On Saturday, three-time world champion Sir Jackie Stewart drove his BRM P261 V8 around the legendary Autodromo - the car in which he took his first F1 victory here 50 years ago. And it was not just the car that was original - Stewart also brought along his helmet, goggles and trophy from that special day.
“It is quite unbelievable to think that it is 50 years since my first Grand Prix victory,” said the Scot. “In the 50 years that have passed since that momentous day, Formula One has grown and developed in a way that none of us could have imagined; it is without doubt the pinnacle of motorsport, demonstrating technological innovation and precision engineering at every level.”
Of course, mention Monza to any F1 fan and the first thing they think of is Ferrari. At the Scuderia, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne and Piero Lardi Ferrari led the cheers as Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel qualified second and third, aided by Jean Alesi, Rubens Barrichello, Pedro de la Rosa, Esteban Gutierrez, Jean-Eric Vergne, Arturo Merzario and former manager Cesare Fiorio.
The tifosi were also treated to the sight of this season’s Ferrari SF15-T appearing alongside a 1951 166 F2 on the legendary Monza banking, as fuel suppliers Shell celebrated their imminent upgrade to Innovation Partner of Scuderia Ferrari.
Elsewhere, Mika Hakkinen was at McLaren, Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan joined Tim Mayer as a steward, former Toleman, Benetton and Brabham racer Teo Fabi made a welcome appearance as did former F1 star Robert Kubica who was looking fit and well while dining with Toto and Susie Wolff in the Hotel de la Ville.
Former team boss Giancarlo Minardi was reunited with driver Paolo Barilla and rival Dallara team manager Piero-Paolo Gardella, and former Honda, McLaren and Sauber engine guru Osamu Goto was espied down at Red Bull. Former Lola chief Martin Birrane came to watch Status GP’s progress, while film director George Lucas and ‘An hour with…’ TV interviewer Charles Rose came to see Lewis Hamilton.
They and everyone in the paddock will be observing a minute’s silence shortly before Sunday’s Grand Prix in honour former F1 driver Justin Wilson, who died recently after succumbing to head injuries sustained in an IndyCar race in the United States. The former Minardi and Jaguar racer was 37.
On track, Saturday’s GP2 round produced plenty of action, as Alex Rossi scored his second consecutive victory for Racing Engineering after taking on and beating series champion-elect Stoffel Vandoorne with a pass late in a tense race.
The ART driver seemed on-course for yet another win after making his mandatory pit stop early on to get out of heavy traffic, but the American also stopped relatively early after making an excellent start from only eighth on the grid and hunted him down to take an impressive and deserved win that should put him firmly back on upcoming F1 entrant Gene Haas’s shopping list for 2016.
Norman Nato finished third on the road for Arden, but a time penalty for pit-lane speeding dropped him to fifth, giving Russian Time’s Mitch Evans a long overdue break as he completed the podium after a brilliant climb following a penalty that dropped him from the front row to 23rd in the starting line-up. He was just ahead of fellow New Zealander Richie Stanaway, who was again on feisty form for Status. He just fended off Evans’ team mate Artem Markelov.
Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly seemed to have the race sewn up with a 3s lead early on for DAMS, but was forced out when a wheel came loose after his pit stop. On a brutal day for the team there was also a delay with the right-rear wheel for team mate Alex Lynn who was a contender for a victory before later taking out Rapax’s Sergey Sirotkin with a late lunge in the first corner while trying to pass Vandoorne, an incident for which he was later penalised.
Campos’s Arthur Pic struggled with brake problems and lost places on the last lap to Evans, Stanaway and Markelov on his way to seventh, while a hard race with Rapax’s Robert Visoiu and MP Motorsport’s Rene Binder brought Racing Engineering’s Jordan King eighth and pole for Sunday morning’s race. King’s fellow Briton Jann Mardenborough had a tough GP2 debut for Carlin, taking 19th.