Monza was the only remaining super fast track on the calendar. Even coming off the back of the low downforce set-ups in Spa, the sheer lack of downforce run by teams at Monza is surprising. The demand for low-drag aerodynamics to allow the cars the highest possible top speed means that most teams normally develop specific parts for this race.
With the cars already short of downforce from the 2009 regulations, the teams did not display the usual amount of Monza-only parts and, with the lack of aerodynamic add-ons compared to the plethora of devices added to the cars last year, most machines did not appear outwardly different from their Spa specification.
Monza doesn't actually demand low downforce per se, but a lack of drag to help the cars on the long, flat-out sections. The easiest way to reduce drag is the reduce the size of the rear wing, which is the main variable in the car's drag level. Reducing the rear wing will of course reduce downforce, as there are no highly loaded turns at Monza the cars can cope with out the load the rear wing adds to the car.
Teams will work out on lap simulations the ideal top speed their car can achieve with its engine power, and balance that with the stability required under the heavy braking from high speed. With a target top speed the team will find an aero set-up that will achieve the required drag figure with the minimum loss of downforce, mainly by reducing the rear wing. The diffuser doesn't need to be altered as it produces so little drag.
Then the teams need to balance the lower rear force with a matching front wing. This year most cars sported the same front wing main plane, but added a bespoke flap, removed the cascades and simplified the wings endplates.
As a result, the car's frontal profiles is distinctly different. Looking at the comparison of the Ferrari in Monza and Hungary configurations, the rear wing is over 50% smaller, while the Monza spec front wing rides much higher reducing its effectiveness, despite a running a similar flap.
Some teams opted for a higher downforce specification than the others; Williams and Toyota misjudged their set-ups and as a result struggled in Italy. It's perhaps no coincidence that observers were noting the Toyota engine as a common link between the two teams, while the leading teams were all powered by Mercedes.
Monza demands shallower wings for less drag (left) compared to the high downforce demands of Hungary © AUTOSPORT
Equally, Red Bull's lack of pace and reliability was firmly pinned on the Renault engine by its team owner. So the question of unequal engine power is being raised again. In theory, the five engine suppliers should have the same parity in performance since the freeze was introduced three years ago.
However, the aggression in which some teams have tackled the small areas of unfrozen technology has greatly differed. Mercedes continues to make relatively big improvements through oil, fuel and electronics, as well as more limited development to the exhaust and airbox. Since its early 2008 upgrade, the Mercedes engine has been the class of the field, with Ferrari a close second.
Renault was allowed special dispensation to develop its engine over the winter, which reaped performance benefits, but the team is probably still some way short of Mercedes. Also, its reliability has been poor, notwithstanding the maximum revs being reduced to 18,000 from 19,000 of this year. We can expect a lot of debate about the freeze and engine parity over the closing races.
A new development were longer pod wings for McLaren © AUTOSPORT
Not picked up in the Spa technical review was the new pod wings added to the McLaren. Already running a double vertical profile since Silverstone, the pod was always supported clear of the floor. Now the team has extended the leading profile downwards, just ahead of where the bargeboard meets the floor.
Even though McLaren ran a small rear wing, its front wing set-up still sported a large set of flaps and cascades, highlighting the front end bias weight and downforce McLaren is running since the short wheelbase car was introduced.
Ferrari is the only team to introduce a dramatically different front wing, with a totally new main plane shape. The wings profile kicks up not far from the neutral centre section, the higher ride height across the downforce producing portion of the wing that would reduce downforce and encourage under-floor airflow. This change alone brought most of the downforce reduction as the team continued to run the large flap and cascade, although the small flap at the outer rear edge of the front wing was deleted.
Ferrari had a unique wing for Monza, mated to their Spa rear wing © AUTOSPORT
At the rear, the car used Ferrari's typical approach for low drag, with its Spa rear wing being set up with the upwards curved leading edge raised even higher. Having the main plane masking the flat to this extent takes some of the load off the flap reducing its effectiveness, thereby equally reducing both drag and downforce.
With these developments and the car repeatedly making the podium, Ferrari has now stopped work on the F60B and is focussing on the 2010 car, with its larger fuel tank and narrower front tyres.
To balance its lower downforce rear wing, Renault ran a similar one to that used in China, the wing devoid of cascades and sporting a flatter flap angle. Like many teams, the Monza configuration marks the end of development for the R29. Work now focuses on the new car, which will need to overcome the deficiencies in the 2009 design, in order to make a stronger start to the new season than the R29 did.
As is the usually the case, BMW Sauber brought a rear wing customised for Monza, which was the flattest of all of those run in Italy. Despite the continued uncertainty as to the its entry in the 2010 championship, BMW Sauber is expected to bring a major update to the F1.09 in Singapore and is still continuing ongoing development on the car.
Brawn ran its Spa rear wing at a shallower angle, but did not use the shark fin in Monza © AUTOSPORT
As expected, Brawn ran its Spa rear wing again for the Italian race, with a much shallower angle of attack. However, the shark fin bodywork did not make an appearance, so its presence in Spa was either a failure or part of future development either for Singapore or for 2010.
The team's erratic pace continued to confuse, the car suited the high kerbs and the Mercedes engine suited the long straights.
Higher temperatures allowed the tyres to work, despite there being no fast corners to generate lateral load and hence into the tyre.
Even with less of a threat from Red Bull in the championship, the team is still planning to introduce updates to the car over the next four races. But the pressure will be inside the team to see which driver can set their car up to co-operate with the tyres.
Again running the Brawn-inspired winglet added to the front wing, Force India also tried a much narrower version of the winglet to further reduce the downforce created at the front of the car. This was tried in Friday practice but the drivers reverted to the larger cascade winglet for the race.
Again on the pace, through a mix of the new aerodynamics introduced at Valencia and the Mercedes engine power, it will be interesting to see if the VJM02 can reprise its pace at the four higher downforce tracks ending the season.