2014 Italian Grand Prix Preview

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Formula 1’s main European season comes to an end this weekend with the Italian Grand Prix at ‘la pista magica’, Monza.

The clichés used to describe this circuit have long been exhausted, with phrases such as “temple of speed” the norm in these preview articles. Frankly, it doesn’t even come close. If any single circuit can claim to bear the spirit of Formula 1, it is this one.

Since the beginning of the world championship in 1950, Monza has hosted all but one Italian Grand Prix (1980’s race was held at Imola), and the circuit has earned itself a place at the very heart of the sport. Much like Spa, it truly is an “old circuit” with just eleven corners and the fastest lap on the F1 calendar. With the new cars, don’t be surprised to see speeds get close and maybe even eclipse 350km/h.

With the beginning of fall, we must look towards the end of the F1 championship. After this weekend’s race, just six races will remain in 2014; by the end of November, we will have a champion.

This weekend’s race could prove to be pivotal in the title race. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s battle turned into civil war at the last race in Belgium, and we have since had apologies from all parties. Will these words mean much when the two Silver Arrows head into the first chicane side-by-side on Sunday afternoon?

For the locals, there is only one team that is worth their attention: Ferrari. The loyal Tifosi comes out in its droves, turning the grandstands red in support of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. The team may struggle to win at Monza this weekend, but a good haul of points – at least one that’s bigger than Williams – must be the goal.

2014 Italian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Friends, Enemies, Teammates?

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s intra-team battle boiled over at the Belgian Grand Prix last time out, resulting in a public rebuttal for Rosberg and a two-week spell that left us all pondering what will happen at Monza. Mercedes has made perfectly clear that it will not tolerate any more contact between its drivers, but if they go side-by-side into the first chicane, will we see a repeat? Having both drivers in the press conference on Thursday should make for an interesting start to the weekend.

Williams sets its sights on Ferrari

After losing some ground to Ferrari at Spa, Williams will be hoping to make up for it on the prancing horse’s home turf this weekend at Monza. The British team has a package that is well-suited to the circuit on the outskirts of Milan, and should excel. However, Ferrari has a habit of pulling a rabbit out of the hat at Monza; you can expect the home fans to lift both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen on Sunday, even if battling for a position any higher than P5 may prove difficult.

Merhi, Merhi, quite contrary

Roberto Merhi will get his first taste of an F1 car on Friday at Monza when he replaces Kamui Kobayashi for the first free practice session. The Spaniard has been plying his trade in Formula Renault 3.5 so far this year, and currently ranks second behind Red Bull junior Carlos Sainz Jr. in the championship. He will complete some running that will go towards him obtaining a superlicense in the next few weeks, at which point he’ll most probably replace Kobayashi.

Alonso’s contract conundrum

Speculation about Fernando Alonso’s future has been rife for a good while, but we do appear to be getting a clear picture that he will now be staying at Ferrari for 2015. In an interview with Sky Sports, the Spaniard insisted that he is happy with the team, and said that he wants to “finish the job that we started some years ago”. So, at Monza, in front of the home press, he will undoubtedly come under scrutiny. Quite what the future holds remains unclear, but the Spaniard is certainly the man being spoken about at this weekend’s race.

The Italian Job

For all of the history that Monza may boast, the here and now is a little less impressive. Currently, there are no Italian drivers racing in Formula 1, nor has there been since the end of 2011. The track is also at risk of being cut from Formula 1’s schedule, with races in Rome or Mugello being mooted. However, this race simply must remain a part of the sport, and we can only hope that Monza gets the required investment and work to secure its place on the calendar for many years to come.

As for the drivers? Keep an eye out for Raffaele Marciello, a Ferrari junior driver currently racing in GP2. He has the makings of something very special indeed.

Italy – Facts and Figures

Track: Autodromo Nazionale Monza
Laps: 53
Corners: 11
Lap Record: Rubens Barrichello 1:21.046 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Medium (Option); Hard (Prime)
2013 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2013 Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:23.755
2013 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:50.756
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T11 to T1); T7 to T8

TV Times

Free Practice 1 – 5/9 4am ET Live Extra
Free Practice 2 – 5/9 8am ET NBCSN
Free Practice 3 – 6/9 5am ET Live Extra
Qualifying – 6/9 8am ET NBCSN
Race – 7/9 7.30am ET NBCSN

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.