The final European grand prix of 2011 will not only be critical in terms of settling the destiny of the F1 world championship, but will also represent something of a homecoming for tyre supplier Pirelli.
The Italian Grand Prix carries obvious significance for a company based just half an hour from the historic Monza autodrome, but also played a major part in aiding its return to the top flight as much of the testing carried out on the PZero rubber was done close to home. The circuit remains one of the fastest on the calendar, with an average speed in the region of 250kph, and is expected to provide a huge challenge for the tyres.
Despite that, Pirelli will bring the medium and soft tyres - designated by white and yellow sidewall markings respectively - to this weekend's event, believing that they are ideally suited to the demands of the high-speed layout, while providing plenty of scope for the teams to use different strategies in their bid for victory in the 82nd Italian Grand Prix.
Although Pirelli has claimed six victories from the 61 races to have been held at Monza over the years, all came in the 1950s, when the circuit was best known for its high-speed banking, which still stands as a tourist attraction today. The modern track has been extensively modified over the years, but it is still hard to find perfect traction under acceleration and braking as the teams run low downforce in order to maximise their top speed on the flat-out straights. There are also some high kerbs on the chicanes that put huge lateral loads through the tyres, adding to the gruelling workout over 53 laps.
As the cars run the lowest downforce of the year in order to eliminate drag, a typical Monza aerodynamic package will generate about 15 per cent less downforce than used in the previous round at Spa. This has a profound effect on the tyres, allowing them to slide more, while the suspension set-up also impacts on the tyres, as the low downforce means that the cars rely heavily on mechanical grip to ensure the best possible traction under acceleration and braking, while allowing the drivers to attack the chicanes.
“Monza is obviously a very important race for us, both from a technical and a company point of view, and we're all looking forward to competing at home, with the championship reaching a crucial point in the season," motorsport director Paul Hembery says, "On a rapid circuit like Monza, the tyre strategy is sure to be vital, as it's going to be hard to make up any time lost in the pits with the cars at full throttle for so much of the time.
"We expect to see a difference of about a second per lap between the soft and medium tyre, but we'll only know for sure once the cars start running in free practice. The versatility of the tyre is going to be a key element, as the rubber will have to cope with a wide range of conditions this weekend. It's a big challenge as always but, at the same time, we're very much looking forward to being able to showcase the very best of Italian technology and know-how at home.”
The Italian Grand Prix is, of course, a highlight of the season for Ferrari as well as Pirelli, and Fernando Alonso is determined to put up a fight for the tifosi
“Monza is a very special race for every driver," the Spaniard insists, "It is the fastest circuit on the world championship calendar and driving there gives you an extraordinary feeling, but it is also very special for emotional reasons, especially if you are a Scuderia Ferrari driver.
"Winning in Monza is incredible, but winning there driving a red car is even more incredible. Being on the podium, seeing thousands of fans below you wearing red shirts and waving red flags is simply an overwhelming emotion. Our aim this year is the same as last year: to win the race. We are aware that we have the potential to achieve our objective, but we also know that our opponents are very strong.
"I am sure that we will have a very exciting race, as we have seen many times so far this season already. The return of Pirelli in F1 has brought an increase to the show, which was one of the targets set at the beginning of the year, so we have to thank them for this – and what better occasion than their home race?”