The Italian Grand Prix

Introduction

The Italian Grand Prix is the most passionate and historical race in the sport of motor racing. The track at Monza is steeped in history. The race began elsewhere however, as the first championship was held on September 4th 1921 at Bresica. The race moved to the Autodroma Nazionale Monza the following year and has taken place each year there since.

It has always been one of the fastest races in the calendar, owing to originally basic of the track. This is demonstrated by the huge number of crashes that were caused by the earlier cars flying round the track and off its banked sides. It is now the the only Grand Prix course where cars exceed speeds of 200 miles per hour.

History of the Track

Motor racing started to become popular in the late nineteenth century. At this time it was illegal to race on public roads in the United Kingdom and so purpose built tracks had to be constructed. The alternative was to race in Ireland or on the Continent.

Although these early races were mainly tests of endurance on both the car and driver, speeds of over 100 miles per hour were not uncommon. This proved incredibly dangerous for both drivers and spectators, due to the lack of safe places to observe the race.

Italian Grand PrixItalian Grand Prix

It also meant that an entrance fee could not legally be charged and so were not cost effective for the sport. The competitions moved towards purpose built race tracks therefore, and the Autodroma Monza was one of the first and most important.

The track was constructed in 1922 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Milan Automobile Club. The S.I.A.S (Società Incremento Automobilismo e Sport) was set up to organise the construction that was funded entirely with private capital. The track was designed by the architect Alfredo Rosselli with various goals in mind.

Constructors wanted somewhere to test vehicles at top speeds, and so needed a good straight. It also needed to test the manoeuvrability and resilience of the machines under extreme conditions. In terms of creating a good racing track, there needed to be a balance of high speed sections and more demanding corners, all of which needed to be easy to place spectators round.

After a brief intervention over environmental concerns, the track was completed in August. The grand stands opened to the public in September. The track was 10 km in length and was built on an area of 340 hectares.

Aspects of the Track

The Grand Prix now consists of 53 laps round the track, and the track was adjusted to include extra chicanes. One lap is now 5.793 km and the total race distance 306.72 km.

One of the most famous aspects of the track is the final corner, or “parabolica”. It was the sight of one of Formula One’s most famous and exciting finishes. In 1971, Peter Gethin used the corner to emerge from a group of five tightly packed cars to win the race.

The course has had its fair share of tragedies. Motor racing has always been a sport where the power of the man-made vehicles has been difficult to match with appropriate safety technology. The cars which raced before the chicanes were introduced were very flimsy, and so on impact they would simply disintegrate, which would usually prove fatal for the driver.

Vast numbers of spectators have also been killed, with the constructors of the cars being held accountable, rather than the race organisers. Ronnie Peterson won the Italian Grand Prix in 1973, 1974 and again in 1976. Sadly this decade of success also saw his death in a crash at Monza in 1978.

The course is one of low down force. This means that the aerodynamics of the cars is adjusted so they are not set to cling to track with much force. In other Grand Prix events, measures are taken to ensure the cars do not lift off the ground.

History of the Italian Grand Prix

The Italian Grand Prix was the first event outside France to adopt the French name “Grand Prix”, although it was also known as the “Gran Primio” by many Italians. The event at Monza saw over 100,000 spectators pour into the purpose built stadium.

The fans stood right on the edge of the road, with minimal protection from the vehicles that came flying past. Many of the constructors pulled out of the competition for various reasons, and the competition was dominated by Fiat. This was a trend that held for the French Grand Prix the following year.

Part of the first World Championship took place in 1925 and consisted of the Italian, French and Belgian Grand Prix competitions as well as the Indianapolis 500. By the late 1920s, the Italian constructors Alfa Romeo and Maserati were beginning to overtake the French names such as Bugatti that had dominated the sport for so long. The races were already incredibly nationalistic, and the feeling that the Italians were stealing the sport from its creators fuelled this.

Ferrari won their first Italian Grand Prix under the driver Farina in 1950. Ten years later, the championship saw its first win by an American driver, Phil Hill. After the high number of accidents in the 1960s and 1970s, which were dominated by Lotus and Ferrari, the Williams and Honda teams began to enjoy more success. McLaren were also a powerful force in motor racing in the 1980s, winning in 1984 and 1985 in a partnership with TAG.

In the 1990s, the event was won by the names which dominated the sport until recently – Damon Hill, David Coulthard and Michael Schumacher being prime examples. Schumacher announced his retirement from motor racing after winning the 2006 Italian Grand Prix.

Ferrari in the Italian Grand Prix

Enzo Ferrari was born in February 1898 into a wealthy metal working family. This allowed him to pursue his interest in motor racing under his father’s financial support. He worked for Fiat and then Alfa Romeo, who were taken over by the Fascist government. The Alfa Romeo factories were heavily bombed and this meant that Ferrari could take much of his team from the Romeo workers.

Competitive motor racing was suspended during the war and Ferrari concentrated on making road cars which soon became status symbols for Italy’s bourgeois classes. This angered Enzo, saying it demeaned his skills as an engineer and car developer. He decided to concentrate on motor racing instead and Ferrari’s international motor sport debut was the 1948 Italian Grand Prix.

Ferrari had adopted the now eponymous Horse emblem from fighter pilot Prancesco Barraca in the 1920s. This symbol was well established by the 1940s and featured on the supercharged 125 F1 that Ferrari entered into the championship. The car came third in the races in Turin. The official Formula 1 Racing Championship began in 1950 and Ferrari is the only car constructor to have competed in every single season of the Formula 1 World Championship since.

Ferrari dominated the first decade of the competition with drivers Fangio, Gonzales and Ascari. This decade also saw the death of driver Castelotti in a tragic accident that also took the lives of 12 spectators, some of which were children. Enzo Ferrari was charged with manslaughter over the event.

Ferrari have the highest number of wins in the Italian Grand Prix, the figure currently stands at 18.

The Tifosi

Ferrari is one of the most successful constructors in the history of the Italian Grand Prix. This has given rise to it having one of the most dedicated fan bases in the sport. They refer to themselves as the Tifosi, literally meaning “loyal Ferrari fans”.

These supporters attend the various Grand Prix races in vast numbers dressed mostly in red, firing red beacons and turning the stands into a sea of red flags. Italy is the home of Ferrari and so the Italian Grand Prix, held at Monza (the Ferrari home track) is one of the main events in the Tifosi’s calendar. The track holds a great deal of sentimental value for the Ferrari fans as it is the sight of many of the constructors most remarkable performances.

Contact

  • Autodromo Nationale di Monza
  • Parco Monza
  • 200052 Monza
  • Tel: (39) 39 24821
  • Web: Official Website

Tickets

Tickets go on sale through the Official Track Website. Prices range from 100 to 200 euros, depending on when they are bought and the location of the seats.

The website has a comprehensive diagram of the track to show the exact position of available seats and respective prices. Tickets can of course be purchased through touts for massively inflated prices at the time of the event in Milan. Private and corporate hospitality boxes are also available but have a long waiting list and prices that make them relatively exclusive.

Travel

The track is 10 miles northwest of Milan’s city centre. Regular buses service the track during the Grand Prix. There are good parking facilities and the track is located on the S26, which can be reached from Milan via the A1 or A4. Low cost airlines now service Milan airport, although the budget tickets sell out well in advance of the event.