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Italy preview - Ferrari pin home hopes on engine upgrade

03 Sep 2015

After their punishing defeat by Mercedes at Spa-Francorchamps, a power circuit if ever there was one, Ferrari come to Monza with hopes of turning the tide in front of their beloved Tifosi. The Italian team have invested some development tokens in a more potent version of their engine for their home race, with the aim of turning the tables on the Silver Arrows as they did in Malaysia and Hungary.

Interestingly, Honda chief Yasuhisa Arai said this week that he believes the Japanese company’s power unit, as used exclusively by McLaren, is now less than 30bhp down on the Ferrari, but 40-50 behind the Mercedes unit, which suggests that Ferrari have 10-20bhp to make up on the Silver Arrows.

Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene says that the upgrade won’t be too dramatic, that the modified motor won’t be a “super power unit, only an engine,” but in F1 racing anything that might move you forward is always a good thing.

"We have used three tokens to upgrade the engine for this race," he confirmed. "I don't want to say what we have done or which part of the engine we have changed, but obviously it's important for us here to do as much as we can to be competitive, and thus to increase the power and torque of the engine."

A victory at Monza would top off a season of great progress for Italy’s favourite team, but Arrivabene remains realistic after the manner in which Mercedes outperformed them in similar low-downforce trim last time out.

"You know very well that the characteristics of Monza are similar to those of Spa," he says. "So they are less well suited to our car. This is not to say that we will throw in the towel and run away refusing to fight: we will go there trying to do our best. But we know we go there not being the team to beat.”

McLaren know that all too well after a brutal run in Belgium, but Honda's Arai continues to talk up the Mk3 version of their V6 power unit, which he says is now 25bhp more powerful than Renault's. Regardless, Red Bull and Toro Rosso went better than expected at Spa, which suggests their aerodynamics are pretty good now. However, the former are expecting a tougher time in Monza, not least because Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat will be taking on their sixth engines of the season and will thus be sent towards the back of the grid.

Of course, when it comes to power Mercedes remain in the box seats, and so long as their reliability holds up its hard to see who might challenge the F1 W06 Hybrids for the top honours.

“Spa was a really positive weekend for me,” says points leader Lewis Hamilton, who led a one-two for the Silver Arrows in Italy last year. “I felt comfortable right the way through and it was great to finally get another win at one of the real classic F1 circuits. Now, we head to another of those in Monza. It's an awesome track - so fast and with some of the most passionate fans you'll see anywhere in the world.

“I was actually at this circuit with Sir Stirling Moss earlier this year, driving the banking in his old Mercedes W196, which was just awesome. Having that taste of what it was like for those guys back in the day really gives you a feel for the history of this place and why it became so legendary. It's still a big challenge today, too. Fast, but really technical at the same time with some heavy braking and big kerbs to ride for the best line. Racing in Italy brings back a lot of good memories for me and I'd love to add to those this weekend, so that's the aim.”

New father Nico Rosberg will be focusing strongly on his starts, having shown good pace against Hamilton once he recovered from a poor getaway in Belgium, and needs a big result here.

“Spa was definitely disappointing. My start was not good so I need to work on that and also on finding those extra tenths in qualifying to get back on top there. I know I have the car underneath me to get pole and the win every time with this incredible machine the team have built, so nothing less will do.

“I’m sure Monza will suit our car and it's a circuit I really enjoy, so all the ingredients are there for a strong weekend. I'm sure the Tifosi will want a red car to be on the top step but, whatever the result, you know they will create an unbelievable atmosphere. Standing on the podium last year was a great experience and the target is to be one step higher this time around.”

You can also expect the likes of Lotus, Force India and Williams - all of who have Mercedes power - to pack a punch here and in the upper midfield fight.

Lotus in particular are aiming for another podium, with Romain Grosjean still on a high after his fabulous result in Belgium.

“I still have a massive smile on my face about it!” he admits. “What a race and what a performance from everyone in the team. We have a great car in the E23 and it worked so well around Spa-Francorchamps. Everything came together so well. I probably drove the best race of my career, but it was thanks to the hard work of everyone at Enstone that I was able to perform at the top of my ability on that day. It felt almost like a race win.

“On paper, Monza should suit our car better than Spa so in theory a podium could be possible again! Of course, we don’t know how our performance relative to our rivals will stack up until we get there, but I’m certainly going out for the strongest result possible, as I always do.”

Meanwhile, Nico Hulkenberg will be looking for a suitable way to celebrate re-signing with Force India for another two years and Sergio Perez will be remembering how it felt to lead momentarily at Spa, while Williams - fresh from confirming Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa for 2016 - will be seeking redemption after their disappointing run there.

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Monza is unique in F1 racing, with its extremely high-speed layout placing big demands on engines and forcing teams to adopt minimum drag aerodynamic packages. The brakes also get a hammering, particularly at the first chicane where drivers slow from over 350km/h to less than 100km/h. Successfully tackling the kerbs at the chicanes is crucial to lap time at the Italian circuit, so the teams must also ensure that their suspension systems are set-up to handle the abuse.

Faced with such demands, Pirelli are providing their white-marked medium and yellow-marked soft compound tyres - a selection that is a full step softer than what they provided for their home race last year. It is also the same selection used last time out in Belgium where Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel experienced his dramatic late-race tyre failure. Pirelli say that the findings of an intensive investigation into that incident will be made public over the weekend in Italy.

“Monza is always one of the highlights of our season, with an incredible history and atmosphere,” says Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery. “We’re expecting a fair degree of wear and degradation, so as always the work done during free practice will be very important when it comes to calculating the optimal strategy. With the two compounds potentially quite closely matched in terms of pace, this opens up a few options.

“The cars run low downforce and that actually increases the work for the tyres considerably under acceleration and braking, because with less force pushing down on top of the car, it’s the tyres that are providing all the mechanical grip. Allied to the kerbs here, this provides our tyres with a wide-ranging all-round challenge, requiring consistent durability and performance.”

The 5.793-kilometre circuit is largely unchanged from last year, and will again feature two DRS zones. The first is just after the second Lesmo corner (Turn 7), while the second is on the long pit straight.

Sunday’s race will run over 53 laps or 306.72 kilometres (190.586 miles), and will start at 1400 hours local time (1200 GMT). The forecast for the weekend is for unsettled weather on Friday and Saturday, but for a clearer day on Sunday.