The magic of Monza


Monza on my mind. Sounds like some kind of Italian country and western song, if you can imagine such a thing. But this is not a race report – you can read that elsewhere on the website. This is about the piece of theatre that is mighty Monza as seen from the paddock at Silverstone. All will be explained.

Monza has always been on my mind in September, ever since my first visit to the Autodromo Nazionale in the Royal Parco di Monza just a few miles from Milan – and even when I’m 1000 miles away watching the Le Mans Series cars in the Autosport Six Hours at a windswept Silverstone. The Gran Premio d’Italia at Monza remains one of my all-time favourites. No matter if the race is less than exciting, if the magnificent old circuit has been ‘reduced’ from its former glory. Well, they’ve put in chicanes and taken away the tree that stood in the run-off at the Ascari chicane. Ascari is by far the best of the ‘squiggles’ that were introduced to take some of the heat out of the place. But what matters is the place, the electrifying atmosphere, the history that oozes from the buildings, the trees that line the Lesmos and the old concrete banking that still lurks in the woods above the new track. And Parabolica – now there’s a big, bad, brave old corner in any car.

When first I went to Monza, in 1966, our grandstand seats had been double-booked. No matter, we squeezed in among the tifosi, stood and cheered when the Ferraris streaked past on that seemingly endless straight. It was like finding yourself sitting with the Barcelona fans when you’ve gone to Spain to see Manchester United. Best not to cheer for the Brits or you might find your space has disappeared. I say space because in those days we sat on concrete steps that stretched back from the trackside and up into the semi-darkness of the vast old grandstand opposite the pits. The noise was – and still is – quite incredible. The cars at full throttle all the way from the Parabolica, the crazy tifosi at full volume, and a commentator going mad because the red cars are not on the pace. And that’s worse than not going to Mass.

That’s how it was and that’s pretty much how it is. Yes, the grandstands have been made more comfortable, the pits are bigger and smarter, but the race day traffic is even worse. Patience is a virtue when making your way from Milan to Monza.

So, seeing Monza on the TV screens at Silverstone, the feeling remains. The cars coming out to practice on Friday brings it all back, even if the Audis and Peugeots are whistling round Silverstone just yards away. Monza is fast, the fastest in the world in fact, but an Audi or a Peugeot flat out at Silverstone is an impressive sight. They are so much quicker than the rest of field in this multi-class championship, in a different league technically, financially and philosophically from the petrol-engined cars. The best of both worlds then last weekend – Audis and Peugeots braking impossibly late, gobbling up the straights, headlights on to wake up the backmarkers – and then on TV there’s Sebastian Vettel power-sliding the Red Bull through Ascari and streaking down to Parabolica. Untouchable on this form, Vettel is simply a joy to watch this season.

One of the most over-used words in the English language these days is passion. But passion is truly what Monza means – whether or not you support the Scuderia. There is no other race where you feel such devotion. It is one thing to see a Grand Prix car brake from 210mph, point to the apex and disappear again in the blink of an eye. It’s quite another to see it surrounded by the noisiest, most passionate racing fans in the world. On Sunday Vettel led home four World Champions while, for me, there was another champion – magnificent Monza itself.

If you saw the scenes below the podium, you’ll know what I mean. And this on a day when Red Bull beat Ferrari. Meanwhile, another Sébastien – Bourdais, teamed with Simon Pagenaud – won at Silverstone for Peugeot after a dogged battle with Audi.

Hope you made the most of Monza because next we go under the floodlights in the virtual reality of Singapore where the crowd is invisible.

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