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The Italian Grand Prix Preview 07 Sep 2006

Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari F2005 leads Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2005 
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Italian Grand Prix, Race Day, Monza, Italy, 4 September 2005 Race winner Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) McLaren Mercedes MP4/20 
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Italian Grand Prix, Race Day, Monza, Italy, 4 September 2005 Race winner Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) McLaren and second place Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault in Parc Ferme. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Italian Grand Prix, Race Day, Monza, Italy, 4 September 2005 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4/20 takes a trip across the grass
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Italian Grand Prix, Race Day, Monza, Italy, 4 September 2005 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R25 
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Italian Grand Prix, Race Day, Monza, Italy, 4 September 2005

Monza is one of Formula One racing’s traditional events, lent an extra frisson by the fact that it is Ferrari’s home ground. And the Scuderia is expected to feature heavily in this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix after their promise to reveal their 2007 drivers after the race on Sunday night.

Some have taken this to mean that Michael Schumacher will be announcing his retirement over the weekend. But given that there is no way that he can clinch the 2006 world championship this weekend, it seems unlikely. Many believe the German will only quit racing if he wins the crown this year, so his 2007 plans will probably only be revealed once the title battle is resolved.

Ferrari are throwing everything into the pot this weekend, desperate for another one-two to snatch the constructors’ championship lead from Renault, and to cut back the 12-point gap to Fernando Alonso in the drivers’.

Monza can spring surprises given its low downforce demands, but it is hard to see the battle for victory being anything other than a three-way between Ferrari, Renault and McLaren, with Honda possibly sticking their nose in. But just to complicate things, lap times were very close in testing here last week, and everyone will have their cars pretty much dialled in terms of revised aero configurations and tyre choices by the time practice begins on Friday.

Monza is very much a power circuit, and is one of the highest speed tracks on the calendar, hence the need for minimal downforce. The full throttle ratio of the lap is 70 percent. It also rewards cars which can ride the numerous chicane kerbs the most efficiently, and requires good stability under braking, especially for the first chicane which follows the main straight on which speeds easily exceed 330 km/h. Drivers will expect to see as much as 5g under braking.

Since a pit stop here requires 25 seconds, the Italian Grand Prix is almost always a single-stop race, but thanks to the nature of the circuit there are several overtaking opportunities around the lap.

The NASCAR-departed Juan Pablo Montoya took pole here last year for McLaren in 1m 21.054s, and went on to win the race. The team are hoping for a repeat, to break their 2006 drought. Schumacher believes that Ferrari will be very strong, after a good test, and said: “We are feeling cautiously optimistic. We need a good result here to keep in play for the title and to keep the pressure on Renault.”

Alonso has the advantage in points, but knows how fragile that can be. “It feels like a different car when you drive in Monza. You have such low downforce that by the time you get to the end of the straight, it feels like you could fly! The steering feels light, the movements are a bit lazy, and you don't quite feel like you have everything under control. It's not a nice feeling for the driver, but it's what you need at Monza to be quick on the straights. But Monza is more than that. You need the speed but when you are running low downforce, it's hard to get good braking stability and ride over the kerbs. That's what we are always asking the engineers for better ride on the kerbs, and more stable braking.”

The world champion says he has just one goal this weekend. “There is only one target for the Renault team at the moment: to finish in front of Ferrari. They have been quite dominant in the last races, so beating them means winning races. That is our focus.”

Honda, meanwhile, should have another new engine specification and Jenson Button is feeling optimistic. "I'm really looking forward to the race here. The atmosphere is always great over the race weekend and the circuit has traditionally seen lots of exciting racing, so hopefully it will be another good race for the fans. I had a podium finish here in 2004 and it is a track that I always enjoy. We did a lot of good work with Michelin at the Monza test this week in preparation as most of the track has been resurfaced, so we needed to focus carefully on the tyre choice. We have a relatively good car around here so I think that we should be reasonably competitive."