Monza is known as the “Cathedral of Speed,” so the Italian Grand Prix is a good time to reflect on the state of F1 racing, as one might in such a setting.
The Autodromo is the sport’s oldest paved track and the longest-surviving F1 circuit. Hugh Fortescue Locke-Brooklands King’s came first in 1907, followed by Carl G. Fisher’s Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909. And it has only failed to host the Italian Grand Prix twice: in 1921, when it was held in Brescia, and in 1980 when it was moved to Imola while Monza was undergoing renovations.
History seeps from every pore, and the ghosts of great racers can be found in every shadow. We come here to remember and commune with them.
The first GP held there in 1922 drew 39 cars; only eight made the grid and only three finished, with the Fiats of rising star Pietro Bordino and the veteran for whom he once worked as a mechanic, Felipe Nazzaro, finishing one-two.
The Red Devil, as Bordino was nicknamed, averaged 86.906 mph for 5 hours, 43 minutes, and 13 seconds, racing not only on the road course but also on the banking made famous by two races in the 1950s that brought together F1 cars and Indy roadsters, and then in the 1966 film Grand Prix, which fictitiously covered the title fight between Pete Aron and Jean-Pierre Sarti.
In 1971, Peter Gethin won the final race on the road course before the arrival of the chicanes that provide so much argy-bargy these days, averaging 150.76mph and beating out Ronnie Peterson, Francois Cevert, Mike Hailwood, and Howden Ganley by six-tenths of a second.
There have been many great races here, and this year marks Pirelli’s 150th and Ferrari’s 75th anniversaries, so there was a lot of celebration going on. I liked the yellow Ferrari used on their engine covers and the drivers’ overalls and helmets. It reminded me of the 1960s when EquipeNationale Belge ran yellow Ferraris for drivers like Willy Mairesse and Lucien Bianchi.
Earlier in the week, we attended Andrea Levy’s and technical artist Paolo d’Alessio’sAuto look Week Torino event. It included an awards ceremony in the city center’s Officine Grandi Riparazioni and a display of F1, endurance, and rally cars in Piazza San Carlo, including a Gilles Villeneuve Ferrari 312 T5, a Michael Schumacher Ferrari F399, and an Alberto Ascari Ferrari 500 F2 – though a personal favorite was the 1907 130 HP FIAT, whose engine throbbed at what seemed like five revs per minute. It was another reminder of the sport’s history, and both Pirelli and Ferrari were rewarded for their efforts.
The year 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of Monza, and on Saturday, it was exactly 50 years since Emerson Fittipaldi won his first World Championship in his black-and-gold Lotus 72. Emerson was, of course, present and demonstrated the magnificent machine every day.
Classic Team Lotus had brought along a second 72, which Mika Salo and Jacques Villeneuve shared, a Gold Leaf 49, which Damon Hill and Karun Chandhok piloted, and Johnny Herbert’s gold and black 56B turbine. This is something that Liberty Media is getting better at, and the sport must find such events to remind existing fans of its history and heritage, as well as to introduce it to new ones.
At the same time, it’s always important to keep up with the times, and Sky TV and other broadcasters do a fantastic job not only covering F1 but also taking a page from the MotoGP playbook by providing great coverage of Formula 2 and Formula 3, so upcoming drivers – such as Nyck de Vries, who did so well on Saturday and Sunday – are already familiar when they make the big jump.
F1 NATION: Max’s maiden Monza victory and debut delight for De Vries – our Italian Grand Prix recap
I liked how Max Verstappen, who was preparing for a Double Dutch fourth-row start after a penalty dropped him five places, gave his compatriot some words of wisdom and encouragement before the race. And how Nyck then put in a tremendous performance to run under serious pressure for the entire 53 laps, only once putting his foot wrong while struggling with a brake problem, and bringing Alex Albon’s Williams FW44 home in ninth place on his debut.
I can’t think of another driver who started his weekend in a different car – Nyck did FP1 for Aston Martin – before switching to another team to make his debut and score points on the first attempt. Job interviews don’t get much better than that!
Some people were disappointed when the race was called off due to the Safety Car. I know there’s a general desire for this not to happen, and we’ve seen it affect race results in the past, but the fact is that Charles Leclerc was 16.6 seconds behind winner Max Verstappen on Lap 46, just before Daniel Ricciardo’s broken McLaren forced the deployment – and even on his soft tires compared to Max’s mediums, he was only nibbling at the deficit. If it had come down to a last-lap shootout, even Charles thought he’d be lucky to win. In my opinion, the right man won for the 11th time this year and the fifth time in a row. This is another classic F1 era. The cars are fast, three teams are running at or near the front to keep things interesting, and the midfield extends down to the back row.