Driving Monza with McNish

Monza is the sole high-speed circuit of the year, and demands both special set-ups but also a different approach to driving. Here's an explanation with Renault F1 Team test driver Allan McNish. Allan McNish. Photo by LAT ...

Monza is the sole high-speed circuit of the year, and demands both special set-ups but also a different approach to driving. Here's an explanation with Renault F1 Team test driver Allan McNish.

Allan McNish.
Photo by LAT Photographic.
At the Autodromo di Monza, F1 cars use a very low downforce set-up. This configuration, now unique in the World Championship, has a significant impact on the drivers. "From our point of view, that's to say from the cockpit, we have only raced on medium and high-downforce circuits since Montreal. Those circuits give the driver a small margin for error: if you have a bit too much oversteer, or get a bit over-enthusiastic, you can compensate for the mistake because the car has lots of grip. As well as that, the braking zones are very short: you only need 80 or 90 metres to brake from 280kph to 100."

This weekend, Monza demands a completely different approach. "For the first chicane, you need to start braking at the 130m board," continues Allan. "The reason is that the speeds are higher, and the downforce levels lower. In driving terms, it's like being on a tightrope: there is absolutely no margin for error."

"When you're driving, you need to be very smooth, and gentle with your steering inputs." The car's characteristics are also quite strange in these conditions. "You can feel the car is very light, and that it's moving around at the rear. It's also much easier to lock the brakes," explains McNish. "If you miss your braking point by as little as three metres, it has major consequences: you will definitely run wide, maybe even go off."

At 350kph, this short distance equates to 0.03s! "It is critical to be as precise as possible," smiles Allan. "Overall, driving at Monza is a bit like driving in the wet, in that the car balance and the driver's approach can make a real difference. You also need to be confident in the car." All this means the drivers need a bit of time to get the measure of the circuit. "I needed twelve laps on Friday to really get on top of things," reveals Allan. "Normally, I only need five."

At the wheel, the sensation of speed is genuine. "It's a narrow circuit, particularly before Ascari. Your helmet is also buffeted more by the aerodynamic disturbance. The corners come up very quickly too. It's strange to say, but sometimes Monza is a bit like Monaco: certain lines through the corners require millimetric precision," explains Allan.

Finally, Monza has a unique atmosphere. "It is impossible not to fall for the charm of the circuit," concludes Allan. "Things like the enthusiasm of the crowd and the old banked circuit make this a special race. Monza is definitely a race that every driver dreams of winning."

-renault-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Allan McNish
Teams Renault F1 Team