The city of Monza sits approximately nine miles to the north-east of Milan. The region was conquered by the Romans and Milan was declared the capital of the Western Roman Empire. It stood as a colossus against the rest of the world, even though there were some quarters who did not believe in the iconic value of this region. Armies came but it would take something special to break this fortress.
Similarities in these thoughts can be made with the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, which now stands like that colossus, but no longer controlled by the Romans. This is a motor racing land now but it still has its enemies. Will the Monza empire crumble and fraction off into a new era? True Formula One fans, those who have grown with this beast of a circuit, stand like centurions, guarding the gates of this fortified, fuel injected dynasty. Surely this can’t be the end of one of the most iconic circuits in the world?
The red flag of Ferrari dominates the scenery as far as the eye can see, but the dominance is being tested by the growing barbarians that gather. The settlements of Mercedes and Red Bull gaze down at the Tifosi who vehemently stare back, their eyes stubbornly piercing with the Italian flair for all to see, waving arms and passionate cries. Ferrari will not secede and Monza will never surrender.
Nineteen victorious moments the red machine has cried in joy here in Northern Italy, they have been here before. The challenge of Auto Union and Alfa Romeo in the 1930s and 1940s, the Mercedes 1950s revolution. How did this proud army withstand the onslaught of Lotus (70s), McLaren (80s and 90s) and Williams (80s and 90s)? Because like Monza, they are proud.
The table at Monza is a stirring pot of passion and heroic ideology. At the head of the banquet sits the German conqueror Michael Schumacher with his glorious 5 wins in battle. Seated next to him a man who travelled across the Atlantic to tame the Monza beast four times during the eighties, Nelson Piquet. They sit proudly knowing that among all the challengers who ventured to Northern Italy, they are the best, the gladiators in this epic arena who tamed the beast and made it bow in defeat.
Before these two Monza greats are gathered are the men who tasted victory on three occasions. Tazio Nuolari looks on with Italian pride with his countryman Alberto Ascari. They were a decade (or just over) apart in their victories but they hold the legion flag as the Italians who have won the most times, defending their honour. Before Nelson Piquet, other warriors made the trek across the world to fight the Italian dragon; the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio who successfully tamed this track three times in the fifties. Another Brazilian master would see victory here as Rubens Barrichello marched on in 2002, 2004 and 2009. The Scandinavians were not going to be defeated by the Italian tarmac. Ronnie Peterson came and conquered Monza in the seventies, he remains the only driver from this part of Europe to do so. He sadly would also lose his life at this great circuit.
What about the proud British?
Stylish and with an air of arrogance, two men, sixty years apart have looked Monza in the eye and taken their mechanical sword and thrust it through the heart of Monza. Stirling Moss was triumphant here in 1956, 1957 and 1959 before Lewis Hamilton returned the British pride of treble wins in 2012, 2014 and 2015. The Germans too would see victory again. Sebastian Vettel winning on three occasions but back then he was not driving a red car. His reception will be so much more different now.
Only two men can join Nelson Piquet at the head of the banquet, Vettel and Hamilton. The Tifosi will be hoping a German can bring Italian victory, whereas the Brits are pinning their arrogant hopes on Hamilton.
A gladiatorial arena of long straights, tight chicanes and the sweeping parabolica. An air of mechanical war is sweeping across Europe this evening. The Italians are ready for battle again, but will they see a twentieth victory? Will the Tifosi bellow with a passionate roar that will shake the stands where they sit and sway the trees that line the old track banked on the outside of the new. That same old track that witnessed the challengers from yesteryear arrive full of hopes and dreams with one goal in mind. To conquer the beast of Monza.
This is the place where Jochen Rindt lost his life, the only racing driver in Formula One to have won the world title posthumously.
For those who believe that this circuit should be consigned to the vaults of history with the memories of battle that it has served up in the past, think again. This old girl is not ready to give up her charms and she certainly will not go down without a fight.
Monza Magnifico. The beast returns this weekend. The empire shall not crumble.
Photo Credit to Neil Simmons
2nd September 2016