Why F1 needs Monza


An Italian Grand Prix at Mugello wouldn’t be such a bad thing: gorgeous scenery, delicious food and drink, great track.

But it wouldn’t be Monza.

Mr E has been jerking chains and rattling cages again, this time hinting strongly that the Autodromo Nazionale’s days as a Formula 1 venue might be numbered when its current contract coughs its last in 2016.

It’s a tactic with which the BRDC will be uncomfortably familiar.

Recent-ish overblown promotions – red herrings that left some nicely in the black – of Brands Hatch and Donington Park as future homes of the British GP have twice forced Silverstone to the brink.

It was only 10 years ago that the British GP was axed entirely from the provisional calendar for 2005. Yet this weekend the former bomber base that straddles the Northants/Bucks border will host its 50th GP amid the relative calm and comfort of the early knockings of a long-term deal.

The relationship between the ‘blazers’ of the BRDC and the son of a Suffolk trawlerman has often been fraught, and no doubt will be so again. For now, however, let’s just enjoy the GP.

Besides, it’s Automobile Club Milano’s turn to fret and bicker, to nail jelly to a wall, to pull up stumps (or fell more trees?), to decide if membership of this pernickety, finicky club is worth all the agg – and not for the first time.

In 1980, the 50th Italian GP was held at ambitious Imola while Monza was being updated.

A GP circus worn down by the relentless FISA/FOCA War – it’s a wonder they found the time to race – turned up “with reluctance” expecting to find a circuit “choked by tight corners”, according to Autocourse.

Instead, all bar the new Acqua Minerale chicane, designed in part by, of all people, Gilles Villeneuve (in conjunction with Jean-Pierre Jabouille), were well received. The pits in particular were praised for their dimensions and amenities: sliding doors, electric hoists, washrooms and showers. Simpler times.

Space was rightly found for Imola, via a flag of convenience, on the calendar thereafter. It survived the fallout of 1994 but fell out of favour in 2007, when not even being on Ferrari’s doorstep could save it.

Imola was terrific. But it wasn’t Monza.

If Silverstone is its nerve centre, Monza is F1’s blood-red beating heart. Its soul. Yes, it does have one. For the time being.

The track itself isn’t great but has produced some thrilling racing – albeit rather less frequently since slipstreaming began to suck.

Its 1953 GP was a stormer between the Ferraris of Alberto Ascari and Giuseppe Farina, hardly the best of team-mates, and the Masers of Juan Fangio and (the lapped) Onofre Marimón. Fangio won when Ascari somehow spun at the final corner, then a cobbled double 90-right called Curva Sud.

In 1965, BRM’s freshman Jackie Stewart defeated glittering alumni – Jim ClarkGraham Hill and Dan Gurney – to score his first GP win. Four years later, his wingless Matra denied Jochen Rindt his first by eight-hundredths.

Ferrari wins at Monza

1949 Alberto Ascari (125)
1951 Alberto Ascari (375)
1952 Alberto Ascari (500)
1960 Phil Hill (246)
1961 Phil Hill (156)
1964 John Surtees (158)
1966 Lodovico Scarfiotti (312/66)
1970 Clay Regazzoni (312B)
1975 Clay Regazzoni (312T)
1979 Jody Scheckter (312T4)
1988 Gerhard Berger (F1/87/88C)
1996 Michael Schumacher (F310)
1998 Michael Schumacher (F300)
2000 Michael Schumacher (F1-2000)
2002 Rubens Barrichello (F2002)
2003 Michael Schumacher (F2003-GA)
2004 Rubens Barrichello (F2004)
2006 Michael Schumacher (248 F1)
2010 Fernando Alonso (F10)

And if you thought that was close… six-tenths separated the top five of 1971. (It’s just dawned on me that all five – Peter Gethin, Ronnie Peterson, François Cevert, Mike Hailwood and Howden Ganley – were gunning for their maiden GP victory.)

Chicanes stemmed the flow thereafter and there has tended to be memorable moments and occasions rather than outright races: Ferrari’s 1-2 weeks after Enzo’s death in 1988; Michael Schumacher’s victory of 1996; Mika Häkkinen’s ‘babe in the woods’ in 1999; and indefatigable local good guys Minardi, OK, Toro Rosso, finally winning in 2008.

There has been sadness, too. You can’t host races for 92 years without it exacting a human cost: Louis Zborowski, Emilio Materassi (and 23 spectators), Baconin Borzacchini, Giuseppe Campari, Alberto Ascari (in an impromptu test of another’s car), Wolfgang von Trips (and 23 spectators), Peterson (eventually a three-time Italian GP winner) and fire marshal Paolo Gislimberti in 2000.

And – on 5 September 1970 – Rindt.

In the confusing, swirling-siren aftermath of the Mainz-born Austrian’s fatal accident during practice stood a stunned man. In one hand a battered crash helmet. In the other a torn boot.

Bernard Charles Ecclestone, motor racing fan, has seen the worst of Monza. The day of the death of his dear friend and business partner was perhaps the day when the sport’s latter aspect became his focus.


Certainly, it’s not difficult to imagine his annual arrival at Monza causing him painful reflection: chills and sickness rather than goosebumps and butterflies.

But neither can he be inured to the supercharged atmosphere that only Monza, fringed and hemmed by trees that have silently witnessed it all, can create.

The tifosi has not forgotten Rindt and nor will it. Though he lost his life there, it’s iconic gathering places like Monza that help keep his memory alive.

The sport cannot afford to cut all its ties with the past. If it does, it will unravel. Become soulless.

And that’s why arrivederci Monza is a bluff.

A businesslike kick up the backside rather than into touch.


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