Monza has held Grand Prix every Formula One season but one: in 1980 when the Italian Grand Prix was at Imola while the Monza circuit had improvements made to safety features. The Italian’s, almost without exception Ferrari fans, are perhaps the most passionate in the world with only the British and Brazilians really rivalling them, the atmosphere at Monza is like nothing else.
The original track here was built in 1922, in what had been a royal hunting park, as a result almost every great racing driver from before and after the second world war has raced here, and sadly many have died here including World Champions Alberto Ascari and Jochen Rindt and potential world champions Wolfgang Von Trips and Ronnie Peterson.
This is a very fast track where skinny wings are used to reduce drag, many teams have Monza spec parts for the race that will not be used at any other race in some cases. As such the winner at Monza is often not the dominate team from the rest of the season, for example Toro Rosso won here in 2008 with a car that seemed perfect for the circuit but only managed a best of forth and three fifths at any other point that season.
Things can get messy at Monza’s turn 1 and 2 chicane, especially at the start, car’s can escape across the chicane but will almost certainly lose places negotiating sleeping policemen and bollards so few do and accidents are inevitable; in 2011 Liuzzi caused an accident that involved around 5 or 6 cars. The first chicane is the best overtaking opportunity throughout the race however, comings together are still common though at any point during the race as there is little space and if a car comes storming in by the time they realize they have locked up there is no where to go.
Through the Curve Grande modern formula one cars travel at around 190 mph in 6th gear before slowing to around 75 for the second chicane that isn’t as tight as the first: you may see overtaking here but it is more about not losing time. The Ascari chicane is a better overtaking place mainly due to the way a car can get a better run down from turn 7 and the kink in the previous straight and then only has to hold it into the Parabolica hairpin.
Many of Formula One’s greatest races have been at Monza, 1953 saw the season finale where two Masseratis and two Ferraris would battle through the race for victory: using slip streaming that the track and the cars of the day were ideally suited to. Fangio in the Masserati was third going into the last lap behind the Ferraris of Farina and Ascari but both made mistakes and Fangio came through to win breaking a Ferrari domination of the World Championship races that, with the exception of the Indy 500 round, went back to the start of 1952.
1965 saw an Italian Grand Prix with greats of the age Surtees, Clark, Hill and Stewart all battling for the lead with Stewart eventually taking his first Grand Prix win in the BRM. 1967 and 1969 saw some very close finishes with John Surtees winning from Jack Brabham in 1967 after Clark ran out of fuel on the last lap and in 1969 Stewart won at Monza again, beating Jochen Rindt by 8 hundreths of a second. 1971 saw the closest finish in F1 history with Peter Gethin eventually winning having taken the lead coming out of the final corner and got a better run to win by 1 hundredth of a second with the top five within 6 tenths of a second.
Since aerodynamics have moved on slipstreaming is no longer a major part of racing even at Monza and races aren’t as close here as they used to be. In 2010 though we saw a fantastic race between Jenson Button and Alonso in which Alonso spent the first stint right up on Button’s gearbox but unable to get past.