It is amazing, there are still people who say they do not like Monza and that they do not want to go there again, and yet once more we saw the most exciting and close racing that anyone could wish to see. If we visit a twisty circuit, where driving ability counts more than engine power and one man (or two) runs away from everyone else, there are moans about dull, boring processions. At Monza this year, and every year for that matter, there was no question of anyone out-driving anyone else, it was a matter of speed and reliability and cut-and-thrust racing right through the field in groups of three, six or eight cars, the lead in each of these groups changing more times than anyone could hope to record; yet you can meet people whose reaction to the name “Monza ” is “oh, that awful place.” To me the name Monza has always held a fascination for somehow it is synonymous with ” speed,” probably because one of the first exciting cars I became conscious of as a schoolboy was the “Monza” Alfa Romeo of 1931/32. The first time I visited Monza was in 1949, to take part in the first motorcycle event organised after the rebuilding following destruction during the war. It was at the end of a season of European road racing with motorcycles, and was to be the climax of racing at places like Berne, Francorchamps, Zandvoort, and many lesser known road circuits. Monza was to be the “big, fast one,” and I spent many hours on our Norton-engined outfit checking, adjusting, perfecting and searching for every way to get a few more r.p.m.
When you first see the sign ” Monza ” at the entrance to the town it is like the first visit to Le Mans after you have read about it, heard about it, and looked at photographs and films. None of them hold comparison with being there for the first time and seeing that magic name-board which means you are really there. As we drove under the tunnel into the centre of the track on that first visit in those austere days of 1949 I could not help being impressed by the permanency of everything. Grandstands, pits, paddock, offices, .garages, all were solid concrete structures intended to remain forever. No bolted-up tubular scaffold structures coveted in flapping canvas or plastic sheets. Monza was a permanent place for noise and speed, and I loved it. I still do, for where else can you enter a track and hear a Grand Prix car on full song, and, as you walk along, it goes on, and on, and on, still on full song, until it is out of earshot behind the trees at Lesmo. A lot of circuits these days are all starting and stopping, and all you hear is the rising and falling exhaust note as the driver opens out, lifts off, and opens out again. At Monza he has got his foot hard on the throttle and he keeps it there for quite a long time.
The fantastic race between Graham Hill, Clark, Surtees, Gurney and “new-boy” Stewart, with Bandini and Spence right behind, was motor racing at its best. B.R.M., Lotus, Brabham and Ferrari, with three types of V8 engines and the Italian flat-12-cylinders all making a glorious variety of sounds, and yet there are people who prefer F.2 with the monopoly of the droning 4-cylinder engines, and virtually all Cosworth engines at that.
Lap scoring in a race as close as Monza called for great concentration and it depended where you were as to whom you considered to be in the lead at any particular time. At Monza the pits are some hundreds yards long and some distance before the actual finishing line, which the official timekeepers overlook, so that the lap chart of the Lotus and Ferrari pits at one end would not read the same as the Centro-Sud or Parnell pit at the other end, for in that distance the actual leader could have changed three times. as Stewart, Hill and Clark dodged about in each other’s slipstreams: The same thing applied to those in the long Press gallery at the top of the main grandstand. Reporter A might be at one end and when the leading bunch passed him Clark was leading, but reporter B at the other end of the long gallery would report that Stewart was leading, and they’d both be correct. On many laps it would have needed a photo-finish camera to decide who crossed the black and white chequered line first, and as the line is something like 24 in. wide, there could have been discrepancies over who was leading even so, depending on whether you took the beginning of the line, the middle, or the end. The racing was close at Monza.
I was fortunate to be sitting almost opposite the official finishing line and tried to keep my lap chart as the leaders reached it, but I would not guarantee one hundred per cent accuracy; however, give or take a lap or two, Stewart led for 43 laps, Clark for 18 laps, Hill for 14 laps and Surtees for 1 lap, and it was certainly true that Stewart was doing most of the work and setting the pace, as well as doing most of the cutting-and-thrusting against Clark and Surtees, so it was only right and proper that he should come out the eventual winner.
Every so often we hear a great cry from Maranello that says Enzo Ferrari is forsaking motor racing and is going to retire to a monastery. He never does, of course, and why should he, for the Maranello factory is a bit like a monastery anyway, albeit a very busy and active one. Two drivers who might be well justified in following the Ferrari cry, and say “away from it all,” are Dan Gurney and John Surtees, for this season the gods seem to have been against them all the time. Gurney was all set for a big go at Silverstone with the new 32-valve Coventry-Climax engine when it blew up on his way to the start. He had it again for Monza and it leaked oil and could not be used in the race. He drove fantastically hard at Monza, using an old engine, and stayed with the leaders by dint of braking and slipstreaming, only to have McLaren and Ireland latch on to him when he lapped them, and the air-drag of the slower cars caused him to lose his B.R.M./Lotus ” tow “and a certain second place. Surtees had a simple little bracket holding the rectifier break off in the French G.P., unnecessary tyre and handling problems in the Dutch G.P., where he could go fast and wear the front tyres, or not wear them out and be too slow to be in the picture. At the German G.P. his gearbox went wrong at the start, and at the Italian G.P. his clutch went wrong at the start. You could not blame either driver for feeling that somebody was deliberately ” knobbling ” them, nor be surprised if they gave up the unequal battle and retired to the hills.
The big Honda effort at Monza really was a fiasco, and why shouldn’t it have been. There is absolutely no reason to assume that the Japanese are going to be all conquering, especially when the opposition in Grand Prix racing is at as high a peak as it has ever been. B.R.M., Ferrari, Coventry-Climax and Lotus and Brabham have got Grand Prix racing well under control, and even the mighty Daimler-Benz firm would be hard put to join in at this moment and keep pace with them, let alone beat them, so why should newcomers to Grand Prix racing do any better. There was a lot of talk before Monza about Phil Hill joining Ginther in the Honda team, but as it turned out it was Bucknum who took the second car, and though he made a very creditable practice time he raced against the mid-field chaps, which was his rightful place. The Honda has been a bit of a disappointment, especially in the engine department, for, knowing Honda motorcycles, I imagined that the engine would be perfection and any problems they may have would be concerned with chassis, suspension, steering and so on. They have had problems with these things, but the engines have been anything but perfect and the mechanics at Monza spent most of their time stripping and rebuilding Ginther’s engine, and that is no easy task. With the other Grand Prix engines during practice the drivers just pressed the starter button and away they went, but many times the Honda drivers ground away on the starters with no results, only rich vapour coming out of the exhausts, and then they had to be push-started.
There was a strange little ceremony in the paddock on the morning of the race when Colin Chapman was presented with two cases of salami (and a pocketful of lire?) in exchange for putting an advertisement for this particular brand of salami on the Lotus that “Geki” was to drive. The Team Lotus mechanics, who don’t like salami anyway, were justifiably muttering about this, and suggesting that instead of wasting their time attaching these adverts the little man organising the business could help them prepare the cars for the race. The same was happening in the Brabham team, where Baghetti’s car was also carrying salami advertising, and this was brought about because the Italians have a national rule that permits their drivers to have advertising on their cars, in spite of an F.I.A. rule that forbids it. As the Lotus Mechanics said, they were not allowed to have Esso transfers on their cars, even though it is Esso petrol money that keeps Team Lotus going, so why should they stick salami adverts on the cars when they don’t even eat the stuff. Presumably “Geki” and Baghetti do eat it.
Thanks to the Goodyear tyre company a lot of people were able to get a new and interesting view on driving at Monza, and many photographers were able to get different photographic angles. This was brought about because the Goodyear firm organised and financed the building of a steel platform jutting out over the track at the beginning of the south turn. at the end of the fast back straight. You could stand and look over the edge, almost above the cars, and really appreciate those who were setting up a big attitude-angle at the approach to the corner, and also get a most interesting view of the elbowing that went on under braking and jockeying for position, for the entry into the south turn, which is almost a semi-circle, is very important if you are going to maintain speed through it and come out at maximum speed, because this would affect your speed along the pits straight. Goodyear also put on a delightfully informal luncheon party in the open air on Saturday, before practice, and it was nice to see that Dunlop executives and Dunlop drivers were also there. The battle for tyre supremacy is very strong these days. and is as keen as the rivalry between racing-car manufacturers, and will become stronger next Year when Firestone join in, so it is nice to see the rival technicians having a glass of “chianti” together. It was suggested that Goodyear invited the drivers who run on Dunlop tyres in order that they had too much “vino” and would miss practice, so that the Goodyear runners could make the front row of the grid, but I don’t think this was true. Anyway, I’m told our modern Grand Prix drivers only drink milk! Goodyear tyres were on the winning Formula Three Car on Sunday morning, and on the Brabham that was third in the Italian Grand Prix, which wasn’t bad, for, like Honda, the Goodyear company are comparative “new boys” to European racing.
It is usual for everyone to try pretty hard in practice, not because of any financial inducement or question of qualifying, but from personal pride. Everyone would like to be on the front row of the grid and nobody voluntarily chooses the back row, so that a study of the final practice times can give you a good clue to the pattern of a race. At Monza the times were so close that on Saturday the timekeepers were recording to one-hundredths of a second, in order to decide ties. Three drivers who were very close were Bonnier (Brabham-Climax VW) at 1 min. 38.90 sec., Vaccarella (Ferrari V8) at 1 min. 38.91 sec., and Gardner (Brabham-B.R.M. V8) at 1 min. 38.98 sec. It would seem that all three had reached their limit in practice, for in the race, after the scrambling of the opening laps, they got together in a three cornered battle that lasted for 36 laps, when Gardner dropped out with mechanical trouble. Bonnier and Vaccarella raced on for another 12 laps, until the Ferrari engine blew up, which left Bonnier to finish seventh. This battle being just as heated as that of the leaders.
The Automobile Club of Milan organised an exhibition of present-day racing and competition machinery in a huge building in the centre of the Monza Autodrome, that lasted over the period covered by the Italian G.P. for motorcycles and cars, these events being held on successive weekends. They had assembled a most interesting collection of machinery, from the Indianapolis Lotus Ford that Clark drove in the Swiss Hill-Climbs, the 4-w-d. B.R.M. that Westbury has been driving,. through Ford GT40 and Cobras to Mini-Cooper S and Renault Gordini saloons, as well as exhibits from engine and gearbox manufacturers, Formula Two and Three cars, various national Formula cars and so on. There were cars from Iso Grifo, Lamborghini, Serenissima, Alfa Romeo, Porsche, Maserati, but nothing at all from Ferrari, not even an obsolete engine or racing car. Funny people the Italians, they love motor cars and motor racing, but personal animosity can over-ride everything, and Ferrari and certain members of the A.C. of Milan do not see eye-to-eye.
A month or two ago I was regretting the passing of the “three car team” in preference tor the ” two-car team,” and saying that any manufacturer’s dream must be to dominate Grand Prix racing. One of the first ways of achieving this is to have the whole front row of the grid filled with your cars and then to fill the results. It is traditional at most circuits to have three cars on the front row and to summarise race results in history books as first, second and third, any place lower than that hardly being worth a mention, so a “three-car team” could fill the front line of the start and the results sheet. Rodney Clarke, of Connaught, used to argue that unless you had the three best drivers and the facilities to run three cars, it was better to concentrate on one driver and one car, and try for an outright win. They had a good car but a limited budget and could only afford to hire second-best drivers most of the time, and he wanted to pay for one good driver instead of splitting the available money between two or three not-so-good drivers. Organisers would pay two or three reasonable amounts of money for two or three cars, no matter who the drivers were, but they would not pay double- or treble- money for one car with a top-line driver, and starting money was essential to the continuance of the Connaught team. As Clarke pointed out, they could probably have won a lot of races with one car driven by Moss in those days.
There was a revival of the “three-car team” at Monza, for Ferrari, Brabham and Lotus all ran three cars. B.R.M. were smiling, for they entered two cars and finished first and second, whereas the others suffered. Ferrari having one car finishing, Brabham one car and Lotus none at all. B,R.M. would run a three-car team if they could have Surtees or Clark in the third car, along with Graham Hill and Stewart, but then who wouldn’t. The reason for Brabham and Lotus running three cars was financial inducement by the organisers, so that local boys “Geki” and Baghetti could have a go in Formula One. Neither of them excelled in practice, but in the race “Geki” was mixing in well with the mid-field runners until his transmission lost all its oil.
The Italian Grand Prix at Monza was a memorable race and the very large crowd that attended must have enjoyed every minute of it, but I expect I shall meet people before the next Italian Grand Prix takes place who will moan and say ” that awful place.” Perhaps they have never actually watched a race at Monza. I enjoyed it.—D. S. J.