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Italian Grand Prix Preview - will KERS prove key at Monza? 10 Sep 2009

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/23.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monza, Italy, Friday, 12 September 2008 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Belgian Grand Prix, Race Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, 30 August 2009 Newly-signed Ferrari driver Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA), right, speaks with race engineer Rob Smedley (GBR). Maranello, Italy, September 3, 2009 © Ferrari New kerbs at Turn 1. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Preparations, Monza, Italy, Tuesday, 8 September 2009 Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA) Force India F1 Third Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 12, Belgian Grand Prix, Preparations, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Thursday, 27 August 2009

Monza is one of those circuits where anything can happen, given its ultra-high-speed nature and the strain it puts not only on engines but also the brakes. The 5.793 kilometre track is the fastest of the year with four long straights enabling the cars to reach top speeds of around 340km/h and average lap speeds of 250km/h.

Besides horsepower, there is a premium on aerodynamic efficiency as cars run with special low-downforce aerodynamic packages to minimise drag. And this year there is an added complication for those teams without it: KERS.

“Monza is notable for being a power circuit, and, with KERS, we should see some incredible speeds - particularly during qualifying when the drivers will double-deploy KERS along the start/finish straight,” says McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh.

At Renault, Pat Symonds said: “There are three aspects of KERS that need to be considered: lap time, the advantage it gives from the start, and the ability to assist overtaking. Firstly, the gain in lap time of running KERS in Monza is likely to be around a quarter of a second and it’s worth even more in qualifying as you can do one release before you start a timed lap and another release during the timed lap. In terms of the advantage at the start, it’s a long way from the grid to the first corner and KERS will give an advantage of well over 15 metres compared with non-KERS cars. For assisting overtaking, you have to remember that Monza is a circuit where it’s very difficult to overtake, but running KERS certainly won’t disadvantage us in that respect. All these factors combine to make Monza a very favourable circuit for KERS.”

That is, of course, great news for the teams that have it. Ferrari and McLaren have won recent races with KERS, and Renault are bringing it back especially here.

World champion Lewis Hamilton believes he has a chance of winning again. “Since we no longer test at Monza, it will take us a bit of acclimatisation to get used to running in low downforce at this high-speed circuit. It’s a real challenge to get the set-up right because there’s never an ideal compromise between speed along the straight and through the corners. It’s never easy to keep the car on the track because it slides all the time: at most tracks, you feel like the downforce is sticking you to the track at high speeds - but not at Monza. It’s like you are skating across the surface. But it’s a fantastic circuit - our car has traditionally gone well there so I am looking forward to another competitive weekend.”

Ferrari are not so sanguine, and team principal Stefano Domenicali has said they do not expect to deliver a win for the home crowd.

"We know it'll be hard because our rivals have kept developing their cars while we haven't," he said. "Besides that, it's not a track suited to the characteristics of the F60. But we must be ready to take advantage of any mistake by the others."

Kimi Raikkonen will be keen to demonstrate his regained form again, while new boy Giancarlo Fisichella is excited about racing for the Scuderia on his home ground after his switch from Force India, and will be desperate to do better than the Felipe Massa stand-in he replaces, Luca Badoer.

Fernando Alonso also fancies his chances, thanks to Renault’s KERS. “I will approach the rest of the season believing that we can finish the year strongly,” he said. “At least we know that we have a car that is fast enough to get close to the podium, which will be my aim this weekend in Monza.”

It remains to be seen whether he is confirmed this weekend as a Ferrari driver for 2010, as the Formula One rumour mill has long been suggesting.

This will be another crucial race for Brawn GP, who cannot afford to continue their string of lowly points-scoring finishes. “From a technical point of view, Monza should be a track where our car will work well although we do expect the KERS cars to have a significant advantage,” team principal Ross Brawn said. “The BGP 001 is good on both brakes and traction which are important at Monza and we have the benefit of the Mercedes-Benz engine on this power-sensitive circuit. With no in-season testing this year, we have not had the opportunity to test at the circuit prior to the race weekend so it will be interesting to see how quickly everyone can adapt to the unusually low-downforce configuration with limited running. The aerodynamic efficiency of the car is crucial so we have a specific package designed to minimise drag levels and achieve the high top speeds required. Good engineering can make a significant difference at Monza so we'll be working hard to get the car set up well to allow our drivers to be aggressive over the kerbs."

These have been changed and are now higher to discourage that.

"Monza is a fantastic track and I love the passion that the Italian fans bring to the race weekend,” championship leader Jenson Button said. “The circuit is very different to most of the circuits that we race on as the car will be set up with the lowest levels of drag and downforce possible to take advantage of the long straights. It always takes a few laps to get used to and as we haven't tested at Monza this season, the practice sessions will be very important. Ascari is probably my favourite part of the track but also Parabolica where the challenge is to brake as late as possible, particularly in qualifying when you're on a quick lap. It's a circuit that should be reasonably good for our car if we get the handling right over the kerbs so we're feeling positive and excited about the challenge."

At Force India there are high hopes of another strong showing on a track that should suit the VJM02, and Tonio Liuzzi is champing at the bit as he returns to racing as the replacement for Ferrari-bound Fisichella.

“I think I'm ready to jump in the car because I kept myself really fit, and the work we've been doing is helping me a lot to keep me sharp,” the 28 year-old Italian said. “Monza will be perfect because it's a good from a physical approach. Singapore would have been tougher, because I don't know the circuit, and everyone complained last year that it was very physical. The speed doesn't concern me, I think we'll be straight away close to the pace. I'm more than fit than ever.”

Red Bull, BMW Sauber and Toyota also expect to run well here after their respective performances in low-downforce trim in Belgium, Williams believe they have a direction to pursue after struggling initially at Spa, and Toro Rosso have fond memories of last year’s upset result.

As at Spa, Bridgestone will again bring their medium and soft compound tyres.