Races

Ahead of this weekend’s Italian GP, we take a closer look at Monza - Europe’s most historic racing circuit and home to some truly memorable Ferrari victories
Words – Gavin Green

Ferrari’s hometown is, proudly, Maranello. Its home track, though, is most certainly Monza – the world’s most storied, fastest and longest-serving Grand Prix circuit. 

 

It’s not known as ‘The Temple of Speed’ for nothing. The circuit has an average high speed of over 159mph, the fastest of any track on the calendar.

High-speed slipstreaming and 320 km/h (200 mph) wheel-to-wheel dicing are the norm. No circuit consistently serves such spectacular racing.

 


One of the closest run races in F1 history was the 1971 GP at Monza as five cars finished within a second of each other

No race engenders more passion, either. The tifosi who wear red and enthusiastically wave their Prancing Horse flags are every bit as fanatical as Manchester United fans at Old Trafford, or Real Madrid’s Los Blancos at the Bernabéu. Fortunately, they frequently have reason to cheer: Ferrari is Monza’s most successful team, having scored 20 wins.

 

Built inside one of Europe’s largest enclosed parks, just north of Milan, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monzawas the world’s third purpose-built motor racing circuit when it opened 100 years ago, after Brooklands (UK) and Indianapolis (USA). It hosted the second-ever Italian Grand Prix in 1922 and has been the site of every Italian GP since 1949, apart from 1980 (when it was being refurbished).

 

It’s been the scene of the world’s closest F1 race (the 1971 Italian GP, when the first five cars finished just 0.61 secs apart) and the world’s fastest (Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari victory in 2003, at an average speed of more than 247 km/h, or 153 mph). As a race that falls late in the season (invariably in September), it has frequently crowned world champions. It’s witnessed heroic wins and appalling tragedy, partly due to the unusually high speeds.

Glorious scenes in the skies above the 2021 GP D'Italia as the Italian Air Force Aerobatic Team show their true colours

Ferrari won its first Italian GP here in 1949. Alberto Ascari won at Monza again in 1951 and 1952, the latter underscoring a season of total domination. Ferrari won every championship GP that year, as it wrapped up its maiden world title. 

 

Poor Ascari would die at Monza in 1955 testing a sports car. That same year, Monza’s famous high-speed 4.2 km (2.6 mile) oval extension was built. The fastest circuit in F1 got even quicker. 

 

The oval stayed in use for sports car racing until 1969 and saw a hat trick of Ferrari victories at the Monza 1000 km from 1965-67. Perhaps the most memorable was the ’67 win, which followed the historic 24 hours of Daytona Ferrari 1-2-3. Again, the winning drivers were Chris Amon and Lorenzo Bandini. They spearheaded Ferrari to another World Sportscar Championship, the 13th since 1953.

After a thrilling battle with Lewis Hamilton, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc takes the chequered flag at Monza in 2019

Niki Lauda wrapped up his first World Drivers’ Championship in 1975 at Monza, as Clay Regazzoni won the race and Ferrari the constructors’ title. A year later, still horribly scarred and bleeding from his fiery Nürburgring crash, Lauda finished fourth at Monza after probably the bravest drive in F1 (and Monza) history. 

 

Later, there was Schumacher’s first Italian GP win for Ferrari, in 1996. He won again in 1998 and, even more memorably, in 2000 on his way to his first world title for the Scuderia. The mercurial German’s last Monza win – his fifth – was in 2006, his final year at Ferrari.

 

The Scuderia’s most recent Monza triumph was in 2019, when a very young Charles Leclerc upset runaway championship leader Lewis Hamilton by outsprinting the Mercedes driver to pole, and then outracing him in a classic wheel-to-wheel Monza battle. It was Leclerc’s second win for Ferrari. He’ll hope to score his second Italian GP triumph this Sunday.