It's bentornato in Italia, but arrivederci Europa at the renowned Autodromo Nazionale di Monza this weekend for the Italian Grand Prix, which heralds the European finale of this season's FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Monza has played host to an F1 race on 52 occasions prior to this year's event and only once has it not held the Italian Grand Prix, having handed over the reins to Imola back in 1980.
Team Review: Panasonic Toyota Racing completed a three-day, three-car test at the Italian track last week. The team's full complement of drivers – race drivers Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta and third driver Ricardo Zonta – were on hand to complete 641 laps of the circuit, which equates to over twelve race distances. Work was divided up into Italian Grand Prix preparations and more long-term development work for the remaining races of the season in the United States and Japan.
The Weekend Ahead: At 5.793-kilometres in length and with average speeds of around 250kmh, Monza is one of the longest and fastest laps on this year's calendar. The track comprises numerous fast straights and kerbed chicanes, which means that the TF103s will need to have the right combination of mechanical grip, good traction and low downforce to be quick this weekend. Olivier Panis has driven at Monza seven times previously, whilst Cristiano da Matta will have to draw on experience garnered from just three days of testing.
Ove Andersson – Team Principal
"We tested in Monza recently with three cars and all three drivers and I hope that we can translate the productive work we carried out into tangible race results at the Italian GP. However, every team has carried out intensive work at the track in the past week, so it is difficult to gauge where we will stand in comparison to our rivals. Although it is a track that should suit our car reasonably well, it will be important to find the best set-up on the car early on Friday morning. I remain hopeful that we can once again attain the sort of performance level that we have demonstrated in recent races as we aim for our eighth successive top ten grid position and more championship points."
Olivier Panis – Car Number 20
"Monza is a very high speed circuit, in fact the fastest on the calendar, and one I enjoy racing on because in the past there have been some good on-track battles. We did some good work at the test in preparation for this weekend's race after an unrewarding race in Hungary. At Monza, it is very important to get a good compromise between mechanical grip and low downforce levels. We need good mechanical grip over the kerbs but at the same time you need to have minimum downforce to be quick in a straight-line. I think we should perform reasonably well at the Italian Grand Prix, but the picture will be clearer by Friday lunchtime."
Cristiano da Matta – Car Number 21
"The three-day test in Monza was my first time around the track in an F1 car, and whilst it is a very fast track, I don't find it as technically challenging as some others on the calendar. Even so, I am looking forward to this weekend's race. I completed over 200 laps at the test, which means I can get down to business immediately on Friday without having to spend free practice learning my way around the circuit. With only three races left, our objectives still remain to get in the top half of the grid and to score more championship points. We are determined to end the season on a high note."
2002 Flashback: The TF102s were 6th and 18th fastest in free practice with car 24 handling well and a gearbox-related problem on car 25. A respectable performance on Saturday resulted in 10th and 13th places on the grid, however both drivers were denied points finishes in the race. Car 25 retired from 6th place with a damaged front suspension. Car 24 ran as high as fourth but ultimately finished 11th after a penalty for crossing the white pit exit line.