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Insight: When F1 teams say Monza requires a unique car, what do they mean?

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Insight: When F1 teams say Monza requires a unique car, what do they mean?
Sep 1, 2014, 2:00 PM

This weekend the F1 teams head to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix, one of the most charismatic races on the calendar and the fastest circuit.

This weekend the F1 teams head to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix, one of the most charismatic races on the calendar and the fastest circuit.

With top speeds this year likely to hit 360km/h and above (30km/h more than last year), the long straights of Monza have traditionally led the teams to create a specific Monza aerodynamic kit, to maximise speeds and minimise the drag.

So what exactly do the teams do and how different is an F1 car in Monza from the rest of the season? Dominic Harlow, a top race operations engineer, formerly with Force India and Williams, shares his insights.

A Ferrari low downforce front wing for Monza
A Ferrari low downforce front wing for Monza

Low downforce Monza Aerodynamic kit

Typically an F1 team will devote around 1-2 weeks of wind tunnel time to a specific low-downforce aerodynamic kit for Monza. This comprises a low downforce front and rear wing as a starter. Because the noses are so low now on F1 cars, it will also require a new nose section to mount the front wing on.

Teams need to take four or five noses to each race weekend and each front wing costs around £30,000 to produce, so that's £150,000 for Monza front wings and a similar amount for rear wings.

A Ferrari high down force front wing for Budapest
A Ferrari high down force front wing for Budapest

Although they are less complex than the high downforce wings, with less elements, the rear wing in particular is still complex - it needs a specific DRS mechanism and also new wing endplates.

DRS is less powerful at Monza than elsewhere because there is less initial drag from the skinnier rear wing.

Mercedes Monza rear wing 2013
Mercedes Monza rear wing 2013

The low downforce Monza aero kit also requires teams to cut the "furniture" on the cars, small winglets and appendages which are found on the car on high downforce circuits, in order to cut the drag to a minimum. These items are not efficient enough, in other words. The brake ducts, for example, is an area where things get cut back.

The general rule with weighing up downforce relative to drag is a ratio of 1.5 or 2 to 1, so any downforce added needs to bring no more drag than that relatively speaking. With Monza the ratio is 3 to 1, in other words you have to be super carful you don't add drag.

Mercedes high downforce Monaco rear wing 2013
Mercedes high downforce Monaco rear wing 2013

There's not much you can do about the floor - 30% of the downforce of an F1 car comes from the floor - but you do need to adapt the nose to accommodate the new front wing, as it's part of the flow set around the wing, this is especially true of the new lower noses we have in F1 this year.

McLaren_Mechanic_Canada10_008i

Brakes

Monza is tough on brakes, but it's not the toughest - Montreal is, due to the number of braking events from high to low speed per lap. However Monza features the biggest stop from the highest speed of the year, into Turn 1. The car decelerates from around 360km/h to just 70km/h, a deceleration of around 6g. The teams use the thickest brake discs available, 28mm and there isn't much left of them at the end of the race.

XPB.cc

Engines

Traditionally teams would fit a new engine for Spa and then another new engine for Monza as these are the highest duty cycle races of the season. With only five power units per driver per season this isn't really feasible any more, in most cases. Spa has the longest single burst of full throttle, the 26 second run from La Source to Les Combes, but Monza has the highest percentage of full throttle per lap of the year at over 75%.

Mercedes F1 car at Monza

Suspension

This is a race where the front and rear linked FRIC suspension was very useful for the low speed corners, to allow you to run a lower ride height for aero benefit and to gain traction out of the slower corners, which is really important. The F1 teams have had a month and a half to get used to no FRIC since it was banned and are close to optimising the cars without it now. But it will be missed in Monza.

The suspension setting for Monza is important because to be fast you need to ride the large kerbs without destabilising the car and breaking traction for too long. It's a trade off between a softer set up with more travel for the kerbs at Turn 1 and something stiffer for the Ascari chicane, which is the only real challenge for the drivers.

In general Monza is a bit of a leveller for drivers as there are not many corners so there aren't so many places for a good driver to distinguish himself from an average one.

One problem is the car usually has a slight understeer for Monza, through the only "corners" - the Lesmo bends and the Parabolica, due to the need to make the car stable on corner entry and to have good traction, also because it is hard to generate and maintain front tyre temperature. You try not to make it unstable on corner entry.

General trend

With more and more races on the F1 calendar, teams devote less resource to the "outlier" races like Monza than they used to, not wanting to be distracted from the core business of adding downforce to the cars to make them faster at all the other circuits. These days the big effort will be going into the Singapore updates, for example, which carry the teams through the final flyaway races of the season.

But even the ones who want to save as much money and wind tunnel time as possible still have to do front and rear wings, nose and other measures, otherwise they become too uncompetitive.

There is an argument for a middle sized team like Force India or even Williams, which has a strong engine in Mercedes, to spend some resource on maximising their chances of a podium at Monza. But that is a discussion that has to be won internally and the counter argument is that you might lose ground on high downforce development which is important for the other races coming up.

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Series Formula 1
Tags innovation