Italian GP preview: Questions for Monza
Can Lewis recover from his Spa setback? What will Ferrari have for the F2012? And will Pastor finally stay out of trouble? Questions, questions...
Last Updated: 10/10/12 5:14pm
Looking ahead to this weekend's race in inquisitive fashion...
After his Spa setback, will Lewis Hamilton be able to bounce back?
Throughout his career, Lewis Hamilton has tended to excel in adversity. Though twittergate - forgive the lazy suffix - is a minor trifle compared to the liargate scandal of 2009 and his debut year ructions with Fernando Alonso, Hamilton is once again a negative centre of attention heading to Monza after that tweet and under pressure to prove he's worth the hassle. For himself, for his reputation and, last but by no means least, for his title ambitions, he needs to bounce back in convincing fashion.
For a winning recovery to occur, he may have to prove that what he was trying to say through that now-infamous tweet was true: namely, that only a duff call on his set-up saw Jenson Button mete out such a comprehensive thrashing. Given a choice of direction, don't expect Hamilton to try anything different to his team-mate this weekend.
Or will Jenson try to mess with Lewis' head?
Yet following Jenson's lead, at least in terms of his downforce setting, might not be entirely straightforward for Lewis. In 2010, Button dramatically broke with convention by running a high level of downforce as he out-paced (and out-smarted) Hamilton to nearly snatch victory from Fernando Alonso's grasp.
However, mindful of the two DRS zones and the forecast overtaking feast, Button reverted to the standard low-downforce setting last year - and has hinted he will do so again in McLaren's preview for this weekend: "Monza is one of the greatest circuits in the world and our car seems to be particularly well suited to high-speed circuits, so I'm optimistic that we'll be competitive again this weekend. The success we had with a low-downforce configuration at Spa also gives us cause for optimism."
That sounds straightforward. Yet, with Hamilton so vexed by his team-mate's choice of wing at Spa, don't put it past Jenson to play a few games - and send a dummy or two in practice - in a bid to maintain the upper hand. Now you see it, now you don't...
Will Lewis turn off his phone?
Following in the popular lead of both Button and Alonso, Hamilton became the third F1 driver to register over a million followers on twitter this week. His account, after all, did attract plenty of publicity...
Yet of far greater significance than the interest in Lewis was the public condemnation from both his team and team-mate of his rather silly misjudgement in tweeting sensitive telemetry information after qualifying at Spa. Just what was he thinking? People like answers and there will be plenty of amateur psychologists following every smiley face and abbreviation Hamilton posts on twitter this weekend...or will he? Given the furore his tweets caused in Belgium, it might be wise if Lewis embraces tact and give social-mediaing a swerve altogether this weekend.
In F1, and in World Championship battles, popularity is over-rated compared to points and the virtues of the quiet life.
What will Ferrari bolt on to Fernando's crushed F2012?
Despite Fernando Alonso's F2012 and his World Championship lead enduring a literal and metaphorical battering at Spa, there was a degree of comfort to be taken from Sunday's race in the shape of Felipe Massa's unexpected competitiveness.
Though Alonso was surely exaggerating last week when he described the F2012 as the slowest of the fast cars, it's also eminently feasible that Spa's cool conditions disguised their performance disadvantage. With conditions set fair for Monza, there will be no hiding place for Ferrari at Monza in front of the Tifosi. Surely they'll have something up their sleeve for their home race...won't they?
How will the Italians react to the absence of an Italian driver?
For the first time in four decades, there won't be an Italian driver partaking in this year's Italian GP (though there will be, in the form of Jerome D'Ambrosio, a Belgian dirver with an Italian-sounding name at least).
Given the Tifosi traditionally support their national team rather than a national driver, there shouldn't be any noticeable change in atmosphere. But the absence of Italian driver is bound to provoke an undercurrent of unease and vexed question to be asked about the country's motor-sport foundations. Italy, at present, seem to be losing the generation game.
Can the Lotus new boy give more third drivers a second chance?
Second chances are a rare thing in F1 so, even allowing for his rustiness and relative unfamiliarity with the E20, Jerome D'Ambrosio will be in a pressure-fuelled race to impress at Monza this weekend as he replaces the suspended Romain Grosjean. But in addition to driving for his own future, D'Ambrosio will also be burdened with making a reassuring case for more third drivers to be thrown into the deep end despite the absence of proper in-season testing.
If rust slows D'Ambrosio down, the likes of Valtteri Bottas and Jules Bianchi will surely be condemned to at least another six months on the sidelines.
Can Lotus win without their delayed device?
Somehow it just doesn't seem to be working out for Lotus on race days with the team's Sunday pace significantly subordinate to pre-race expectation. One theory being peddled as F1 departed Spa, especially by those who had tipped the Enstone outfit to claim their first victory of the year beforehand, is that they lost out because Friday's torrential rain scuppered plans to run their Double DRS device.
The team have confirmed that they won't be running the unit this weekend either, begging the question of whether its significance has been overhyped. A win would end that debate.
Will the Pirellis stand the heat?
Having coped without any discernible difficulty to the highest energy-loading of the season at Spa last weekend, there shouldn't, at first glance, be any reason to suppose the Pirellis will struggle this weekend - especially as the same compound choice, the hards and the mediums, will be in operation.
However, Monza generates the second-highest set of forces that the tyres have to endure during a full season and, perhaps critically, the temperature in northern Italy is likely to be significantly hotter than it was in the cool of the Ardennes forest. Will that drive them back over the proverbial cliff that we heard so much of at the start of the season?
Can Pastor finally stay out of trouble?
As Martin Brundle remarked of Pastor Maldonado in his latest column for this website: 'Williams must be tearing their hair out, the kid has majestic speed but it's costing them a fortune in points and repairs.' The team haven't wavered in their support of the Venezuelan but, after ten penalties in twelve races, patience is surely wearing thin.
What Maldonado needs - especially given that the stewards seem to have taken a guilty-until-proven-innocent stance towards him - is a quiet, controversy-free weekend. Some points would be handy, too - he hasn't scored since winning at Spain in May.
Will the field drive through the first corner?
Regardless of your opinion on the rights and wrongs of Grosjean's ban, his suspension is the ultimate warning against any driver considering a plunge into the first corner this weekend. Well, that's the theory at least. In reality, the start at Monza is frequently messy, partly because it represents a golden overtaking opportunity but mainly because of the inherent untidiness of 24 cars being required to brake from 200mph to a relative crawl around two tight chicanes.
The likelihood is that something will happen at the first corner this weekend; the great unknown is what - and how sympathetic the stewards will be. Spa's alarm call might have to be put on snooze.