The high-speed nature of the Monza circuit has always caused Red Bull trouble and, after arriving in F1 in 2005, it took the team four years to score a championship point in Italy, with Mark Webber collecting their first in 2008.
The team has traditionally suffered from a lack of top speed compared to its rivals, with the Renault engine acknowledged to have one of the lowest top-end power outputs on the grid (although it does have better torque for the slower circuits). This top-speed deficiency comes despite Red Bull Racing's traditionally highly efficient aerodynamic packages and the associated advantage in high-speed corners.
In Monza, teams traditionally strip their cars of downforce to reduce drag on the straights because the limited number of corners tips the balance in favour of less drag over more downforce - but this year is likely to see a different trend that should finally give Red Bull a chance of at least mixing it at the front in Monza.
So far this season, in the higher-speed circuits, teams have typically run with a little more downforce than they usually would because of DRS (which can be used throughout the circuit in qualifying and in one or two zones in the race). This system allows them to run a larger, higher downforce wing to increase cornering speeds, then reduce its drag on the straight by opening up the slot gap.
Jenson Button demonstrated a similar technique last year when he chose a visibly larger wing set-up than team-mate Lewis Hamilton and used the f-duct (now banned, but the DRS is based on a similar concept) on the straights to cancel out the added drag. In qualifying, he was 22nd fastest through the speed trap but set the second-fastest lap-time, while Hamilton was only fifth on the grid despite being third fastest in the speed trap, some 15km/h faster than Button.
So why should this help Red Bull more than others?
This weekend's race sees two independent DRS activation zones for the first time - the first on the main straight and the second on the straight after Lesmo 2 - and that should encourage teams to adopt higher baseline downforce settings. Leaner wings also reduce the effect of DRS as there is less wing angle to reduce from - so that adds to the incentive to increase downforce in standard set-up.
Red Bull's efficient aerodynamics mean that they should be able to add more downforce for less drag than their competitors, so with a more 'normal' downforce set-up they should not be hampered as much as they normally are on the higher speed circuit. This was demonstrated already at Spa - and while Monza is even more extreme than the last race, the trends are there to see.
The other, perhaps more significant, factor is that the DRS zones both follow high-speed corners, with the Parabolica normally taken at around 125mph and the Lesmo 2 at around 102mph (and these speeds might increase a little with increased downforce this year).
Any car that has more downforce to give better traction and speed through these corners is then at an advantage - either by helping the driver get within the one-second zone for DRS activation if he is behind, or by keeping his pursuer out of it if he is in front.
Usually it is the car with the most powerful engine and best balance over the kerbs which triumphs in Monza - but thanks to DRS that could change this weekend. That is not to say this will put Red Bull ahead, but it should certainly put them in the mix.
- Red Bull Racing
- Red Bull