Toyotas Pascal Vasselon on Monza 07 Sep 2006
Monza is a unique track which demands an individually tailored low-downforce aerodynamic package and tyres capable of withstanding the high temperatures generated by the circuits high speeds. But the circuits distinctive challenges and legendary history make the Italian Grand Prix an exciting proposition for Toyotas senior general manager (chassis) Pascal Vasselon
Q: What does Monza mean to you?
Pascal Vasselon: It's the last surviving high-speed circuit in Formula One. In years gone by we had other ultra-quick tracks, such as Hockenheim, but today Monza is one of a kind. The speed has been reduced by chicanes but it remains fast and we still expect average speeds over 250km/h. It was not that special a few years ago but now it's very special.
Q: What are the track's particular challenges?
PV: It produces a lot of extra work for the engineers. We see people developing an aerodynamic package just for Monza. In the past we were able to use the same low downforce package at Hockenheim as well, but now it's a one-off. We will have a full new aero package - front wing and rear wing.
Q: Does a low downforce set-up make life difficult for drivers?
PV: Absolutely. The classic comment after the first run at Monza is no grip. That's simply because drivers are not used to running such little downforce. We have these low grip problems when we go to Montreal after some high downforce races but it's particularly true of Monza.
Q: How tough is Monza on brakes?
PV: It's special but not unique in terms of brakes. It's difficult because we have long straights with high top speeds and slow corners - everything that brakes don't like. Brakes and brake pad material are things we work on throughout the season and while Monza is among the toughest tracks of the year, it's not the worst. We are well prepared to face it.
Q: What about the demands on tyres?
PV: The layout is not extremely demanding in terms of graining or degradation but the average speed is so high that there is enormous internal heat build-up inside the tyres. And Monza can be critical in terms of blistering. Blistering comes from internal heat generation on the long straights. So it's a very special severity in terms of tyres. It usually requires a special compromise in terms of compound.
Q: So which end of the tyre range do you take to Monza?
PV: You cannot go to Monza with a soft tyre. Because of the high average speeds and some high speed corners, you have to be in the middle of the range.
Q: Are the kerbs an important factor too?
PV: Yes. A special Monza characteristic is the chicanes with harsh kerbs. For good performance you need to ride the kerbs quite heavily and it's a key factor in establishing a set-up.
Q: And Monza is presumably one of the toughest challenges for engines?
PV: In terms of time spent at full throttle and high revs, yes. Around 75 per cent of the lap is at maximum throttle and it will be even more so this year with the V8 engines and tyre changing. It will be a difficult challenge, as usual, but we know all about it and we are prepared.
Q: Might we see more engine failures with homologation coming and teams pushing?
PV: Of course all engine manufacturers are pushing hard to introduce the engine specs they want to see in the next years, but there would be no point in taking huge reliability risks in this context. Especially for those competing for the title.
Q: Is it fair to say that the pre-Monza test is one of the year's most crucial?
PV: It's an essential part of the preparation for the race weekend. You have to have a very precise view about tyre choice and the test also helps to solve a few classic problems that you usually see in Monza, such as vibration, which usually comes together with the high speeds. So it's essential to have this test and we always try to make the most of it. We always have the race drivers and the race team doing this test so as to be as well prepared as possible.
Q: What difference does that make to the race weekend?
PV: It means that we usually start much closer to final set-up. But still, what we have seen in the last few races at Monza is that life is always complicated. We know the window in which things should happen but we have seen many cases of circuit conditions being very different compared to those of the pre-race test.
Q: Do you like the event itself and Italy?
PV: I love Italy. It's a country that, for me, has unique history in every corner. It's really a very charming country and I love the food as well, so I always look forward to Monza. I systematically come back with Parmesan and balsamic vinegar - very classic!