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Italian GP: Preview - Honda

NEWS STORY
09/09/2008

Round 14 of the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship takes the Honda Racing F1 Team to the outskirts of Milan for the Italian Grand Prix. The 53-lap race is staged at the 5.793km (3.600-mile) Autodromo Nazionale di Monza and marks the end of F1's European season.

Monza is the oldest and fastest track on this year's calendar. The circuit was built in 1922 and since the inception of the World Championship in 1950 has staged the Italian Grand Prix every year with the exception of 1980. The original 45-degree banking at either end of the pit straight has not been used by F1 cars since 1961, but the circuit remains a temple of speed, with four long straights where the cars will reach top speeds of 340kph (211mph). Average lap speeds are expected to be in excess of 250kph (155mph).

Honda has won the Italian Grand Prix six times with the most recent visit to the podium in 2004, when Jenson Button finished third for the Honda Racing F1 Team. Rubens Barrichello has won the race twice before, in 2002 and 2004.

The emphasis at Monza is on engine power and aerodynamic efficiency. As a result, the team will run a special low downforce aero package, which produces 30 percent less grip than the high downforce generated at the slowest circuits on the calendar.

From a set-up point of view, the most demanding aspects of the lap are slowing the cars from high speed and getting the power down at the exit of the corners. The introduction of the standard Electronic Control Unit this year has had a big impact in both areas of performance, so a good car balance is vital in low downforce trim in order to be quick. The cars also run higher ride heights at Monza to allow the drivers to use the kerbs at all three chicanes.

There are two key corners on the lap: Lesmo 2 and Parabolica. Both are followed by long straights and the drivers need to get the power down before the apex of each turn to ensure a clean exit.

What impact do the particular challenges of the Monza circuit have on the set-up of the RA108?
Ross Brawn, Team Principal: "Monza is the only circuit on the calendar which requires such a low downforce set-up therefore we will use a significant number of unique aerodynamic parts for the RA108. The priority is to minimise drag to achieve the top speeds of 340kph on the long straights and therefore the rear wing and front wing are significantly smaller than usual. We will also run without our usual wings on the nosebox. The engine cover, bargeboard and other chassis devices have all been analysed for their aerodynamic efficiency and amended or reduced where required. The lap at Monza has a number of big braking areas so it can be very hard on the brakes. It is also quite bumpy, which combined with the low downforce, means that the suspension settings have to be right without compromising the car's ability to ride the kerbs."

What are your thoughts ahead of the Italian Grand Prix weekend?
Jenson Button: "I always look forward to racing at Monza and the Italian fans are really passionate about motor racing. Although you're so focused over the weekend on improving your car, you can still sense the atmosphere and excitement around the circuit. Monza also has a real history about it. I've walked around the old banking part of the track and have so much respect for the guys who used to race on there.

Monza is very different from most of the circuits that we race on during the year. It's quick and you have to run such low downforce to get the straightline speed that is needed to take advantage of the straights. Ascari is probably my favourite part of the track and you can have a lot of fun through there. Parabolica is also good, particularly in qualifying when you're trying to get the most out of the car and brake as late as possible whilst you are turning it. If you brake a little late, you're off into the gravel and probably the wall. But if you get it right and have a good qualifying lap, then it's an amazing buzz because you know that you've worked so hard for it. The first corner is always interesting with 20 cars slowing from 290kph (180mph) to 80kph (50mph) and fighting for position on a slippery circuit with cold tyres!"

You've won this race twice before. What's the key to a quick lap at Monza?
Rubens Barrichello: "Monza is a very special racetrack and it has always been a real honour to race there and an even better feeling to win the Italian Grand Prix.

The track holds some of my favourite racing memories from my victories in 2002 and 2004. As the quickest circuit on the calendar with long straights, engine power is very important to maximise your straightline speed, and the car will be set up with the lowest drag and downforce levels possible. However you really need to have good stability under braking to able to ride the Monza kerbs effectively without having too much understeer. Good traction is important for exiting the Rettifilo and Roggia chicanes and you can overtake at both of these turns. It's more difficult to slipstream on the straights these days as it is so difficult to follow another car without losing out from the buffeting."

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