The Italian Grand Prix Preview - Ferrari out for revenge 11 Sep 2008
The world championship could scarcely be more closely poised (albeit pending McLarens appeal against Lewis Hamiltons Belgian Grand Prix penalty) as Ferrari head back to their home ground determined to avenge defeat here at the British teams hands a year ago.
I love racing here, says Felipe Massa, who was declared the winner at Spa after Hamiltons penalty, and the crash which took out his team mate Kimi Raikkonen on the penultimate lap. The tifosi is a unique breed of race fan, and to race knowing that so many people are on your side is just amazing!
The Brazilians second recent win leaves him only two points adrift of Hamilton, 74 points to 76, with Robert Kubica climbing up to third for BMW Sauber on 58. Raikkonen is fourth on 57, with Nick Heidfeld moving up on 49 and Heikki Kovalainen on 43.
Monza is a circuit on which anything can happen, given its ultra-high-speed nature and the strain it puts not only on engines but also the brakes. Drivers are on full throttle for up to 16 seconds on the pit straight alone, and there are three other sections round the lap where the same applies. Maximum speeds can peak at over 350 km/h. Drivers then have to shed around 270 km/h under braking for the first chicane, for example.
It requires a low-drag aerodynamic set-up tuned almost exclusively for speed on the long straights, but additionally cars must be able to ride the chicane kerbs without upsetting their equilibrium so that the driver can record competitive lap times. That is not always an easy task for the engineers to achieve.
The tyres also take a beating here. Traction out of the slow corners is another requirement at Monza, so the rear tyres in particular suffer. As a contrast to Spa, the weather in Italy is usually hot (though there may be showers this weekend), and the tyre blistering seen at this venue last season means that this year Bridgestone are bringing harder tyres, the hard and medium compounds, as opposed to the medium and soft used in 2007. The long straights mean that tyre pressure is an area that teams will have to monitor closely. If there is too little pressure the tyres will overheat along them, but if there is too much pressure grip through the corners will be compromised.
After Spa, Monza is another place where qualifying is all-important as overtaking is extremely difficult and most teams wait for their pit-stop strategies to work out and enable them to pass. Hamilton, however, demonstrated last year that you can overtake here, by squeezing past Raikkonen in the first chicane.
"If youre trying to pass somebody, you have to stay as close as possible through the last corner, Hamilton says. If you can get a good tow out of Parabolica, then you can slipstream down the straight and have a look up the inside at Turn One. Thats your best chance of making a move. You can also try if you get a good exit from the first chicane and have look up the inside into the second chicane - but thats not so easy.
"People say Monza is just about power and top speed - but its also a drivers track, which is why I like it. Its not as straightforward as it seems because you run with very low downforce, which means you rely heavily on the tyres and the cars mechanical grip - but youre also attacking the kerbs, which requires a softer set-up. You also need plenty of stability under braking and as much grip as possible for the corners. The key is to run the car as low to the track as possible without having it bottom out."
Both Ferrari and McLaren are feeling confident, after strong performances in the recent test here, but so are BMW Sauber who would like nothing more than to hit back with their second win here this weekend.
"What is crucial in terms of performance is a good aerodynamic package that doesn't generate much drag. Nowhere else does the car carry as little wing, and our team normally does a pretty good job of providing us with this special aero package. Testing in Monza was encouraging, and I'm looking forward to the Italian Grand Prix," says Nick Heidfeld.
"For me personally, Monza is very special as I achieved my first podium there in 2006 in only my third Formula One race, says Robert Kubica. To mark this special point in my career I will again have a slightly different helmet design in Monza. As I grew up as a driver in Italy, I know a lot of people here and quite a lot of Italian fans will be cheering for me. I also expect plenty of Polish fans to be here."
Besides the top three, watch out for the increasingly tough fight for fourth place between Toyota, Renault and Red Bull. The Japanese team have 41 points and a car that should be strong here, but Renault have 36 and Renault-powered Red Bull cannot be discounted yet with 25. Look out too for strong performances from Toro Rosso, who have made a lot of progress recently and enjoy Ferrari horsepower.