A history of the Italian Grand Prix 08 Sep 2004
Over half a century of Formula One racing at Monza
The Monza circuit near Milan has hosted more Grand Prix events than any other venue. The original track opened in 1922 and the 2004 race will be the 54th Italian Grand Prix held at Monza. It has staged the event every year since the inception of the world championship in 1950, with 1980's race at Imola the only exception.
Monza has seen countless layout changes over the years, but has always remained incredibly fast, even with the addition of chicanes from the 1970s onwards designed to slow the cars down. Intermittently between 1955 and 1961 the Grand Prix track even featured a banked circuit section, which was combined with the traditional 'road circuit' to form a lap over six miles long.
The first world championship Grand Prix at Monza in 1950 was fittingly won by an Italian driver in an Italian car. Giuseppe Farina took victory for Alfa Romeo after fighting off the challenge of home rivals Ferrari. However, Ferrari struck back the following year with Alberto Ascari clinching the first of two successive Monza wins.
In 1953 it was the turn of another Italian constructor, Maserati. At the wheel, the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio began a run of three consecutive Italian Grand Prix triumphs (the latter two with Mercedes), but only after a dramatic final lap. Ascari spun and was hit by another car, while Farina was forced on to the grass, leaving Fangio to cruise past to the flag.
Stirling Moss became the first British driver to win the Italian Grand Prix in 1956, the second year the race had included the famous banking. He did it again in 1957, this time on the traditional circuit and this time with a British team, Vanwall. Fellow Brit Tony Brooks triumphed in the same car in '58, before Moss returned to the top of the Monza podium in '59, this time at the wheel of a Cooper-Climax.
History was made at Monza in 1960 when Phil Hill became the first American to win a Formula One Grand Prix. He made it two in a row in 1961 with a victory that also brought him that year's drivers' title. However, his success was overshadowed by a tragic accident on the race's opening lap, which left Ferrari team mate Wolfgang von Trips and more than a dozen spectators dead after the German collided with Jim Clark's Lotus.
It was a Hill again in 1962, this time Graham, at the wheel of a BRM. Clark, John Surtees and Jackie Stewart (the Scot's first Grand Prix win in 1965) continued the British domination of the event in the following years. Their run was broken in 1966 by Italian Ludovico Scarfiotti, who led home a Ferrari one-two to the delight of his home crowd.
The 1969 race saw another thrilling finish, with four cars attempting to slipstream past each other on the final straight. Leading them home was Stewart, his second Monza win bringing him the first of his three driver titles.
The high-speed dangers of Monza were brought home again in 1970 when Austrian Jochen Rindt was killed in qualifying after a mechanical failure on his Lotus. He subsequently became Formula One racing's only posthumous world champion. Clay Regazzoni went on to win the race for Ferrari.
In 1971, British driver Peter Gethin took an unexpected win for BRM after one of the tightest finishes ever. Gethin was one of five drivers separated by just 0.6 seconds as they crossed the finishing line, and his winning margin over Ronnie Peterson in second was less than a hundredth of a second. It was also, until the 2003 event, the fastest race in Formula One history.
That race was to mark the end of the 'slipstreaming era' at Monza. For 1972, in the interests of safety, two chicanes were added to the circuit. Emerson Fittipaldi won the first Grand Prix on the revised layout for Lotus and Peterson continued the British team's success at Monza in '73 and '74. He won again with March in 1976, before his strongest circuit tragically claimed his life after a start-line pile-up in 1978.
Monza lost the Italian Grand Prix for a single season in 1980 when Nelson Piquet triumphed at Imola for Brabham. When the race returned the following year it was Alain Prost who made it an all-French affair, winning for Renault. Fellow Frenchman Rene Arnoux repeated the feat in 1982.
McLaren were the team to beat in 1984 and '85, with Niki Lauda and Prost taking a victory apiece, before Piquet scored back-to-back wins for Williams in '86 and '87, the latter coming after a mistake by compatriot Ayrton Senna handed the Brazilian the lead.
Senna again lost out in 1988 when a collision with backmarker Jean-Louis Schlesser gave victory to Gerhard Berger. The Austrian led home Michele Alboreto for a Ferrari one-two, a fitting tribute to company founder Enzo Ferrari who had died just weeks earlier.
Senna finally scored a Monza win in 1990. The following year he had to give best to the Williams of Nigel Mansell, but he then fought back in '92, taking victory from the Benettons of Martin Brundle and Michael Schumacher.
Damon Hill won for Williams in 1993 after an engine failure for team mate Prost gifted him the lead. He was victorious again in '94, when further changes were made to the track in light of Senna's death at Imola, coming from third on the grid to see off Berger's Ferrari. In '95 he clashed with Schumacher, allowing Johnny Herbert to come through and take the flag for Benetton.
Schumacher became the darling of Italy in 1996 when he gave Ferrari their first home win in eight years. The following season though it was McLaren on top of the podium, with a superior pit-stop strategy helping David Coulthard to come from sixth on the grid to overhaul pole-position man Jean Alesi in the Benetton.
It was another Ferrari one-two in 1998, as Schumacher came home over half a minute clear of team mate Eddie Irvine, while in 1999 Heinz-Harald Frentzen scored one of two season wins for Jordan.
The 2000 race came down to a straight fight between Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen, the German winning, with brother Ralf the best part of a minute down the road in third. However the race was marred by the death of a marshal, who was struck by debris following a five-car pile-up at the second chicane.
A sombre air also accompanied the 2001 race, which came less than a week after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The near fatal accident involving Formula One veteran Alex Zanardi in that weekend's CART race in Germany compounded the sober mood. It led to talk of drivers 'taking it easy' on the first lap to avoid any incidents, but when the lights changed most seemed to be racing as usual. None more so than William's Juan Pablo Montoya, who scored the first victory of his Formula One career.
In 2002, Ferrari survived the first-corner chaos to take a dominant one-two, with Rubens Barrichello leading Schumacher. With both Williams retiring and the two McLarens colliding with one another, it was left to Eddie Irvine to finish an unexpected third for Jaguar.
Heading to Monza last year, Ferrari had won just one of the previous five races and desperately needed a return to form to keep theirs and Michael Schumachers title bids alive. They found that form in style, with Schumacher taking pole position and a convincing win in front of the delighted tifosi. Barrichello was third behind the Williams of Montoya, whose team mate Marc Gene finished a highly-creditable fifth, standing in for the injured Ralf Schumacher.