Whatever else might be said, Monza cannot be considered to be anything but a power circuit - and the Renault team is interested to see if the power in Formula One still lies in its hands.

The Anglo-French operation took a surprise victory last time out in Hungary, courtesy of Fernando Alonso, surprising the likes of McLaren, Williams and Ferrari - which had shared all but one of the previous race wins - by romping away at the front of the field.

"It's a fantastic feeling, but that was three weeks ago, and we are focusing on the job ahead now," Alonso insisted, when asked about going to Monza as a race winner, "The win was a big boost for the team, because they have been working flat out all year, at Enstone and Viry, and now we have a real reward to show for it. For me, personally, it was a great achievement... but we are looking forwards, and Monza is going to be a tough race."

"We had a good test last week, and managed to do lots of work on tyres and set-ups, but nobody is going there expecting to repeat what we did in Hungary, although we are confident of scoring points at every circuit this season. We have found a good compromise on set-up, the car is good through the high-speed corners and well-balanced. There are still two extra hours to fine-tune some things on Friday, so I think we can have a strong race for sure."

Some 70 per cent of the Monza lap is spent at full throttle, around 13.3 per cent under braking and the rest cornering. Those figures alone demonstrate how important straightline performance is, both in terms of power and also finding an efficient low-drag set-up. While fine-tuning its low downforce package last week in testing, Renault was able to run a number of different configurations and has now settled on what it believes to be the best compromise between low drag, reasonable levels of downforce and good stability.

"Monza is the circuit at which the cars spend the highest percentage of the lap at full throttle of the whole season, although the maximum single period at full throttle is fifteen seconds, less than we see at Indianapolis or Suzuka, for example," revealed engine guru Denis Chevrier, "From the engineering point of view, the strain the engine is under means we must be extremely careful in how we use the engine, keeping strict control on temperatures and things like over-revving.

"A powerful engine is fundamental at Monza. While torque is less important, power at high revs and reliability are critical - the circuit is particularly sensitive to power, and a given increase in power can bring three times the gain it would at a circuit like Monaco. However, the engine also has its contribution to make on the handling side - the nature of the throttle response can have an impact on the car's balance, and a progressive engine will disrupt the car less as the driver gets on the power exiting the high-speed corners."

What the team's figures also reveal, however, is that there almost as much of the lap is spent under braking as in cornering. Braking receives particular attention at Monza, not just because it is particularly hard on brakes, but also because there is time to be found in this area.

The number one priority for the brakes is obviously to keep them cool - the cooler they are, the lower the rate of oxidisation [wear] throughout the race which, in turn, makes the brakes more consistent and maximises the chances of finishing. If achieving this cooling means incurring a penalty in terms of drag, by running larger brake ducts, then that is a sacrifice teams have to be prepared to make.

As for performance, the brakes require good initial bite under heavy braking, in spite of the fact that the discs will cool down the straights. They must also maintain good
performance all the way through the braking phrase, avoiding brake fade and ensuring the balance between front and rear remains consistent throughout. The low
downforce levels mean braking stability is a key factor, not just in terms of lap time, but also for enhancing the chances of finishing - good stability means predictable
performance, and that is crucial for the driver to set good, consistent lap times in race conditions.

Indeed, the difficult compromises that need to be made mean Monza is actually one of the trickiest circuits at which to find a good set-up, in spite of its apparently simple profile. For example, good turn-in on corner entry is crucial. This is always an important factor, of course, but, at Monza, things are doubly complicated, The car is
extremely light on downforce, and therefore naturally very unstable. Furthermore, the braking events are particularly severe and, finally, not only does the car need to
transfer its weight well in these difficult conditions in order to achieve good turn in, it must also then cope with riding the kerbs well on corner entry and exit.

"Above all, Monza is about precision," test and reserve driver Allan McNish pointed out, "The very low levels of downforce mean there is no margin for error and any small mistakes in the corners see a dramatic penalty in terms of your speed down the straights that follow. Compared to Budapest, it requires a very different style of driving - you still need to attack, but to do so while driving with your fingertips. It is a little like driving in the wet.

Indeed, the kerbs are essential to a good lap time. At Imola, Renault felt its car was below where it should be in terms of its performance over the kerbs, and since then has done a lot of work in that direction. That work has been brought to fruition for the race and, although the team feels it still has a long way to go, it has definitely improved in this area since earlier in the season.

Ironically, though, in spite of the high-speed, low-drag set-ups, Monza is a particularly difficult circuit at which to overtake, and the circuit design means it is actually quite easy to protect your position down the straights. Through the Parabolica, the second Lesmo or the final part of the Ascari Chicane, it is very difficult to follow closely enough to make a move into the next corner. Indeed, in the past, cars have run with relatively high downforce levels and low maximum speeds, and those behind were unable to get past. This makes it possible to adapt quite a defensive approach to the race, and construct a strategy around defending position.

"You need to be comfortable with the car, and get it well-balanced under braking and in the changes of direction," Jarno Trulli explained, "Good straight-line speed is critical, but the low levels of downforce mean we have to drive more smoothly - we are usually right on the limit in terms of grip, and any small sideways moment can be more difficult to control."

In terms of strategy, Monza was traditionally a one-stop race, and the fuel penalty is on the low side, with ten kilos of fuel representing approximately 0.3secs in lap time. However, the new rules mean it is almost certain to become a two-stopper.

The strategic element of the event may have been altered by the recent furore over tyres - in particular, the front tyres used by the various Michelin runners, including Renault. With the tyre company looking likely to introduce a revised design at Monza, could pre-laid plans go out of the window?

"In general, I think the whole affair has been something of a distraction over a minor issue," commented engineering director Pat Symonds, "Changes have been made to the tyres, we tested them last week at Monza and we were able to quickly understand their effects in terms of speed and balance. Indeed, running the new profile, we found ourselves to be slightly faster. In terms of the overall playing field, I certainly don't think it will provoke any change in the status quo between the manufacturers."

With power at something of a premium, many will expect the Renaults to struggle this weekend, but the team is quietly confident that it can mix it with the frontrunners once again.

"Monza is the only very low downforce circuit left on the calendar, and we spend a lot of time preparing for it - up to two or three weeks in the windtunnel in total," commented technical director Mike Gascoyne, "The result is the low downforce package which we tested last week - without any problems at all.

"To be quick at Monza, you have to be fast down the straights, of course, but there is time to be found under braking and in the corners. The car's performance in the high-speed corners is excellent, and that will definitely be an asset. In terms of results, I think that given the perceived strengths of our package, people may be tempted to write us off. My answer would be to expect us to spring a few surprises..."

 

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