McLaren are expecting DRS to play a big part in the Italian Grand Prix next weekend as two activation zones and the long straights of Monza combine to produce plenty of overtaking opportunities.
Lewis Hamilton is hoping that there will be a nice symmetry within his Belgian and Italian results of last year and this season, and is optimistic of succeeding in another closely fought race.
“Last year, I won at Spa and failed to finish at Monza,” recalls the 2008 world champion. “For this year, I guess I'm looking to reverse that sequence! I've already moved on from my non-finish in Belgium and I'm really looking forward to returning to Italy, a place where I spent a lot of time racing karts: it's a country I really love.
“I think we go into the weekend feeling pretty optimistic. I've never won at Monza and I'd love to get a good result this year. I'm particularly looking forward to qualifying, because I think DRS will make a huge difference to our laptimes, and I really want to get the maximum out of the car in quali – and then look forward to a strong race, of course.
“With unlimited use in quali, and those four long straights, I think qualifying's going to be pretty intense: we'll be 20km/h faster at four key points of the circuit, so our quali times are going to be much faster than in the race. That should be pretty exciting.
“For the race, you'll also need the downforce, though, because you'll want to be quick enough out of the second Lesmo and Parabolica to be in with a chance of challenging for position down the following straight.
“I think things are set for another very closely matched race – I'm really looking forward to it.”
Jenson Button remembers that he and Hamilton chose wildly different car set-ups last year. Button beat his team-mate in qualifying but an early crash on the Sunday for Hamilton means it is difficult to say for certain who had the better set-up for the race.
“It's going to be the usual difficult trade-off between drag and downforce to find the ultimate package for the race,” says Button. “Last year, Lewis and I opted to follow two different paths – Lewis went for the low-downforce configuration and I went for more grip, at the expense of straightline speed. That meant that, although I had the laptime, I didn't quite have the opportunity to mount an attack for the lead, because I couldn't get close enough along the straights to have a go into the braking areas.
“But I think things will be a little more mixed-up this year. For the second time this season, we'll have two distinct DRS zones, with two potential passing opportunities. The first zone's going to be interesting because it's always been very tough to challenge for position under braking for Ascari – the track's pretty narrow and it's a fast entry – so I'll be really interested to see how well DRS will work into that corner – we might see some pretty spectacular moves!
“I think the more conventional passing opportunity will come from the second DRS zone, getting as close as possible into Parabolica, holding on through the corner – which won't be straightforward – and then deploying DRS down the start/finish straight before, hopefully, passing into Turn One.
“The DRS is going to be a pretty major asset for a following car, and it might shape the race in some really interesting ways.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh also believes that DRS is going to be a race-defining issue at Monza next weekend:
“Perhaps it's a bit premature to be discussing the return of the epic 'Monza slipstreamer', but I think the whole team is going to Italy keen to see if DRS will create the sort of exciting and unpredictable grands prix that we either watched or read about when we were younger,” he said.
“At the very least, going to Monza is always a very evocative and historic occasion – perhaps more than any other circuit, you can really feel the sport's past here, and it's become the perfect venue to bid farewell to the European season before we head to the final flyaways. I think it's very important that Formula 1 keeps hold of these 'classics' – which also includes circuits such as Spa, Silverstone and Monaco – while also investing in new venues for the future.
“Despite its age, Monza certainly never gets any easier: selecting gear ratios to cope with the demands of DRS through both qualifying and the race will be tricky. At Spa, the DRS ban through Eau Rouge meant that maximum velocity at the top of the hill was pretty much the same through qualifying and the race. For Monza, there are no limitations, so it will be very different, and getting it right will require a lot of thought and experimentation.
“It's rewarding to know that, even after 61 grands prix at Monza, the circuit is as much of a challenge as ever – that's a great testament to the enduring appeal of the place, and the restlessly competitive nature of Formula 1.”