The Italian Grand Prix sees the start of an intensive six week culmination of the 2007 Formula 1 World Championship, with four races in the space of a month prior to the finale in Brazil on Sunday 21st October. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes arrives at the historic Monza circuit looking to consolidate its lead in the Constructors' battle, which currently sits at 148 ahead of Ferrari. Team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso continue to head the Drivers' table with 84 and 79 points respectively.
How long has Formula 1 been racing at Monza?
The history of Italy's Grand Prix began in 1921 on the 17.3 kilometre circuit in Montichiari near Brescia. After 30 laps and 519 kilometres, the Frenchman Jules Goux won driving a Ballot. In January 1922, the decision was made to build a permanent race track in the King's Park, Monza. Work started on 15th May and was completed in 110 days. The track was officially opened on 3rd September, and one week later the Italian Grand Prix took place.
The Italian Grand Prix has been on the calendar since the start of the Formula 1 World Championship in 1950, the only other event to which this applies is the British Grand Prix. The Italian Grand Prix has been held more often on one circuit than any other race, with Monza playing host 56 out of 57 times. The exception was in 1980, when the race took place at Imola.
What pre-race work did the test team complete in Monza this week?
Due to the unique high speed and heavy braking nature of the Monza track, the usual ban on testing at a circuit in the two weeks prior to the race is lifted. This allowed the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes test team to work on the Italy-specific aerodynamic package, which sees the lowest downforce set-up of year and brake material selection.
The heavy braking zones also have an effect on tyre durability due to the high end of straight speeds that are reached, of over 340km/h. The team worked through various programmes with Bridgestone during the test, including confirmation of camber and inflation limits to handle the characteristics of the track.
How demanding for the engine is the high speed circuit of Monza?
Monza is the fastest circuit on the calendar, with about 80 percent of each lap being run under full throttle - the highest proportion of all Formula 1 racetracks. Particularly demanding are the long full throttle sections. For example the start-finish straight requires more than 16 seconds of consecutive full throttle. On each lap, the cars ran under full throttle in four sections, reaching speeds of over 320 km/h.
Throughout the season the engine has been further developed within this year's technical regulations. Continuous improvements to the ancillaries outside, for example the airbox, the fuel injection and intake systems, the water and oil pumps as well as the developments of fuels and lubricants have made the Mercedes-Benz engine one of the most powerful in the field.
How important is the contribution of Mobil 1 lubricants to the engine performance at Monza?
Following the restrictions of the revised engine rules in Formula 1, the importance of fuels and lubricants has increased further. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes' Technology Partner ExxonMobil is continually developing competitive lubricants for the Mercedes-Benz engine, helping not only to reduce friction and stress, but increase the engine's performance as well as contributing towards effective engine cooling. This is particularly important on a high-speed circuit such as Monza where the importance of a powerful and reliable engine is second to none.
"The Monza track is not like any other we race on during the season, it is all about high speeds. The cars always feel so different, very light and not always under control to be honest! That is because of the low downforce we use to get the high speeds. The wings are the thinnest we run and there will be a lot of Monza specific parts on the car. With this small amount of downforce, you then have to adapt areas such as braking stability and mechanical balance to get good grip in the corners, because the lack of downforce means the car has very little."
"We spent time testing these on the track this week, and we had some good feedback so I feel positive going into the race. It is a challenge, but it is a special circuit and it is a great feeling to race here. Last year did not give me any good memories, but it is a track that I would really like to win at so hopefully we can make that happen in 2007."
"The track is very famous for the Parabolica corner, alongside all the straights. It is flat out, and you really have to be on the edge and push the car hard, which is a real feeling of risk because of the light handling of the car. To get a quick lap time here, you have to be strong through Parabolica as it takes you back onto the longest straight of them all over the start / finish line."
"Monza is a very historic circuit, so it is quite special when you go there for any driver. It is a great track, you have the long, long straights and some great high speed corners. I had my first race there last year in GP2 and it was a very memorable weekend because it was where I won the Championship. I also had an awesome battle with Giorgio Pantano for the whole of the Sunday race, which was one of the most enjoyable for me all year. Hopefully this year I will have just as good a race and great memories for the future."
"I remember it is not an easy track to get a good set-up at, so the test this week was very useful. It is really tough on the cars, and you have to use the kerbs a lot to get quick lap times. Because of this we have a softer suspension package to make the car ride over them better so we can use them more and in a bid to avoid any damage. Slowing the cars down with the incredibly low downforce is not easy, and the balance under braking is key. This was another area we worked on in the test."
Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula 1, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes:
"Whilst we are arriving in Monza leading both Championships, we are more than aware they are both still very open. There are a lot of points to be won over the next six weeks and the determination within Vodafone McLaren Mercedes to take as many as possible is massive. Monza is very individual in terms of characteristics and with this in mind, the test this week has enabled the successful proving process of a number of key components and we are feeling cautiously optimistic going into this race."
Norbert Haug, Vice President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport:
"With average lap speeds of around 250 km/h and a top speed of approximately 340 km/h at the end of the start-and-finish straight, Monza is the Formula 1 circuit on the calendar on which the highest speeds are attained. At around 80 percent, Monza also has the highest full-throttle proportion per lap of all Formula 1 racetracks; however, the following race will challenge the engines even more."
"As scheduled, we will start in Monza with a new engine in both cars, which, according to the rules, is designed to be used in Spa as well. The combination of these two circuits is the highest expected strain for an engine so far since the new V8 engine generation has been introduced last year. Our tests in Monza this week have been very positive; we have been fast, consistent and reliable."