Can F1 afford to lose Monza?



It’s hard to believe that we’ve completed the European leg of the F1 season already. Only seven races now make up that section of the calendar, so until May next year the motorhomes get packed away, our offices return to the UK and teams, drivers and F1 personnel lead a nomadic, globe-trotting existence.

In the next two-and-a-half months we have seven races and will know, if we don’t already, who will be crowned the 2015 world champion. While I enjoy this head-down-and-get-on-with-it final leg of the season, I also leave Europe feeling there should be more races at some of the iconic tracks in these parts.

One of the topics of conversation in the paddock at the weekend was how to save the Italian Grand Prix and how important Monza is as a race track. I was lucky enough to come here in April with Sir Stirling Moss and Lewis Hamilton as they took two 1950s-vintage Silver Arrows around the banking. For Lewis it was his first time; for Stirling it was a wonderful trip down memory lane. A quick watch, if you have time, reminds us of why Monza is so special and you don’t have to be Italian to appreciate it!

On Sunday the Italian prime minister came to the circuit to join Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne along with other dignitaries to try and convince Bernie Ecclestone that Monza must stay on the calendar. In the 2016 provisional calendar that was released last week, the race is there, but there is no doubt that its future is in danger.

There were a few shocks on that calendar, including a December finish, supposedly in Malaysia. To be scheduled as the last race of the season requires prestige or money and I don’t think the Malaysian Grand Prix has either. It could be a move to force the hand of another track – I’d be surprised if anyone in F1 expects to be in Malaysia come December next year. I covered a late-November race at Sepang for a couple of years and to describe it as a wash-out would be an understatement.

Sunday’s podium men Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa spoke about how important is to keep Monza on the calendar, but it was Ferrari’s new favourite son Sebastian Vettel who had the most passionate message saying: “If we take this away from the calendar for any shitty money reasons, you are ripping our hearts out”. Take that Bernie!

We were given a few extra hours to wait and enjoy the wonderful Monza paddock thanks to the stewards investigating whether or not Mercedes’ tyre pressures were too low at the start of the grand prix. That theory was eventually thrown out, Toto Wolff came out to speak to us all and Lewis Hamilton left the track 53 points ahead of Nico Rosberg in the championship.

Nico admitted to me after the race that while he’s not giving up, it will be incredibly difficult to claw that lead back from Hamilton. You would think, the way that Lewis is qualifying and racing, that it will take some bad luck and a couple of DNFs for Nico’s resurgence to happen.

There must have been at least six drivers who told me that their teams were not concentrating on Monza and that Singapore was the priority. That might be the case, but if everyone is focusing on being top 10 at the night race, there are going to be a few disappointed teams.

From the fastest and one of the most historic race tracks on the calendar, we head to the dark night skies and bright lights of Singapore. In a shorter F1 season it used to be Monaco but this is now the race where the deals are done and where sponsors and CEOs flock to. It feels a bit like being in an advert for a ‘new world of F1’. Don’t misunderstand me, I love the night race and the atmosphere that comes with it and I embrace the ‘new’ – so long as Formula 1 doesn’t lose the classic tracks and therefore its DNA too.

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