The European part of the 2008 Formula 1 season comes to a close this weekend with Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro's home grand prix at the Monza circuit. Ferrari should benefit from the boost of racing in front of a big crowd of its home fans and, as is now traditional, the staff of the Gestione Sportiva, who will watch from their reserved grandstand. Current form and the results of the test session held at this track two weeks ago suggest they will get to see a very close contest. In terms of performance, the three days running at Monza confirmed that the Italian Grand Prix could be the toughest assignment of the remaining races for the Scuderia, as it's clear our opponents are extremely strong. Last year here, Ferrari struggled, especially in terms of dealing with the kerbs but, as has been seen at other races this year, this is one problem that has been solved, as the car's behaviour over kerbs has been improved through work on the suspension package.
However, with the circuit affectionately known as the Temple of Speed, it is no surprise that engines are very much a key to this weekend. "Undoubtedly, with Monza coming hot on the heels of Spa, this is the toughest pair of races in terms of the engine cycle," reckons the Gestione Sportiva's Technical Director for Engines, Gilles Simon. "Monza is the hardest circuit on engines and Spa is not far behind it, so this means the engines used here will have endured the highest stress levels of any throughout the season." Pushing the engine to its limits was therefore a major priority at that test. "From the engine side, we pushed very hard to test reliability and the results were successful, as we completed two race distances," continued Simon. "And also in terms of car performance we made good progress at a circuit where, in 2007, we were not that strong. So overall it had been a very positive test."
Life was made more complicated this year for the engine specialists with new regulations demanding that all teams use a standard electronic control unit. "We have had a partially positive result and we devoted a lot of time and effort into starting the season with a reasonable understanding of the system," says Simon. "From then on, we had had to go deeper into the details to understand all the possibilities offered by the common ECU and to follow its evolution. Today, we still do not feel we have fully exploited all the functionalities of this system."
With just five more races remaining and both Drivers' and Constructors' championships very finely balanced, the Scuderia is working hard to ensure the F2008 is as competitive as possible right down to the final chequered flag of the year. However, Simon and his staff cannot neglect the future and there are several new challenges for next season that are already taking up a lot of their time back in Maranello. "The Kinetic Energy Recovery System is a complex subject, which finds us dealing with a lot of new and complicated areas, while ensuring that we still devote all necessary efforts into continuing our usual development programme on the current year car," revealed the Frenchman. "It will be really challenging to run this system next year. We are learning every day, but we are struggling and I think that all teams will struggle to run the new system reliably right from the opening race of the 2009 season. Next year, with KERS as well as the other rule change allowing the use of an electronic front flap adjuster (on the front wing,) electronics will play a very big role and the common ECU will have to be fully understood in order to operate these new elements successfully."
However, for the next few days, the focus will be on the 59th running of the Italian Grand Prix, which along with the British event, is the longest running GP on the calendar, with all the but the 1980 race being held at Monza. The Prancing Horse has won seventeen of those races, the last victory coming courtesy of Michael Schumacher in 2006.