Revised Formula One on display at Italian GP

This weekend's Italian Grand Prix is shaping up as a prime example of the revolution Formula One has undergone this season.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:48 IST
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This weekend's Italian Grand Prix is shaping up as a prime example of the revolution Formula One has undergone this season. A year ago, Michael Schumacher had his seventh world title wrapped up before even coming to Monza. This time he is in a distant third place while Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen battle in an increasingly tight duel for the championship. With five races remaining and wins worth 10 points, Alonso has 95 points to Raikkonen's 71. Schumacher has just 55. Schumacher and his Ferrari team have had trouble adapting to new rules this season limiting teams to one engine for every two races and one set of tires per Grand Prix. Alonso leads Alonso and his Renault team have adapted best, skipping early practice sessions to save his engines, and winning three of the first four races - with teammate Giancarlo Fisichella winning the other. Since then, Alonso has not won as often but he has maintained his lead with consistency. Raikkonen's season has been marked by sharp ups and downs, dominating victories like in Hungary and Turkey the last two races, and crushing engine failures - often when victory seemed secure - at the San Marino, European and German GPs. At Monza, the fastest track in F1, McLaren posted the best times in testing last week with Renault right behind, but Raikkonen suffered an engine failure. Ferrari was far behind. With speeds averaging 250 kph (155 mph) and cars on the main straight reaching more than 360 kph (223 mph), Monza is tougher on engines - and brakes - than any other circuit. "McLaren are very quick, there's no doubt, but Monza is a completely different circuit to any other, so we approach it feeling confident,'' Alonso said. "We have had a good straight-line speed all year, and that is one of the things you need there. I like the combination of speed and risk.'' Yet Alonso knows that risks are not required. "As long as we finish the races we are OK,'' he said. "If we are competitive and can get on the podium, then it will be hard to lose my advantage. The advantage we have is that I can still afford some bad races and not lose the lead. "McLaren have pressure to be perfect until China, and if they are not, we will be there to punish them.'' The season-ending Chinese GP was on Oct. 16. McLaren team chairman Martin Whitmarsh acknowledges that even if McLaren is perfect, that may not be enough. "We need to keep the momentum going and do a better job than Renault over the remaining five races,'' Whitmarsh said. "However, we are aware that Renault need to make some errors.'' If Raikkonen wins each of the five remaining races, Alonso could still take the championship if he finishes third each race. Still, Raikkonen remains optimistic. "The situation in both the drivers' and constructors' championships is still open and nobody knows what is going to happen until the last race in October,'' the Finn said. "The car has the pace to win and I am not giving up the fight, so we shall see.'' Renault's edge over McLaren in the constructors' championship - 130-121 - is narrower than the drivers' standings gap. Ferrari struggles Ferrari, third in the team classification with 86 points, is not counting on repeating its 1-2 domination last year in Monza, when Rubens Barrichello won ahead of Schumacher. In Turkey two weeks ago, neither Ferrari driver gained a point. "We can't expect miracles at Monza,'' Ferrari team director Jean Todt said in an interview with Corriere della Sera on Wednesday. "We will do everything we can, but a victory is not realistic, and that goes for (Belgium) the following week, too. In the last three races, together with Bridgestone, we have to return to the top level.'' Todt was harsh in his criticism of Bridgestone. "The rule change that has penalized us most is the one that allows only one set of tires for qualifying and the race,'' Todt said. "Bridgestone has not been able to supply us highly competitive tires.'' Ferrari's tires could wilt when pushed to the high speeds that Monza demands. All the other top teams use Michelin tires. Attendance concerns With Ferrari struggling, Monza officials are worried about a significant drop in attendance. The crowd could be half of the record 160,532 fans in 2000 when Schumacher became the first Ferrari driver in 21 years to win the championship. "It is our home race,'' Schumacher said. "Even though our current results are not up to those of the past, we will go into the race with the same spirit and motivation of the past few years and we are certain our fans will realize this.'' (AP)