29.5km north of the Italian capital of Milan, the Autodromo Nazionale Monza is the oldest circuit in Formula 1 history, and it is the home not only spiritually of Formula 1, but also of title contenders and F1’s oldest team: Ferrari.
The first ever race at Monza was held back in 1922, with Frenchman André Dubonnet taking the race. Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver at Monza, with five victories and it was after his last win there in 2006 that he announced his initial retirement from F1. His Ferrari victories were always the scene of jubilation from the Ferrari faithful, but let’s not forget the other Italian team: Toro Rosso. Sebastian Vettel took a remarkable wet-weather victory for the Red Bull junior team in 2008. The start of a glorious career, which has now seen him end up as the darling of Ferrari as he attempts to bring Championship success back to Maranello.
Lurking in the background of the track is an echo of the past; the old banking that was a feature of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza provided scary, high-speed, adrenaline-filled racing and posed an incredible amount of danger for drivers. One mistake or twitch of the back end and the consequences could, and sometimes were, very grave indeed. In 1928, a crash involving Emilio Materassi, took his life along with the lives of 27 spectators, and in 1933, Giuseppe Campari, Baconin Borzacchini and Stanislaw Czaykowski all lost their lives to the old banking. That particular race would be known as “Black Sunday.” After the 1969 race at Monza, the track layout was altered and the banks were disused, they are however a beautiful and mind-blowing attraction for spectators.
Monza now consists of 11 turns, three of which are named after the great Alberto Ascari. Months after being fished out of the harbour at the Monaco Grand Prix, he crashed at the then flat-out corner during a test run and lost his life. This one corner was then turned into a triple-corner chicane and it was named after the Italian driver.
Monza is very much a power circuit, which over the last few years and even at the start of this year favoured Mercedes. However, some significant gains from Ferrari have now meant that, as Lewis Hamilton acknowledged last time out in Belgium, Ferrari have the power and straight-line speed advantage over Mercedes. Red Bull isn’t expecting their power upgrades to come in time for the Italian Grand Prix, so this could be a real fight for the win between Ferrari and Mercedes.
This power advantage could finally mean victory for Ferrari on home turf. The Tifosi have become restless at not only the lack of Championship success in recent years, but also the lack of success at Monza for Ferrari. Their last win on home soil came eight years ago, when Fernando Alonso beat McLaren’s Jenson Button to victory. Furthermore, Vettel enters this weekend on a high having comfortably beaten Hamilton in Spa – another power track – and closed the gap in the Championship to 17 points.
As a result, the Championship fight is finely poised coming into the final seven races of the season, as Ferrari look to bring the fight to Mercedes at the Italian fortress.
Featured image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool