This afternoon’s Italian Grand Prix is wonderfully poised, with Fernando Alonso starting on pole but Jenson Button alongside him.
Alonso’s race will be about dominating the start and then relentless pace. Button has been thinking about his race since Friday and has gone with a plan which, if it works, will spring a trap on Alonso and the others at the pits stops.
The latter gives you approximately 8km/h additional straight line speed, whereas the former will give you better speed in the Lesmo corners, Ascari and the Parabolica and will help keep the car more stable under braking.
The drivers tried both on Friday and Button opted for the high downforce, Hamilton the low downforce. It was a free choice, the team was not looking to split the strategies, merely to give the drivers a choice.
“You have got more downforce, so you can brake later. You can carry more speed through corners, ” said Button, explaining what he liked about his choice. “You have to push very hard. It is different to running low downforce. You have got to make the time up in the corners whereas with low downforce most of the time comes in the straight and you obviously have to tip-toe through the corners. But when you have high downforce you have got to be aggressive and you have really got to push the car. I feel it worked in qualifying. We were not 100 per cent sure it was going to, but for the race I think we are looking good.”
Button has always favoured running a little more downforce for the reasons he has given above. It goes back to 2004 when he got a podium result with the BAR Honda using this tactic and he’s had it in his head that it’s a good thing ever since.
But to Button’s mind, the key to the high downforce set up is that it will protect the tyres more by stopping them from sliding. Combined with his ability to look after a set of tyres and keep them performing for longer than his rivals – something we have seen several times this year already – he believes that he can run longer on the first stint than Alonso and then undercut him when he makes his stop. The harder tyres Alonso will be going onto will take a couple of laps to come up to speed and that is where Button must do the damage.
Although he is shown as 12km/h slower on the speed trap than Alonso in the qualifying print outs, there was a tow involved in that and the difference through the individual speed traps of each sector is very consistently 4km/h. So if he can get ahead of Alonso at the stops, he will not be a sitting duck to be repassed on the straights.
Time will tell and Massa, a good starter who is on the clean side of the grid, will also be a major threat on the first lap.
This reminds me of some of Alain Prost’s races, where he thought through and planned something for the race early in the weekend and executed it perfectly.
The bonus for Button is that he did so well in qualifying, while his team mate Hamilton, who should have been faster, made mistakes and starts fifth.