seven events remaining. It’s a matter of when he will won his second title.
You can say the same thing about the constructors’ championship, with Red Bull 135 points clear of Ferrari and 155 in front of Mercedes.
Verstappen is on a run of four wins in a row following another scintillating performance at Zandvoort and it’s expected that he will have an easier time this weekend at Monza. Or will he?
Why will Monza suit Red Bull
Monza is all about straight line speed with 80 percent of the lap done at full throttle. Every team will run skinny rear wings in a bid to have the best top speed possible.
Red Bull Powertrains, which is essentially still a Honda for 2022 as the power unit is built and developed in Japan, have made a great engine which deserves a lot of credit.
Honda may be putting less effort and money into Red Bull and AlphaTauri‘s engine, but it’s certainly very effective and is working in conjunction with the RB18 wonderfully.
Verstappen has never won at Monza but it’s hard to see how he doesn’t win this weekend to put himself potentially one race victory away from the title, should other results go his way.
“I’m really looking forward to Monza,” said Verstappen. “If you look at the year so far, we have been quick on the straights and I think it’s going to be the same around this weekend.
“There’s a lot of history there as well, it’s an amazing track with an incredible atmosphere. You only need to look at their support of Ferrari to see how passionate the Italian fans are for racing.
“I always enjoy driving at Monza, I think we can be competitive there and I hope for a good result. We have a good chance.”
What can stop Verstappen?
It will take a rare mistake from Red Bull or Verstappen for the Dutchman to not win his 11th race of 2022, However, Monza has thrown up some surprises in recent years.
In 2020, Lewis Hamilton was set to dominate the race until he entered the pit lane when it was closed, thus receiving a 10-second stop and go penalty.
Due to Gasly stopping early whilst the other drivers were bunched behind the safety car, then pitted, the AlphaTauri driver found himself in the lead with Lance Stroll in second.
It turned into a battle between Gasly and Carlos Sainz in the McLaren with the Frenchman holding on in a tense finale to win his maiden Grand Prix.
In 2021, Hamilton and Verstappen collided in a strange accident that saw the Mercedes hop on top of the Red Bull at the first chicane.
Daniel Ricciardo took full advantage to lead a McLaren 1-2 with teammate Lando Norris behind.
Will there be another strange race on Sunday? It’s hard to think so but you just never know, especially after the wins of Gasly and Ricciardo.
Hamilton and Sainz among several grid penalty hit drivers
If you had enough of grid penalties at the Belgian GP, you are not going to enjoy reading that at least six drivers are expected to be hit with penalties for excessive power unit elements usage.
Hamilton has already confirmed he will take a fourth engine as his power unit from Spa continues to be inspected after his collision with Fernando Alonso on Lap 1 which saw him fly into the air.
Sainz is also set to join Hamilton at the back of the grid, despite being on Ferrari’s home turf, with Mick Schumacher, Yuki Tsunoda and Valtteri Bottas also exceeding the power unit elements limit. It’s possible Sergio Perez could join the list, as well as Kevin Magnussen.
Is this a problem for F1? Yes, however there aren’t many clear solutions apart from deducting constructors’ points instead.
There should simply be a bigger allowance because three engines for 22 Grand Prix is not right.
We want to see the drivers pushing and using maximum power for longer rather than conserving their power units, so the best thing to do would be increase the number of permitted engines to five.
After all, the engine manufactures all have engines going around on their dynos in the factories, so why not just stick them into a live F1 car instead?
Alonso on the podium?
Alpine could be the dark horses with their great straight line speed with Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon both in good form.
Alonso, who will equal Kimi Raikkonen for the most F1 starts (350) on Sunday, says Alpine don’t have a Monza specific rear wing, which is unusual, but sees no reason why they shouldn’t be competitive.
“It’s a nice achievement and it’s great obviously to tie Kimi for the most race starts in Formula 1 on Sunday,” said Alonso.
“Honestly though, I try not to think about the records too much and keep my focus on the racing. For sure it’s a nice achievement and one I will maybe look back on and be happy about.
“But whilst I am still racing, I don’t stop to think about it and I want to enjoy and maximise each race weekend.”
Williams should be strong
Another team that have had excellent straight line speed is Williams, so Monza should suit them too.
Nicholas Latifi remains the only full-time driver yet to score points, whilst Alex Albon continues to shine.
The team’s head of vehicle performance Dave Robson is confident of a good result this weekend, which may be Williams‘ best chance to score points in the final seven events.
“Whilst Monza shares some characteristics with Spa, it is still a very different track that requires a very different approach,” said Robson.
“Low drag is clearly important, but the corners cannot be underestimated and there is only so much downforce that can be removed to sensibly achieve a competitive drag level.
“We have a good baseline from Spa, and we’ll use Friday to experiment with some alternative rear wing options to see how far we can reasonably lower the drag level.
“The tyre compounds are the same as we raced in Spa, but the behaviour will be different with the left-hand tyres in particular exposed to high stress in Monza.”
Watch out for silliness in qualifying
The 2019 Italian GP qualifying saw chaos in Q3 when the drivers all wanted a slipstream so came to a crawl in the first sector to not be the lead car. It helped nobody, apart from Leclerc who took pole position, as most drivers failed to make it to the chequered flag in time.
We haven’t seen too many shenanigans in the last two editions of the Italian GP and the less effective slipstream with the new 2022 cars mean there will probably not be too many fun and games in qualifying.
With so many drivers taking grid penalties, expect teammates to help each other like we saw at Spa.
The perfect gap when crossing the line to start a flying lap is 2-3 seconds behind the car in front so you can get a small slipstream effect without being compromised in the corners.
Red Bull and Verstappen might be so dominant that they won’t even need help in qualifying, not something the rest of the field want to think about.