Farewell to Europe at historic Monza

Farewell to Europe at historic Monza

The last European venue of the season, the Autodromo Nazionale Monza evokes visions of a long and famous motor racing history; of high-speed battles, heroic challenges and vast armies of red-clad Tifosi. Today, as much as the Autodromo Enzo e Dino...

The last European venue of the season, the Autodromo Nazionale Monza evokes visions of a long and famous motor racing history; of high-speed battles, heroic challenges and vast armies of red-clad Tifosi. Today, as much as the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari at Imola, Monza is a traditional Ferrari stamping ground and the fans flock by their thousands to see the scarlet cars race.

Art and history in Milan.
Photo by Brousseau Photo.
Construction at Villa Reale park in Monza, near Milan, began in 1922, when the Milan Automobile Club decided to mark the 25th anniversary of its founding, and the six-mile track was completed in July of that year. It was one of only three purpose-built, permanent race circuits in the world at the time, along with Indianapolis in the USA and Brooklands in the UK. The first championship Italian Grand Prix at Monza was held in 1950, in the second week of September, a date that remains to this day.

Sadly, Monza has seen more than its fair share of accidents. The worst in the early years was when Emilio Materassi crashed his Talbot in 1928, killing himself and 27 spectators. The track was changed over the years but retained the basic initial layout. In 1955 the original banking was replaced by an ever higher curve and eventually drivers began to boycott the event on safety grounds, despite more changes intended to make it safer.

Giuseppe Campari, Alberto Ascari, Wolfgang Von Tripps, Jochen Rindt and Ronnie Peterson all lost their lives at Monza; a sad testament to one of the most famous but most dangerous circuits. However, Monza is also home to some of the great moments of the sport.

In 1956 Peter Collins famously threw away his own chance to win the championship when he handed over his car to Juan-Manuel Fangio just 15 laps from the end to let Fangio take the title instead. It was at Monza in 1976 that Niki Lauda returned to competition just six weeks after his horrific crash at the N?rburgring, and drove to a heroic fourth place.

Old Monza oval.
Photo by Brousseau Photo.
The circuit is the fastest race on the calendar and the scene of the closest ever finish: in 1971 Peter Gethin crossed the line just 0.01 seconds ahead of Ronnie Peterson. In 1988 McLaren was beaten for the one and only time that year, at Monza, when Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto scored a Ferrari 1-2. Since the FIA Formula One World Championship started in 1950, Monza has hosted the Italian GP every year, save for 1980 when it was held at Imola.

With such a long history it's too difficult to mention all the winners but the list of names is a list of some of the greatest ever drivers. Alberto Ascari, Juan-Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Graham Hill, John Surtees, Jackie Stewart, Ronnie Peterson, Clay Regazzoni, Mario Andretti, Niki Lauda to name but a few. In more recent years Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Gerhard Berger and Damon Hill were all victors.

Juan Pablo Montoya won his first F1 victory at the circuit in 2001. Michael Schumacher has won at Monza three times and last year it was Rubens Barrichello who led his teammate over the line for a Ferrari 1-2.

With three long high-speed straights and medium speed corners, Monza is hard on brakes and engines, with 70% of the lap at full throttle. The track layout is not particularly technical but set up is a big compromise between the straights and curves. Downforce tends to be low and tyres will be from the harder end of the compounds. The circuit has a reputation as a car-breaker and reliability plays a big part.

In 2002, pole sitter Montoya -- who set the fastest ever qualifying lap in the record books -- and Williams teammate Ralf Schumacher both cut the first chicane, although Montoya less so, and Ralf was ordered to let the Colombian past. He did so but then his engine exploded -- BMW's pride in being the first to break the 19,000 rpm barrier was short lived. Montoya fared no better and retired with suspension problems and with Williams out of the way, Ferrari cruised to its one-two finish with Barrichello ahead.

The podium: race winner Rubens Barrichello with Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine.
Photo by Brousseau Photo.
Eddie Irvine scored a surprise third, Jaguar's first podium of the year, taking advantage of the demise of Williams and the McLaren of Kimi Raikkonen that retired with an engine failure. Renault had a good race with Jarno Trulli fourth and Jenson Button fifth and Olivier Panis claimed the final point for BAR in sixth.

The focus this year at Monza looks likely to be not only the three-way battle for the championship, but also the recent tyre controversy surrounding Michelin. How the French manufacturer's partner teams -- including title challengers McLaren and Williams -- will fare with the reinforcement of the width rule is yet to be seen, but the FIA believes Michelin's new wider tread will conform.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams