La Pista Magica - Magical Monza 08 Sep 2010
Its a tough ask to follow Spa-Francorchamps on the Formula One calendar - but Monza can. The legendary circuit, which will host the Italian Grand Prix this weekend, boasts enough history, passion, speed and magic to offer up an unmissable event in front of some of the most fervent fans.
On paper it looks like no other track. Its layout is deceptively simple, but masks what is widely-regarded as one of the toughest challenge on the calendar. Dominated by long straights, but punctuated by slow chicanes, the circuit demands minimum downforce and maximum speed. Affectionately labelled a car-breaker, nowhere is tougher on brakes and engines than Monza, which boasts average speeds of around 250 km/h and top speeds of 340 km/h.
The original Monza circuit was built back in 1922 in just six months. The third permanent race track in existence (after Brooklands in the UK and Indianapolis in the US) it was a colossal 10 kilometres in length and featured a banked oval. Of course the modern circuit is much-changed, but the setting - deep in the heart of a royal park - remains just as special and the track is just as quick.
Monzas location, and the occasional glimpses of its now abandoned banking through the parks grand old trees is special enough, but its the lingering history of the place that will really give you goose bumps. Having hosted more Grands Prix than any other venue, 2010 will see the circuit stage its 60th Italian Grand Prix - just as the Formula One championship celebrates its own 60th birthday. If you have any feeling for history you will be affected. Guaranteed.
Monza has set the scene for some of the best Formula One races of all time, including the one with the closest finish - the Italian Grand Prix of 1971 when Peter Gethin popped his BRM out of the slipstream of Ronnie Petersons March to cross the line just 0.01 seconds ahead of the Swede after averaging 150.754 mph across 55 laps. The top five drivers were separated by just 0.6s.
Unsurprisingly Ferrari, based just 200 kilometres away in Maranello, have taken the most wins at the track - 17 in total - with nine different drivers behind the wheel, including Alberto Ascari (1951, 1952) John Surtees (1964), Ludovico Scarfiotti (1966) and Gerhard Berger (1988). Alongside Ascari, Scarfiotti remains the only other Italian driver to win for Ferrari at Monza. On top of that the team have scored 59 podium finishes and 18 fastest laps at the venue.
Ferrari have also celebrated many important anniversaries at Monza. In 1952, the team marked their tenth pole position and win, courtesy of the aforementioned Ascari. Just four years later, in 1956, Juan Manuel Fangio scored their 25th pole. And in 2004, Rubens Barrichello took the Scuderias 175th pole. Of all teams, past and present, Ferrari have led the most laps at Monza - 1139 since 1951.
Then there are the fans. If Ferrari are the team and Italian drivers the heroes, then the Tifosi are indisputably the spirit of Monza. During a race weekend the atmosphere at the circuit is unlike anywhere else on earth and since Imola departed the F1 calendar, Monza has become the place of pilgrimage for any Italian Formula One fan. From the noise, which some drivers claim they can hear over the sound of their engines, to the flag-filled grandstands, the fence-climbing, track-swarming Tifosi are a law unto themselves and as much of a draw as the racing.
They are unquestionably the heart and soul of the place and all will be hoping that either Fernando Alonso or Felipe Massa score Ferraris first win since 2006 at the circuit this weekend - or that Force Indias Vitantonio Liuzzi or Lotuss Jarno Trulli claims the first Monza win for an Italian driver since Scarfiotti in 66. Only then will La Pista Magica, or the magic track, truly live up to its name.