Italy preview - who will be the king of the slipstream? 08 Sep 2011
As the FIA plans to introduce two independent DRS zones at Monza this weekend, Jenson Button is among those predicting that the Formula 1 Gran Premio Santander d'Italia 2011 is going to be a spectacular race. There may even be a return to the slipstreaming battles of yesteryear.
2009 world champion Button came so close to winning for McLaren last year, and finished a valiant second to Fernando Alonso who cemented his status within Ferrari by taking victory for the Scuderia on home ground. The Spaniard will be desperate to win again in an effort to reduce Sebastian Vettels runaway lead in the world championship for Red Bull.
At the same time, Ferraris Felipe Massa would like nothing more than to remind people that he used to win Grands Prix, the Red Bull racers want to prove that they can win at such a fast track having already dominated at Spa, Button wants to reverse last years result, and McLaren team mate Lewis Hamilton is looking for some redemption after his Belgian race.
Vettel has 259 points with Red Bull team mate Mark Webber his closest challenger on 167 ahead of Alonso on 157 and the sometimes unfortunate McLaren drivers Button and Hamilton on 149 and 146 respectively.
Its going to be the usual difficult trade-off between drag and downforce to find the ultimate package for the race, says Button, who suffered from too much downforce at Spa. Last year, Lewis and I opted to follow two different paths - Lewis went for the low-downforce configuration and I went for more grip, at the expense of straight-line speed. That meant that, although I had the lap time, I didnt quite have the opportunity to mount an attack for the lead, because I couldnt get close enough along the straights to have a go into the braking areas.
But I think things will be a little more mixed-up this year. For the second time this season, well have two distinct DRS zones, with two potential passing opportunities. The first zones going to be interesting because its always been very tough to challenge for position under braking for Ascari -the tracks pretty narrow and its a fast entry - so Ill be really interested to see how well DRS will work into that corner - we might see some pretty spectacular moves!
I think the more conventional passing opportunity will come from the second DRS zone, getting as close as possible into Parabolica, holding on through the corner - which wont be straightforward - and then deploying DRS down the start/finish straight before, hopefully, passing into Turn One.
The DRS is going to be a pretty major asset for a following car, and it might shape the race in some really interesting ways.
Hamilton reflected recently on the mistake that cost him a likely podium at Spa, and says: Last year I won at Spa and failed to finish at Monza. For this year, I guess Im looking to reverse that sequence! Ive already moved on from my non-finish in Belgium and Im really looking forward to returning to Italy, a place where I spent a lot of time racing karts: its a country I really love.
I think we go into the weekend feeling pretty optimistic. Ive never won at Monza and Id love to get a good result this year. Im particularly looking forward to qualifying, because I think DRS will make a huge difference to our lap times, and I really want to get the maximum out of the car then - and then look forward to a strong race, of course.
With unlimited use in quallie, and those four long straights, I think qualifyings going to be pretty intense: well be 20 km/h faster at four key points of the circuit, so our times are going to be much faster than in the race. That should be pretty exciting.
For the race, youll also need the downforce, though, because youll want to be quick enough out of the second Lesmo and Parabolica to be in with a chance of challenging for position down the following straight. I think things are set for another very closely matched race - Im really looking forward to it.
As to the character of the circuit Vettel, the 2008 winner for Toro Rosso, says: The circuit is one of the most challenging of the season. It includes very long straights where we reach more than 320 km/h, making Monza the fastest track of the year. The track is not particularly physically demanding but, despite that, it is certainly not easy.
Because of the long straights we drive with less rear wing than at other circuits, so the car can be more unstable; accelerating out of Parabolica is a balancing act and the smallest mistake could mean the car slipping into the gravel trap. Monza holds incredibly special memories for me, as its where I scored my first-ever F1 win with Toro Rosso. Thats something I will never forget - I had goose bumps standing on the podium with the fans below.
Webber adds: Its the shortest Grand Prix we take part in, as we can knock the 300 kilometre race distance out very fast because of the exceptional average speed. You need a car thats very quick on the straights and still manage to have sensible downforce for cornering.
Unfortunately its the last European race of the season. We were spoilt with how good the race unfolded in Spa; lets hope Monza is the same.
Pirellis tyre choice is something that may not help Ferrari, as both Alonso and Massa have repeatedly demonstrated that the 150° Italia works better on the soft and super soft tyres and in warmer conditions. On their home ground, the Italian tyre company are bringing along the same P Zero white medium and yellow soft rubber as used at Spa, which is designed to cope with the demands of Monzas high-speed layout and provide plenty of scope for the teams to use different tyre strategies.
However, after the dramas at Spa, teams have been advised to run more conservative front suspension camber angles than some did there, where the front tyres showed evidence of blistering early in the race. Pirelli advise a maximum of 3.75 degrees, compared with the 4 degrees-plus used by some teams, such as Red Bull, in Belgium.
Paul Hembery, their director of motorsport, says: We've given slightly reduced limits to be slightly more cautious. From the data we've seen, Monza is likely to be in some regards similar in severity to Spa. We couldn't go any more conservative than the limit we have set, because then you could have a problem in the curves with the camber not recovering. We have to be careful with these things, but we believe we've set a reasonable level for the teams to be at."
Once again, however, it remains to be seen how the changeable weather forecast might influence things in practice and qualifying, and again in the race, as yet again the climatic conditions might exert an influence on a 2011 Grand Prix.
The ambient temperature is expected to be around 23 degrees Celsius through Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before rising to 24 for the race. But showers are predicted on Thursday and Saturday, with partial cloud on Friday and thunderstorms in the region on race day.
The 5.793 km (3.599 mile) circuit is largely unchanged since 2010, apart from further changes to chicane kerbs to prevent drivers running over them. DRS can be used on the start/finish straight and between the second Lesmo and the Ascari chicane. Detection points will be on the exit of the Parabolica for the first zone, with between the two Lesmos for the second.
Two test drivers will get outings in Friday's first practice session: Nico Hulkenberg in place of Paul di Resta at Force India and Karun Chandhok in place of Jarno Trulli at Lotus. Sunday's race begins at 1400 hours local time (two hours ahead of GMT), and will run over 53 laps or 306.720 kilometres (190.596 miles).
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