McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh has predicted that this weekend's Italian Grand Prix will witness some of the highest speeds ever seen at Monza, notably from those cars - like his - running KERS.
Speaking in the build-up to the final European round of the 2009 Formula One season, Whitmarsh admitted that McLaren has high hopes of returning to the front in Italy, despite struggling last time out in Belgium and seeing its single success this season come at one of the slowest circuits, when Lewis Hamilton won at the Hungaroring.
In particular, however, the team principal is expecting higher than usual top speeds at the historic parkland circuit, especially in qualifying, when Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen will be gunning for the pole they missed out on in last year's rain-affected event.
“Monza is notable for being a power circuit, and, with KERS, we should see some incredible speeds – particularly during qualifying when the drivers will double-deploy KERS along the start/finish straight," Whitmarsh commented.
"It will be another interesting test for MP4-24 as we continue to develop the car – it will be useful to understand how it works in a low-downforce set-up. Monza is a venue where the team has traditionally gone well. The unique high-speed nature of the track places unique demands on the cars and, like every team, we'll arrive at the circuit with a bespoke high-speed aerodynamic package."
Hamilton saw his title bid falter at the Italian Grand Prix in 2008, missing out on the final phase of qualifying and scraping a couple of points as rain persisted through both qualifying and the race. Despite that, he is looking forward to returning to the venue where he clinched the 2006 GP2 Series title.
“Since we no longer test at Monza before the Italian Grand Prix, it will take the drivers a bit of acclimatisation to get used to running in low downforce," the Briton surmised, "It's a real challenge to get the set-up right because there's never an ideal compromise between speed along the straight and through the corners. It's never easy to keep the car on the track because it slides all the time: at most tracks - you feel like the downforce is sticking you to the track at high speeds, but not at Monza. It's like you are skating across the surface. But it's a fantastic circuit – our car has traditionally gone well there so I am looking forward to another competitive weekend.”
Kovalainen had to settle for second in both qualifying and the race in 2008, after being outgunned by the Toro Rosso of 2009 title challenger Sebastian Vettel, now with Red Bull.
“I've scored points in the last four races and can see no reason why we shouldn't be contenders for more points at Monza next weekend," the Finn reasoned, "I love the place, as I've won there in GP2, finished in the points in both my F1 outings and I think our car will be reasonably well suited to the circuit. Like every team, we'll be running a special low-downforce aero package in Italy – but we'll also have the benefit of using KERS along the straights, which should give us a greater advantage over a single lap, especially in qualifying, where it will be extremely valuable. It should be fun!”
Despite the comparative disappointment of Spa, Mercedes-Benz motorsport VP Norbert Haug is particularly encouraged by McLaren's recent form, in which it has out-scored every other team since the Nurburgring.
"Our target is to continue our upward trend," he claimed, "However, after Lewis's win and second place at Budapest and Valencia, we have not been where we wanted to be even after Heikki managed to come home sixth from 15th on the grid. However, although Lewis had an accident and therefore retired on lap one [at Spa], which was not his own fault, no other team scored more points during the last four races than Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. In the remaining five races we will build on this with a healthy ambition – without seeing us being the favourites for Monza. There will be at least a handful of them which is first class for the sport.”