It’s time for Monza. What a delicious prospect. Passion, pasta, Peroni and the Prancing Horse. Then there’s the traffic, the tifosi and the double-booking of grandstand seats…
The Italian Grand Prix has been held every year since 1950 and, along with the British race, is the only round to have been on the calendar for so many consecutive years. One of the truly great things about this race is that it is held at the Autodromo di Monza – a true Grand Prix circuit situated in parkland just outside Milan.
I had my first experience of this place back in 1969. And what a race it was. We had seats in the huge grandstand opposite the pits – when I say seats, in those days you perched on bare concrete steps that reached skyward from the edge of that everlasting straight from Parabolica to Curva Grande. No silly chicanes, just a highly dangerous, slipstreaming blast from corner to corner. That year the Italians had double-booked our seats, so we were jammed into a long row of very excitable Ferrari fans. They stood and cheered every time the red cars went by. Fantastic. The man selling bags of nuts and drinks was unable to make his way up the steps.
This was one of the closest races in the history of the sport. Less than a second covered the first four cars as they came out of Parabolica in formation before ducking and weaving over the line. But there wasn’t much for the tifosi to cheer. Amon and Rodréguez struggled with an uncompetitive car, the Mexican finally finishing sixth, two laps down, while Jackie Stewart won the slipstreaming contest by mere feet from Rindt, Beltoise and McLaren. That secured his first World Championship and the Constructors’ title for Matra. By the end of this thrilling encounter we had a little more room, many of the locals having long ago walked away.
Two years later we were back, having again driven from Sussex, over the Alps and down to Lake Como – a good place to stay to make the most of an Italian GP weekend. Milan is easier, but not in Sunday traffic. Again we were treated to a classic Monza experience. This time Peter Gethin was the last man to duck out of the slipstream and cross the line in the lead, less than a second ahead of Peterson, Cevert, Hailwood and Ganley. It could have been any one of them, but it was Gethin in the BRM, and he still talks about it. The red cars, now raced by Ickx and Regazzoni, retired. The traffic started early.
Of course we no longer have four cars abreast, and nor do we have the same daunting circuit. But Monza is Monza, and you have to go there at least once in your life. Like Silverstone, Spa, Monte Carlo and Interlagos, it’s a pilgrimage for which you must put aside the pennies and go.
It’s not just Monza, it’s Ferrari, it’s the passion, it’s the blinding speed and noise, the flashes of colour in the trees through the Lesmos, the whole wonder of Italy. Ah, Forza Ferrari.
No, I am not biased – I simply believe that Ferrari and Italy are vital ingredients of Grand Prix racing. I don’t like team orders, and I very much hope that the stupid rule (Article 39.1) introduced by Max Mosley to outlaw the practice will be banished, and that Ferrari will not be singled out.
Meanwhile, Monza goes ahead as it always must. OK, the place has been emasculated in the interests of safety, but this is still one of the great sporting arenas. The atmosphere remains intact – the people have seen to that.