All grands prix are special – but some are more special than others. The Italian Grand Prix at Monza is very special indeed. The fans give it a football ground atmosphere, which is wonderful to behold (even if you’re the away side) but there’s also the palpable sense of history.
The Italian Grand Prix has been on the F1 calendar since 1950. Along with the British Grand Prix, it’s one of only two ever-present races. And Monza is the circuit that has hosted more grands prix than any other. The Italian Grand Prix was held at Imola in 1980, all the rest have been at Monza. This year is grand prix number 68 for F1’s temple of speed.
The name is well-earned. There’s a couple of other circuits on the modern calendar where the cars hit the same sort of end-of-straight speeds (Baku – because the straight is very long; Mexico – because the air is very thin) but they don’t have the relentless sequence of full throttle sections, nor the paucity of braking points. It’s this combination, with the drivers only hitting the brakes six times as they navigate the 5.793km circuit, that gives the track its reputation. It used to share the distinction with Hockenheim – but the German circuit was short of its straights in 2002 and, since then, Monza stands alone in the ultra-high speed stakes. It’s the venue for F1’s highest average speeds, highest overall speeds and shortest full-distance grands prix. Monza. Is. Fast.
– and that means it’s not a track we’re particularly keen on. It’s dominated by grunt, with not many opportunities for a car with good downforce to overcome a horsepower deficit. We’ve had two victories here, with Sebastian Vettel in 2011 and 2013, but our only other podium was a third place for Mark Webber in 2013. Those are fairly slim pickings.
It’s this, in combination with Singapore – which is a circuit we do like – coming up next that sees Daniel taking a full set of power unit penalties this week. He’ll be starting at the back. It’s a good circuit to do that, because there’s plenty of overtaking opportunities. Last year he did the same, and managed to set the fastest lap of the race on his way up to fourth place. He had the crowd on their feet for most of the race – though perhaps not when he launched a mighty move on Kimi Räikkönen at the Rettifilo Chicane.
Getting a bit of stick from the cheerfully partisan crowd is all part of the Monza experience, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s part of what makes Monza, Monza. Another thing is the venue itself. The circuit is set within a vast, sprawling park, formally the grounds of the Royal Villa, which spectators drive past if travelling to the track from the South to the main gates. The park itself is lovely.
The Italian Grand Prix has always been held on the first or second Sunday in September and, framed by the snow-capped Bergamasque Alps, the leaves are just starting to turn golden on the trees. It covers a vast area, and is well-worth exploring.
Around the circuit you run across the old, concrete banked oval track, hidden in the trees, but beyond that there’s a golf course, farms, a school, and a couple of very grand restaurants hidden in unlikely corners. Let yourself get lost on the paths and tracks through the woods and all sorts of wonderful things appear – but every time you come across a bridge, a gate, or wall or even just a concrete bollard, you’ll find graffiti extolling the virtues of long-gone racing drivers. You don’t get that anywhere else.