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The Italian Grand Prix Preview 06 Sep 2007

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F248 F1 Forrmula One Testing, Day One, Monza, Italy, 29 August 2007. World © Patching/Sutton Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.06.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, 10 September 2006 Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR01.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, 10 September 2006 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota TF106.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, 10 September 2006 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, 10 September 2006

Will it prove to be meaningful for somebody that the Italian Grand Prix at Monza is the 13th round of the increasingly hard-fought 2007 FIA Formula One World Championship?

Following their superb one-two result in Turkey, Ferrari come to their home ground determined to take more points from rivals McLaren and their drivers, and to push on with their sudden resurgence in the title fight.

“Racing at Monza is always a delight because the tifosi are so totally on your side,” says Turkish Grand Prix victor Felipe Massa, who is confident that the reds can win again. “Our car is very fast and we had a good test here last week. We are in good shape.”

The Brazilian’s recent success put him back into third place in the drivers’ battle, on 69 points, compared to leader Lewis Hamilton’s 84, Fernando Alonso’s 79, and team mate Kimi Raikkonen’s 68. Given that anything can happen on this ultra-high-speed track, which puts huge strain on the engine and the brakes, the title fight is far from over.

In the recent Monza test McLaren set the pace, however, and they are quietly confident that the way in which their MP4-22 can ride the kerbs in the numerous chicanes will be one of the keys to success this weekend.

“Monza is not like any other track we race on, it is all about high speeds,” says Alonso, who has unhappy memories of last year’s race after being accused of (inadvertently) impeding Massa’s Ferrari during the final stages of qualifying. “The cars always feel so different, very light and not always under control, to be honest! That is because of the low downforce we use to get the high speeds. The wings are the thinnest we run and there will be a lot of Monza-specific parts on the car.

“With this small amount of downforce, you then have to adapt areas such as braking stability and mechanical balance to get good grip in the corners, because the lack of downforce means the car has very little. We spent time testing these on the track last week, and we had some good feedback so I feel positive going into the race. Last year did not give me any good memories, but it is a track that I would really like to win at, so hopefully we can make that happen.”

McLaren team mate Hamilton harbours happier memories of 2006 after clinching his GP2 championship success here, and is determined to extend his lead in the 2007 points table.

“I remember it is not an easy track to get a good set-up at, so the test last week was very useful. It is really tough on the cars, and you have to use the kerbs a lot to get quick lap times. Because of this we have a softer suspension package to make the car ride over them better so we can use them more, and in a bid to avoid any damage. Slowing the cars down with the incredibly low downforce is not easy, and the balance under braking is key. This was another area we worked on in the test.”

Teams use their lowest downforce settings here, and you can get some idea of the punishment the engine gets from the fact that the pit straight demands more than 16 seconds of full-throttle running. Every lap the cars ran under full throttle in four sections, reaching speeds of around 340 km/h. Inevitably, that is followed by very heavy braking for the chicanes, which have high kerbs that mete out further punishment to the machinery.

Last year BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica took third place on merit, and the Swiss-German team is definitely the dark horse this weekend after some very fast lappery in the test last week. If they have a real shot at winning a race in 2007, it will be here. The Pole’s team-mate Nick Heidfeld, in particular, is on a roll at present.

“I think we'll put in a good performance at Monza,” the German says. “It's a circuit where a good low-downforce package is important, and we're normally pretty strong in that area. The other thing you need is bags of engine power, and I think we'll be okay in that department as well. We were right up there at Monza in 2006. I was 'only' third in qualifying, but that was with a heavy fuel load. If we had all been carrying the same amount of fuel, I would most likely have been on pole.”

Everyone hopes for a fresh roll of the dice here, because of the way in which the low-downforce set-ups can make things a bit of a lottery, but none more so this time around than Spyker, whose B-specification F8-VII will race for the first time having now passed its mandatory FIA rear-end crash test. Failure in that test, due to a batch of faulty materials, forced postponement of the planned debut in Turkey.

“There are two new main areas where the B-spec car differs to the A-spec,” explains chief technical officer, Mike Gascoyne. “The first is mechanical, the second is aerodynamic. Mechanically, we have revised the rear suspension geometry, specifically replacing the rotary dampers with linear ones. The gearbox is also a new design targeted at complying with the new 2008 gearbox rules where each box must be used for four races. Although we won't be running it for four races this year, it does ensure that we can get lots of data for next year when the rules come into play.

“The engine installation has also been reviewed to make cooling resources lighter, more compact and much more efficient. The other major update is the aero package. Apart from the chassis and nosebox, every other area has been revised. The front wing flap, endplate, barge boards, sidepod inlets, radiator outlets, rear wings, floor and diffuser are all new and the bodywork has been modified.”

Bridgestone will bring the same medium and soft compound Potenzas to Monza that they will use at Spa-Francorchamps and Fuji, and since a pit stop here requires 25 seconds, the Italian Grand Prix is often a single-stop race. Thanks to the nature of the circuit, and the way in which some cars are faster in a straight-line and more stable than others under heavy braking, there are several overtaking opportunities around the lap.