Formula 1 & Formula 2 returns to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza this week, with this weekend serving as the 8th round of both championships. Ahead of the race action on Saturday & Sunday, we have compiled a list of things to watch out for in both categories.
Formula 1: The Things to Watch Out for:
The Battle For Third
Yesterday’s qualifying session saw Mercedes score a dominant front row, with the McLaren of the third-placed Carlos Sainz Jnr coming in at over 7 tenths behind the second placed Bottas. With this huge gap, barring any incidents for Mercedes, it is unlikely we will see any other team challenge for victory later today. Hence, all eyes will be placed on the battle for third.
Positions 3-7 on today’s starting grid were claimed by Carlos Sainz Jnr (P3), Sergio Perez (P4), Max Verstappen (P5), Lando Norris (P6) and Daniel Ricciardo (P7). The 5 drivers represented 4 teams powered by 3 different engine suppliers, and all 5 drivers were separated by just under 2 tenths of a second.
The Impact of Engine Mode Restrictions
This weekend see’s the introduction of restrictions on engine modes by the FIA, with teams now forced to run a single engine mode in both qualifying and the race. Previously, drivers could switch between higher and lower settings during the race. Yesterday’s qualifying demonstrated the impact it had on the one lap pace of several teams, with Honda teams Red Bull and AlphaTauri falling into this category.
The introduction of restrictions on power modes means teams must be able to strike a fine balance between power and reliability, as comprising on either end may lead to teams walking home empty handed post-race. Saturday has almost always been about raw power at Monza, while Sunday has been almost always been about the balance between power and reliability. Today’s race will show which teams have comprised too much on the reliability end of things.
Last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix saw Ferrari & it’s engine customers suffer a torrid weekend, due to the reduced power output from the Ferrari unit relative to it’s competitors. Ferrari also had to suffer the humiliation of being beaten by it’s customer, Alfa Romeo, with Kimi Raikonen finishing ahead of both Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel.
Yesterday’s qualifying saw Ferrari & it’s engine customers suffer once more from the reduced power output of the engine, with none of the Ferrari powered cars making it past Q2. The best of the Ferrari powered cars was the Ferrari of Leclerc, who will start from 13th on the grid, a year after starting from Pole en route to victory. Despite this, Ferrari was forced to endure more humiliation from it’s customers, as Sebastian Vettel failed to break into Q2, and will start in 17th. Vettel was bumped by both Haas cars, and the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen, after being caught in traffic at the end of Q1.
Given that Leclerc was able to carve out a gap of over 5 tenths to Raikkonen in Q2, it appears unlikely that Ferrari will be forced to endure a second straight weekend of humiliation of seeing both cars beaten by a customer team. However, questions remain as to whether Ferrari will be scoring any points later today….
Formula 2: The Things to Watch Out For:
Honda protege and Red Bull Junior Team member Yuki Tsunoda has certainly had a stellar debut season in F2. In the 14 race starts across 7 weekends this season, Tsunoda has scored 2 pole positions in qualifying, alongside 2 race victories, with a single sprint and feature race win each, which has since propelled him to third in the Championship standings. In contrast, Tsunoda’s Carlin teammate and fellow Red Bull Junior Jehan Daruvala has scored no poles, nor podium finishes this season, and currently languishes far down the stands in 15th.
Tsunoda’s performances in just his second year of European Single Seater competition has impressed both fans and the Formula 1 paddock, and has led to a test with the Scuderia AlphaTauri team, scheduled for the end of the year. More recently, AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost admitted that Tsunoda could be promoted to Formula 1 as soon as 2021, although it should be noted that Tsunoda would require a 3rd placed finish in the final Championship standings to qualify for a Super License.
Tsunoda is set to start today’s Feature Race from the front row, next to pole-sitter and fellow championship contender Callum Ilott. Tsunoda demonstrated pace right from the outset this weekend, taking 1st in Free Practice. It will be interesting to see how Tsunoda will fare against his main title contenders this weekend. The Ferrari Driver Academy trio of Schumacher, Shwartzman and Ilott, all finished practice outside the top 5, and will also start the race outside the top 5, bar Ilott.
Drivers’ Championship Battle (& The Battle for an F1 future)
A gap of 31 points separates the top 5 in the Formula 2 Driver Standings ahead of the Monza Feature Race, with 4 of the 5 drivers currently signed to the junior programmes of Formula 1 teams. The top 2 drivers in the standings, are Ferrari juniors Shwartzman (Rookie) and Ilott separated by 6 points with 132 and 126 points respectively. Trailing the pair is Red Bull/Honda junior Tsunoda (Rookie) with 111 points, and Ferrari junior Mick Schumacher with 106 points. Just 5 points shy of Schumacher is Nikita Mazepin, also the sole driver unaffiliated with any Formula 1 team.
While Tsunoda seemingly has his F1 future set in stone, should he acquire sufficient Super License points, the same cannot be said for his title rivals. The 3 FDA drivers Shwartzman, Ilott and Schumacher currently find themselves locked in a battle, not just for the championship, but also for the single Ferrari seat at Alfa Romeo. In addition, Shwartzman and Schumacher are also teammates at Prema; with both drivers aiming for a Formula 1 graduation, things could turn ugly at the Italian squad.
Shwartzman and Schumacher had already come together on track once, during the second Sprint Race at Silverstone, which cost Prema a 1-2 finish, with just 2 laps to go, gifting a win to Tsunoda and Carlin. Schumacher would finish 2nd, while Shwartzman plummeted down the order with Front Wing damage. While the stewards deemed it a Racing Incident, and Schumacher was apologetic about the incident, there is every possibility of a repeat incident occurring on track…
Meanwhile, Ilott may find himself away from any intra-team competition for the sole Formula One seat at Alfa Romeo held by Ferrari, but time is running out for the young Englishman. In mid August, Ilott admitted to Formula Scout that he had yet to engage in discussions with any team for a Formula One graduation.
All 3 title contending FDA drivers are assets to Ferrari’s academy which the Scuderia hopes to retain. However, Ilott has to recognise the reality that he could see the Formula One dream fade in front of him, should he fail to secure the title or beat both his rivals. Schumacher is an incredibly marketable driver owing to his surname, while Shwartzman’s past and current performances have indicated a driver of high calibre and potential. In the event where only 2 of the 3 drivers may be promoted to Formula 1, Ilott could find himself as the driver left out of a Formula 1 promotion.
Teams’ Championship Battle – Prema vs UNI-Virtuosi
While the Formula 2 Drivers’ Championship has proven extremely competitive this season, the same cannot really be said for the Teams’ Championship, which appears to be becoming a 2 horse race between Prema & UNI-Virtuosi. 20 points separate the 2 teams in the standings, with the next nearest team, Hitech Grand Prix being over 50 points behind Virtuosi.
Both teams are running with strong driver lineups, comprising of Formula 1 Junior Drivers. UNI-Virtuosi runs Guan Yu Zhou (Renault) & Callum Ilott (Ferrari), while Prema run a full Ferrari lineup of Shwartzman & Schumacher. UNI-Virtuosi had looked strong in the pre-season Bahrain tests, but at the present, Prema appear to have the upper hand in the Teams’ title battle. The Prema duo of Schumacher and Shwartzman have made more visits to the podium combined, compared to the Virtuosi pair of Zhou and Ilott.
As mentioned earlier, however, the teams’ title fight could easily swing in favour of Virtuosi, should there be any further incidents between the Prema pair…