POISED ON A KNIFE-EDGE After the dramatic events that took place last Sunday in the Belgian Grand Prix, virtually all Formula One teams, including Tyrrell, returned home to assess damage, make repairs and ready themselves for another ...
POISED ON A KNIFE-EDGE
After the dramatic events that took place last Sunday in the Belgian Grand Prix, virtually all Formula One teams, including Tyrrell, returned home to assess damage, make repairs and ready themselves for another encounter. That takes place in Italy next weekend at the famous Autodromo Nazionale Monza. Like Spa, the Monza circuit has been altered from its original layout in the interests of safety, but still retains its distinctive character and ambience.
Italy possesses a rich vein of motor sport tradition with names such as Lancia, Alfa Romeo and Maserati all having enjoyed spells of domination in international racing and rallying. But for all that, there is still only one name that counts as far as the vast majority of Italian racing fans are concerned, Ferrari.
It is to see the scarlet cars in action that the tifosi, Ferrari's fanatical followers, will flock to Monza in their thousands. The circuit is also close to the team's headquarters in Maranello, making the Italian Grand Prix very much a home event for supporters of the famous marque.
After World Drivers' Championship rivals Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher failed to finish the rain-drenched Belgian Grand Prix, the title-race remains nerve-wrackingly close. Only seven points separate the Finnish McLaren driver from Ferrari's Michael Schumacher, and with three rounds and a maximum of 30 points available, it looks as though the World Championship will again go down to the wire.
Monza may echo with motor racing history, but it also remains one of the most challenging circuits on the Grand Prix schedule. "It's a lovely circuit with loads of history attached to it," says Tyrrell race engineer, David Brown. "It gives you a tingle down your spine when you hear Formula One engines echo between the old grandstands and around the park in which the circuit is situated.
"Setting up a current Formula One car to be competitive around Monza, however, is quite a challenge. Along with Hockenheim, it's one of the two fastest circuits we visit. That means running the lowest possible downforce levels without causing major stability problems under braking. In practical terms, you are likely to see everyone playing with wing levels to try and get the best possible compromise between straight-line speed and being able to carry that speed through the corners.
"The car also needs to be able to ride the curbs effectively and to remain well balanced without too much understeer at high speed. This is particularly important when exiting the Parabolica since, ideally, you want to carry as much speed through there as possible in order to have an opportunity to pick up a "tow" from another competitor's car down the long pit straight and then overtake him into the first chicane. Aside from the high-speed set-up, good traction is important to get out of the low-speed chicanes effectively.
"Another major concern at Monza is brakes since the cars have to be pulled down from 300km/h-plus twice a lap for the chicanes. Brake temperatures run very high as a result and the cooling ducts are run wide open. Even then, it is common to have problems, particularly on race day. With that thought in mind, we tried some new brake material at Silverstone earlier this week and the results look promising."
As a footnote, the test at Silverstone on Wednesday was the last ever for the famous British team. The primary purpose of the one-day session was to try a number of new components on the Tyrrell 026 chassis (long-wheelbase format, revised differential and aerodynamic modifications). The results were positive and the team will take the necessary parts to Monza to allow them to convert both cars to long-wheelbase specification.
The Silverstone test also provided the team with an opportunity to give French driver, Patric Lemarie, his first drive in a Formula One car. Patric acquitted himself well and recorded a best lap of 1 min 30.1 secs in a Tyrrell 026 fitted with P7 specification Ford V10 engine. This compares favourably with a time of 1:28.9 set on the same day by regular driver, Toranosuke Takagi, in a car using the later specification P10 engine.
"I think Tora should go well in Monza as long as we can get the car right for him," concludes David Brown. "He clearly likes fast circuits, as he demonstrated in Hockenheim, and I would expect him to be quick through Ascari, Lesmo and the Parabolica. If he's able to do that, he'll be well on his way to setting competitive lap times."
The Italian Grand Prix gets underway at 14:00 hrs local time on Sunday, September 13, and will consist of 53 laps of the 5.770-km/3.585-mile Monza circuit. Last year's race was won by McLaren's David Coulthard with Benetton's Jean Alesi second and Williams' Heinz-Harald Frentzen taking the final spot on the podium. The current lap records for Monza belong to Alesi, who claimed pole position in 1997 with a time of 1:22.990, and McLaren's Mika Hakkinen, who set a fastest race lap of 1:24.808. Whatever happens at Monza this year, one thing is certain, the hills will be alive with the sound of Ferrari fans.
TYRRELL CHASSIS DETAILS 1998 Italian Grand Prix
Ricardo Rosset (No 20) 026/01 Toranosuke Takagi (No 21) 026/05 Spare car 026/02