Situated within picturesque wooded parkland 15km north of Milan, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza remains Formula 1?s perennial temple of speed – and this weekend?s Santander Italian Grand Prix is almost certain to be the fastest race on the 2008 calendar with cars reaching top speeds of 340km/h and running at full-throttle for 80 per cent of each lap.
The gradual loss of the original high-speed Silverstone, Österreichring and Hockenheim tracks has made Monza something of a welcome anachronism, an uncompromising flat-out racetrack that simply cannot forget its past and whose passionate spectators continue to revel to the noise and spectacle of the racing car.
Monza?s roots are buried deep: the original combined road and loop circuit were built in a breakneck 110 days and it hosted the second-ever Italian Grand Prix in September 1922. Monza has held the race continuously with but one interruption – in 1980, when the race was run at Imola.
Monza was the venue for McLaren?s second Formula 1 victory – Denny Hulme won the race in an M7A in September 1968. The team has won the Italian Grand Prix nine times, most recently in 2007 when Vodafone McLaren Mercedes scored a memorable one-two.
What sort of compromises do you face in setting the car up for such a high-speed circuit?
"People say Monza is just about power and top speed – but it’s also a driver’s track, which is why I like it. It’s not as straightforward as it seems because you run with very low downforce, which means you rely heavily on the tyres and the car’s mechanical grip -but you’re also attacking the kerbs, which requires a softer set-up. You also need plenty of stability under braking and as much grip as possible for the corners. The key is to run the car as low to the track as possible without having it bottom out."
What’s the key to a good lap around Monza?
"You really need a car that’s stable under braking. When we run such low downforce, the car becomes very light under braking, so you can’t push too hard; the car moves around a little bit more than normal. So the whole approach to driving the car becomes slightly different – you tend to be a touch more cautious and build up your speed as the weekend progresses. You also need to get the second chicane just right – it’s got big, high kerbs; if you can get the car to ride them just right, then you can make big gains in lap time."
MARTIN WHITMARSH, CEO FORMULA 1, VODAFONE McLAREN MERCEDES
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes comes to Italy after showing well in the Monza test, how do you rate the team’s chances?
"The truth is, both Lewis and Heikki have previously gone well at Monza; they both like the track and are looking forward to the race – and that certainly helps. On the engineering side, we came away from the recent Monza test very encouraged by the pace we showed. Of course, we’re under no illusions that Ferrari will be strong – and we expect them to be stronger there than they were relative to us last year – but we go to the event with high expectations."
NORBERT HAUG, VICE PRESIDENT, MERCEDES-BENZ MOTORSPORT
How big is your disappointment after the stewards’ decision in Spa?
"In the most difficult conditions we experienced in Spa, particularly in the final stages, Lewis was clearly the best driver; everybody could see this. He showed great racing with courageous overtaking, and this is what the spectators want to see. In our opinion, Lewis did not put a foot wrong, and foremost he did not think he gained an illegitimate advantage. So our disappointment was big, when the stewards took away victory from him and the team. However, we are fighters. If we would have needed a better motivation for the last five races of the season we have it now. When we went to the airport last Sunday evening, Lewis said to me – preferably we now want to win all remaining races, don’t we? I have no objection."
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes