100 years of Monza – We pick the most spectacular Italian Grands Prix from each decade of Formula 1
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Monza, the Temple of Speed – one of Formula 1's historic, storied venues that has hosted all but one Italian Grand Prix. We look back at some of Monza's most amazing races from each decade of the Formula 1 World Championship.
1950s – 1950 Italian Grand Prix
It seems fitting to start this feature by going all the way back to the 1950 Italian Grand Prix – the first Formula 1 season to include a World Drivers’ Championship. As the seventh and final round of the campaign, Monza played host to a three-way shootout for the title involving Alfa Romeo team mates Giuseppe Farina, Juan Manuel Fangio and Luigi Fagioli.
While Fangio started the weekend on top with pole position, his race would effectively end twice due to technical issues (having taken over a team mate’s car in the first instance). This opened the door for Farina, who scrapped with Ferrari’s Alberto Ascari up front until the latter encountered gremlins of his own and also had to take machinery from a team mate. From there, Farina enjoyed a clear run to victory and – along with it – his place in the history books as F1’s first world champion.
1960s – 1967 Italian Grand Prix
Jim Clark put on one of the greatest F1 performances ever at Monza in 1967. The Lotus driver qualified on pole position, lost out at the start, and despite engine issues he passed the likes of Graham Hill and Jack Brabham to jostle with Denny Hulme for the lead.
A puncture spelled disaster, or so the fans thought, and Clark was put a lap down in P15 early in the race. Cue absolute magic from the Scotsman, who unlapped himself within 10 laps and set a stunning pace to join the lead battle much later on when Hill’s engine gave away. Clark retook the lead with seven laps left but he ran out of fuel on the final tour, which gave John Surtees’ Honda works team their first and only win at Monza – from P9 on the grid.
1970s – 1971 Italian Grand Prix
To this day, the closest finish in F1 history belongs to the 1971 running of the Italian Grand Prix. Remarkably – after 55 laps and almost an hour-and-a-half of racing – the top five drivers were covered by little more than half a second at the chequered flag.
Heading out of the sweeping Parabolica for the final time, the lead pack jostled for position down the lengthy start-finish straight until BRM’s Peter Gethin crossed the line just 0.010 seconds clear of March rival Ronnie Peterson.
Francois Cevert (Tyrrell) and Mike Hailwood (Surtees) followed in the blink of an eye for P3 and P4, with Gethin’s BRM team mate, Howden Ganley, also in close company in P5. It was a race – and climax – befitting of Monza’s ‘Temple of Speed’ title.
1980s – 1988 Italian Grand Prix
How could we overlook a Ferrari one-two on their hallowed home turf – the only non-McLaren win of the 1988 season? With Ayrton Senna two seconds ahead of team mate Alain Prost at the end of Lap 1, the crowd could only hope for Gerhard Berger to complete the podium, Arrows’ Eddie Cheever battling for P4 against Benetton’s Thierry Boutsen.
But when Prost’s Honda engine gave in on Lap 34, Berger triumphantly passed the ailing McLaren. A member of the Maranello clergy must have been praying incredibly hard, as on Lap 49 of 51, Senna tangled with Jo Schlesser. With that, McLaren’s stunning run was over – and Ferrari scored a one-two for the ages, just weeks after the death of founder Enzo Ferrari. They’d have to wait another decade for a one-two at Monza…
1990s – 1999 Italian Grand Prix
The final Italian Grand Prix of the 20th century saw Mika Hakkinen go spinning and Heinz-Harald Frentzen winning as the 1999 title race got blown wide open with just three rounds to run. Hakkinen converted pole position at the start to build a solid lead over Frentzen, with victory seemingly a formality as the Finn attempted to strengthen his championship advantage.
However, shortly after the halfway mark, Hakkinen misjudged his entry to the Rettifilo chicane and dramatically spun off – leading to the well-known footage of his tears at the trackside. Frentzen seized P1 and never looked back to take his second win of the season and bring himself into title contention. As it transpired, Hakkinen did enough over the remaining races to beat Eddie Irvine – who endured his own misfortune in the pit lane at the Nurburgring next time out – to a second crown, while Frentzen and Jordan’s challenge faded.
2000s – 2008 Italian Grand Prix
Rain, at Monza, and an Italian team on pole position? Count us in. That team in question wasn’t Ferrari (nor Minardi) but Toro Rosso. Sebastian Vettel, at just 21 years and 72 days old, became F1’s youngest pole-sitter the day before. As soon as the Safety Car retreated into the pits, the German driver smashed the pedal and led the race away, pitting early for wets and taking on the kerbs of Ascari with the confidence of a four-time world champion (to be, at least).
Under the slate clouds of Monza, Toro Rosso would finally have their moment in the sun (to paraphrase then-commentator James Allen’s line), with a stunning victory of 12.5s over McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen. Having led 49 of 53 laps on offer, Vettel dominated in the toughest of conditions to become Formula 1’s newest, and youngest, race winner.
2010s – 2019 Italian Grand Prix
Fresh from his maiden F1 victory in Belgium, Charles Leclerc headed to Monza for his first Italian Grand Prix as a Ferrari driver. What followed must have felt like a dream as he secured a memorable win in front of the passionate tifosi – Ferrari’s first triumph at the venue since Fernando Alonso in 2010.
Leclerc led the way from the outset, posting the fastest lap time in both of Friday’s practice sessions, grabbing pole and, ultimately, taking victory. But the race was far from straightforward for the Monegasque, with Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas pushing him all the way.
Hamilton came close to making a move on several occasions, prompting some firm defensive driving from Leclerc, before the Briton locked up and pitted to hand P2 to Bottas, who applied similar pressure. Leclerc, though, had just enough pace in hand to hold on for the win, prompting frenzy in the grandstands.
2020s – 2021 Italian Grand Prix
The previous year produced a classic in which Pierre Gasly’s emotion was palpable as he took his maiden victory. Surely the 2021 Italian Grand Prix would be a straight-forward win for Valtteri Bottas, given how tough the drivers found it to pass during the Sprint? Well, Bottas’s engine-related grid penalties said otherwise. So Daniel Ricciardo would share the front row with Verstappen and lead the championship contender away, rival Lewis Hamilton following in P3.
Tensions boiled over when Hamilton emerged from the pits ahead of Verstappen and the two went side-by-side into the opening chicane and collided, the Red Bull ending up stacked on top of the Mercedes – and the McLarens blazed past. The only one-two of the season, and McLaren's first win since 2012. Cue the latest, perhaps greatest, shoey.