Italian Gp

Italian GP – A different Grand Prix to all others

The language of Formula 1, as spoken by drivers, team personnel and commentators, with words like “fight,” “stress,” “battle,” “struggle” and so on might lead you to think we are involved in a war, when in fact a Grand Prix is meant to be a fantastic show that brings enjoyment to participants and spectators alike. In a world where sport is big business, it is all too easy to lose sight of the sporting spectacle, but a weekend at Monza is the quickest way to reset one’s perspective. Not for nothing is the circuit which hosts the Italian Grand Prix known as the “Pista Magica,” (the Magic Track.)
If your job involves wearing the badge of a black stallion on a yellow background, it’s even more of a unique weekend: just ask Felipe Massa. “Monza is part of the history of F1 which you can see from the sections of the old track that are still there. It’s a different Grand Prix to all the others, the fastest on the calendar, with the highest top speeds, as well as fantastic grandstands packed with fantastic fans. When you drive for Ferrari it’s even more special. I am Brazilian, but my family came from Italy so this is something of a home race, as I have an Italian passport and our family has something of an Italian lifestyle. This all adds up to a very special race for me. There’s a bit more motivation to do well here and, while Brazil is obviously my home race, Monza is much more like a second home event than the one in Monaco, even if I am based in the Principality.” In fact, a young Felipe started his professional racing career living and working in Italy, so the high speed track is very well known to him. “In 2010, I was on the podium here after finishing third, but my best memory at Monza is not actually from my time in Formula 1, because prior to that, in other categories, I won all my races at Monza, twice in Formula Renault, once in F3000 and victories are always your best memories.”
Even engineers, who are reckoned to have computers instead of brains and oil, not blood, coursing through their veins can get emotional about Monza, as testifies the Scuderia’s Head of Engines and Electronics, Luca Marmorini. “If you are an Italian engineer working in Formula 1 then Monza is one of the few tracks that is really special, that captures everything that is attractive about Formula 1,” he says. “If you are an engine specialist, you really hope to win here. I have so many memories from this circuit, but I don’t have to go too far back to pick a highlight. Two years ago when Fernando won with Felipe third and everyone was on the podium was truly an exceptional result.” There are also technical reasons that set Monza apart from the rest. “Monza, along with Spa, is a track where the engine plays a major role in the overall performance of the car,” explains Marmorini. “So each single horsepower has a greater influence on the lap time. It’s a very difficult track, because the drivers apply full throttle for almost the entire lap, around 80% of it. Therefore engine reliability is a critical factor.”
The technical challenge also appeals to Felipe. “It’s the circuit with the lowest aerodynamic downforce of the year and the one where you see the highest top speed,” says the Brazilian. “You need a very precise car and you can’t lose too much downforce, as you need that to deal with the slow corners. Therefore you need the car to be very well balanced. The engine counts for a lot here too and so I hope ours will give us a bit of an advantage here, compared to other tracks, where the difference between the various engines is smaller. Put all this together along with the strength of support from the Italian fans and I hope we can secure an excellent result.” Even if overtaking is on the cards thanks not only to the usual driver aids, but also to the high speed phenomenon of slipstreaming, a good grid position really helps here, in part to avoid the chaos that can affect the opening lap. Putting in that crucial single flying lap takes special skills at this circuit as Felipe explains. “There are very small time gaps between all the cars in Monza, so the key to a quick lap in qualifying is to put everything together. Braking counts for a lot, while you also need to get your lines just right and have good traction, because if you lose a little time at one corner, because you braked too late or didn’t come out of the turn on the correct line, then you can lose a lot of time down the long straight that follows. Getting it just right is not easy. Top speeds have actually come down a bit with the changes to the regulations, but you don’t feel the difference very much to be honest. I remember how fast we used to go when we had the V10 engine, but the feeling you have, if you are doing 360 or 340 is not much different.”

Current engine regulations stipulate that each driver can only use eight power units per season and when it comes to planning their use over the 19 Grands Prix, this weekend has a special place on the schedule. “We aim to optimise the use of the eight engines over the course of the year,” states Marmorini. “For example, in Monza and Spa, where the engine plays a more important role, all the teams prefer to race with new engines. Of course we have worked hard on reducing the power drop-off from the engines as they are used, but it’s still true that a new engine is fresher than a used one.” Next year, engine life will be even more critical with only five power units allowed per season, when Formula 1 will switch from normally aspirated V8s to turbocharged V6s; a major preoccupation for the engine specialists at the moment. “Given that in just six months time, the 2014 season will be getting underway, it’s fair to say that the basis for next year’s power unit is now fixed,” reveals Marmorini. “We’ve been working on the new engine for a long time and we are in the final stages of its definition with just the small details to be fixed. I’d say we’re pleased with how it’s coming along and we are on schedule. We can only hope everything works well when it’s time to start the championship with it.” Therefore this weekend’s Grand Prix, the last one of the year in Europe, marks the end of the V8 era on the Old Continent. “In the first year of the V8 formula, the winning engine at Monza was a Ferrari,” – concludes the Scuderia’s engine specialist – “So it would be great if it could be said that a Ferrari engine won the last race for the V8 era at Monza.”