This weekend Formula 1 returns to its most historic venue as Monza hosts the Italian Grand Prix.
Set in the suburbs of Milan, Monza is the fastest circuit on the calendar and could potentially see the new V6 powered cars reach speeds not seen since the old V10 era.
Four times over a lap will the drivers surpass the 200mph mark with the slipperiest cars, i.e. Williams and Mercedes, reaching 220mph along the 1.3km main straight.
Temple of speed
As previously mentioned, Monza has hosted the most Formula 1 races with the circuit hosting all but one Italian Grand Prix since 1950. In that time the circuit has taken many forms.
The original design was simply a series of straights with a few curves that formed the basic shape of the current track before leading onto a banked oval. Over time the circuit was altered, with only a section of the oval making up the Grand Prix layout with the banked turn named the Parabolica, however as speeds increased and the safety of the banking called into question, Monza would change again and the basic 'L' shape would become the only part used.
Over time the banking has fallen into disrepair, with only a campaign to save the oval preventing its demolition, and indeed the bridge which the cars go under on the run to the Ascari chicane offers the most visual reminder of the former track.
Straights & chicanes
The current design can be summed up very easily as a number of straights and chicanes. As speeds increased these slow corners had to be installed and whereas the original design had none, now there are three.
The first chicane dissects the flat out run from Parabolica to the Curva Grande and is also one of the best overtaking places in the world.
The cars will approach from upwards of 215mph before a very heavy braking zone to just 50mph for the tight, right-left chicane.
Good traction is essential too on the exit as the Curva Grande is now easily full throttle and will see the cars again break 200mph on the approach to the Variante Roggia.
A slightly quicker chicane, this is all about having a stable car as the drivers ride the kerbs as much as possible in order to maintain speed. Precision is also key as a small gravel trap awaits on the exit, however, very rarely does it claim a victim.
A short straight leads to the Lesmo bends a series of two right-handers where again its all about losing as little speed as possible.
The second Lesmo leads onto the third long straight and the run under the old banking to the Variante Ascari. A more sweeping chicane, its key to not run too wide on the first left as the run through the left, right flick onto the final straight is key.
Drivers will run wide on the exit which leads onto the last straight and again 200mph will be reached as the cars slow down for what will be a keenly watched corner this weekend.
Much has been made of the changes to the run-off area at the Parabolica, formerly all gravel, now an area of tarmac has been installed giving drivers a 'get out of jail free' card should they run wide.
Of course the main reason for the change is the increase safety in the event of an accident, but this long radius right-hander where drivers don't drop much lower than 120mph at the slowest point will likely see a 'track limits' rule enforced as drivers will be willing to use as much of the circuit, and a little more, as they can.
With Monza being the highest percentage lap, in terms of the amount of time the drivers are full throttle, the question has to be whether the new V6 engines can cope with the incredible speeds.
This is the only circuit in the world where a F1 car can reach its top speed as the mechanics put very skinny wings on the cars in order to reduce drag and reach the maximum speed.
Usually that stress on the engine means all the teams try and save one fresh engine just for the Italian race and with most of the drivers set to use their fifth and final allocated V6 engine unit reliability could be an issue.
Mercedes set to dominate
Regardless of reliability, most are expecting the might of Mercedes power to shine through and leave Red Bull and Ferrari trailing.
It may not be Mercedes who have the absolute edge, however, despite having the most powerful engine, Williams, with in essence the same power unit, have a slipperier car meaning they can achieve higher top speeds, but, in what could be a very close battle, it could be the cornering abilities of the Mercedes that just give them the edge.
Despite being a favourite among everyone in the F1 family, the future of Monza is uncertain. CEO Bernie Ecclestone has already said the owners will need to upgrade the facilities or lose the race after 2016 with the Ferrari-owned Mugello circuit interested in taking over.
It would be a great shame to lose such an unique and special circuit from the calendar as the thousands of Ferrari fans make the annual pilgrimage to cheer on the Prancing Horse, and this weekend the magic of Monza will once again fulfil everybody's need for speed in Formula 1.
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