McLaren re-focus on the track action Situated within picturesque wooded parkland 15km north of Milan, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza remains Formula One’s perennial temple of speed - and this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix is almost certain to be the fastest race on the calendar with cars reaching top speeds of 340km/h and running at full-throttle for 80 percent of each lap.
The gradual loss of the original high-speed Silverstone, Österreichring and Hockenheim tracks has made Monza something of a welcome anachronism, an uncompromising flat-out racetrack that simply cannot forget its past and whose passionate spectators continue to revel to the noise and spectacle of the racing car.
Monza’s roots are buried deep: the original combined road and loop circuit were built in a breakneck 110 days and it hosted the second-ever Italian Grand Prix in September 1922. Monza has held the race continuously with but one interruption - in 1980, when the race was run at Imola.
Monza was the venue for McLaren’s second Formula One victory - Denny Hulme won the race in an M7A in September 1968. The team has won the Italian Grand Prix nine times, most recently in 2007 when McLaren Mercedes scored a memorable one-two.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Heikki Kovalainen give their views on the Italian Grand Prix.
Lewis - What sort of compromises do you face in setting the car up for such a high-speed circuit?
LH: "People say Monza is just about power and top speed - but it’s also a driver’s track, which is why I like it. It’s not as straightforward as it seems because you run with very low downforce, which means you rely heavily on the tires and the car’s mechanical grip - but you’re also attacking the curbs, 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."
Can you overtake at Monza?
LH: "If you’re trying to pass somebody, you have to stay as close as possible through the last corner. 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. That’s your best chance of making a move on someone. You can also try if you get a good exit from the first chicane and have a look up the inside into the second chicane - but that’s not so easy."
Heikki - What’s the key to a good lap around Monza?
HK: "You really need a car that’s stable under braking. When we run such low downforce, the car becomes very light under braking, so you can’t push too hard; the car moves around a little bit more than normal. So the whole approach to driving the car becomes slightly different - you tend to be a touch more cautious and build up your speed as the weekend progresses. You also need to get the second chicane just right - it’s got big, high curbs; if you can get the car to ride them just right, then you can make big gains in lap time."
You particularly enjoy high-speed circuits, what are you feelings about the Italian Grand Prix?
HK: "I enjoy this place, but although Monza is the fastest track on the calendar, not all of its corners are super-fast. Of course, the Ascari chicane and Parabolica are both high-speed, but the first corner is very tight and the Lesmos are both medium-speed corners. But yes, I like the circuit; balancing a Formula One car through the faster stuff is something I really enjoy; I was very competitive at Silverstone and Spa and I’m confident I’ll be strong this weekend."