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Italian Grand Prix - The secret of getting that last bit of speed

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Italian Grand Prix - The secret of getting that last bit of speed
Sep 14, 2010, 5:51 PM

The Italian Grand Prix at Monza is the fastest event of the season and it is a unique layout as far as F1 is concerned.

The Italian Grand Prix at Monza is the fastest event of the season and it is a unique layout as far as F1 is concerned. The average speed of the lap is 250km/h and the top speed is 345km/h. It is essentially a series of long straights linked with chicanes. There are only three corners; the two Lesmo bends and the Parabolica.

Because of the relative amounts of time spent on the straights and in the corners, teams have traditionally chosen to run the cars in ultra low downforce configuration to minimise drag on the straights, considering this to be a greater gain than having extra speed through the corners. A car using Monza wings will generate 25% less downforce than the same car with Monaco wings on.

But this year the drag reducing F Duct rear wing has changed the game. This is a device which allows engineers to have their cake and eat it - in other words they can have low drag without sacrificing downforce.

Interestingly Ferrari's top speed at the weekend was more or less the same as last year at 338km/h, but the lap time was 6/10ths faster this year. Much of that is to due to the F Duct.

Engineers I spoke who had carried out direct comparison tests on Friday found that the F Duct was up to half a second faster than the low downforce specification. But only those with an efficient system.

And as there is something to be gained from having a bit of extra downforce in the three corners and in stability under braking, there was an advantage to using the F Duct - but only if you have an efficient system, which sheds enough drag and doesn't lose downforce.

Therefore a glance at the teams who chose to race without the F Duct - Mercedes and Force India being the most obvious examples - reveals the teams with the system which is the least efficient, and therefore they were too slow in a straight line with it fitted.

One of the things which made it such an interesting weekend was that there was a mix of solutions. And one of the secrets of success this weekend was having a Monza wing with an F Duct in it, rather than a compromise wing.

McLaren's drivers went different ways. Jenson Button went for the F Duct and a higher level of downforce than any other driver, preferring the feel of the car in the corners, while Lewis Hamilton went the traditional route with skinny rear wings. After qualifying he was wondering whether he had made a mistake, as he was down in fifth while Button was second. We will never know how it might have panned out in the race as Hamilton crashed on the opening lap.

However on closer inspection it seems that McLaren might have got lucky at the weekend. They said some time ago that they were not planning on using an F Duct at Monza and the wing that they turned up with was actually the Spa wing with the F Duct, according to engineers I spoke to.

In other words, unlike Ferrari they had not built a specific Monza spec wing with F Duct. It worked well enough for Button, but one wonders whether that fraction of extra straight line speed for Ferrari might have just made the difference.

Ferrari's solution featured a smaller air pipe inside the engine cover. Also the wing had a smaller flap with a completely flat profile, the main profile was completely flat.

Renault too had a Spa wing and it wasn't fantastic, hence Kubica's relatively poor 9th place on the grid.

Engine use

Most drivers opted to use a new engine for qualifying and the race. The engines are at full throttle for 73% of the lap in Monza, the most of any circuit, so a fresh unit is considered an advantage.

All drivers are allowed a maximum of eight engines per season and most of them took a seventh new engine at Monza, with the exception of the two Renault drivers (6th engine), the two Ferrari drivers (8th engine). Other exceptions this weekend were drivers who opted not to use a new engine, Mark Webber and Rubens Barrichello, who have used six engines each and Pedro de la Rosa, who has now used nine. His car will be taken over by Nick Heidfeld at the next round and he will carry on with the same allocation of engines.

Engines used so far in 2010 season

01 McLaren Mercedes Jenson Button 7

02 McLaren Mercedes Lewis Hamilton 7

03 Mercedes Benz Michael Schumacher 7

04 Mercedes Benz Nico Rosberg 7

05 RBR Renault Sebastian Vettel 7

06 RBR Renault Mark Webber 6

07 Ferrari Felipe Massa 8

08 Ferrari Fernando Alonso 8

09 Williams Cosworth Rubens Barrichello 6

10 Williams Cosworth Nico Hülkenberg 7

11 Renault Robert Kubica 6

12 Renault Vitaly Pertrov 6

14 Force India Mercedes Adrian Sutil 7

15 Force India Mercedes Vitantonio Liuzzi 7

16 STR Ferrari Sébastien Buemi 7

17 STR Ferrari Jaime Alguersuari 7

18 Lotus Cosworth Jarno Trulli 7

19 Lotus Cosworth Heikki Kovalainen 7

20 HRT Cosworth Sakon Yamamoto 7

21 HRT Cosworth Bruno Senna 7

22 BMW Sauber Ferrari Pedro De La Rosa 9 (Nick Heidfeld's car now)

23 BMW Sauber Ferrari Kamui Kobayashi 7

24 Virgin Cosworth Timo Glock 7

25 Virgin Cosworth Lucas Di Grassi 7

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