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GP Week : Issue 166
MONZA IS A SPIKE IN THE SCHEDULE THAT MUST BE SCRUPULOUSLY OBSERVED, AN ENGINE CIRCUIT IN THE OLD TRADITION. " 24 GPWEEK.com // F1 >>> MONZA 24 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Y ou stand there amongst the trees, on the inside of the Parabolica, watching and listening – with emphasis on the music. Screaming revs, shrill and pure. Then a millisecond-pause. Then more revs as they play with the steering and brakes, “looking for the moment,” as Ayrton Senna used to say (when people asked him why he dabbed the throttle so) “when I can give it full power.” You push your ear plugs in further; you peer again up to Ascari, where a morning haze is already giving way to a golden Italian sun. It’s red! And the baby-blue helmet sits amidships. Fernando keeps the F2012 tucked neatly to the right, parallel to the white line, as the car bursts up through the speed range – through fifth, sixth and then into seventh. He sits at terminal for what seems like two seconds, maybe three – and then he moves the car sharply to the left, for the approach to the Parabolica. Where other drivers have seemed reflexy, wary of the dust off line (for Monza, sadly, is rarely used these days thanks to noise restrictions), Fernando is commandingly positive with his movements. He talks, the Ferrari listens. There’s no nonsense. He doesn’t wander across track on the approach to the Parabolica in a conventional diagonal. Everything is load-free and clean. His helmet sits perfectly at low-drag height. The Ferrari looks all-consumingly beautiful – functional and sharp – on this gorgeous day at Monza. So when the problems arose – three of them, one after the other – engine, brakes, gearbox! What the...!” – the Ferrari world stood still. The F2012 has been up and down this year but never fragile. And now here, of all places, it seemed to be unravelling. No matter that the engine and gearbox were no longer a part of the race cycle and could be replaced without penalty. No matter that the Brembo boys quickly took charge of the brakes. Fernando could manage only 17 laps in the afternoon. At Monza. In practice for the Italian Grand Prix ... What gear ratios to choose? What downforce levels to run? Decisions needed to be made that Friday afternoon. The Ferrari felt quick, the balance good, the grip level high for a circuit so fast; Felipe, in the other, ultra-reliable car, confirmed the findings. And so they opted to maintain that little extra downforce when it became time to register gear ratios with the FIA. The pole – or the front row – was going to be critical. Front wings could be lost in that tight first corner. Fernando needed to aim for the best-possible lap, even if it did mean that he’d perhaps suffer on Sunday if he became embroiled in traffic. The pole – or the front row – was the thing. It was, despite the problems, very attainable. A shorter seventh was registered. Fresh engines crackled up and down the pit lane on Saturday morning, for Monza is a spike in the schedule that must be scrupulously obser ved, an engine circuit in the old tradition. And the Ferrari was brilliantly quick. Down at Red Bull, where Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were complaining of having nothing like the same grip as 2012, the drivers were having to adopt to the compromise solution of longer gearing and less downforce. “Now,” said a rival engineer ruefully, “Red Bull are back in the real world...” At McLaren, where Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were enjoying their runs in the gorgeous low-drag-spec MP4-27As, Ferrari’s pace nonetheless remained a talking-point, a pivotal strategy marker. Qualifying would be razor-close – perhaps a defining moment. It would be Ferrari versus McLaren. It would be Fernando, regaining momentum. It would be Lewis or Jenson, McLaren-perfect.