Monza: one of the last bastions of old-school, high-speed, proper race tracks. Its hallowed asphalt, which snakes through a royal park outside Milan, has played host to a World Championship Grand Prix every year bar one since Formula 1 was born in 1950. Only in 1980, when the Italian GP went to Imola while Monza was being refurbished, has the legendary Autodromo Nazionale not reverberated to the sound of racing’s top discipline.
AUG 31st 2016
Six of the best... Memorable Monza moments
And this weekend, the class of 2016 will do battle through such iconic sweeps as Curva Grande, Curva di Lesmo, Variante Ascari and Curva Parabolica.
With the 66th Italian Grand Prix a few days away, we’ve looked back over races of yore and picked out one classic from each complete decade since World Championship Grand Prix racing first arrived at Monza in 1950.
The final round of the 1956 produced a championship showdown you simply could not have made up. Poleman Juan Fangio’s Lancia-Ferrari D50 broke a steering arm, the team trying – and failing – to persuade Luigi Musso to hand over his healthy stead to the Argentinian, who stood on the brink of a fourth world title – unless Peter Collins could win and take fastest lap. Unthinkably, Collins handed over his D50 to Fangio, thereby spoiling his own title chances. Fangio brought Collins’ car home in second, behind the winning Maserati 250F of Stirling Moss, another crown guaranteed.
The masterful Jim Clark, armed with Colin Chapman’s Lotus 49 and the new-for-’67 Cosworth DFV, led until lap 12 before a puncture looked to have put paid to his afternoon. A lap behind, he fought back through the field, retaking the lead with eight laps remaining. Fuel-pump trouble on the penultimate lap then dropped the Scot behind the pursuing Jack Brabham and John Surtees, the Briton hanging on to take his and Honda’s final win (until Jenson Button won for the Japanese marque in 2006, of course!)
This classic slipstreamer went into the record books as the closest finish in Formula 1 history. The last year of pre-chicane Monza meant a train of cars circulated at high speed for lap after lap. Eight drivers – Ronnie Peterson, Chris Amon, François Cevert, Mike Hailwood, Clay Regazzoni, Jo Siffert, Peter Gethin and Jackie Stewart – took a turn at the front of the 55-lap thrash, but it was British BRM driver Gethin who led when it mattered most. Gethin had led laps 52 and 53 of 55, losing out to Peterson’s March on lap 54. And, then, in the sprint to the flag, the BRM driver edged back ahead on the sprint to the flag, beating the Swede by 0.01s. The rest of the leading pack comprised Cevert’s Tyrrell, Hailwood’s Surtees and Howden Ganley’s BRM and they all finished within six-tenths of a second of Gethin. If you blinked, you probably missed it.
Enzo Ferrari, supreme being to the passionate Italian tifosi, had died in the August. This was the first Italian Grand Prix without Il Commendatore watching from afar (he stopped going to races after the death of his son Dino) and the fans wanted the red cars to put on a show. Problem was, the McLaren-Hondas of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost had between them won all 11 races that year. When they qualified in their customary one-two in Ferrari’s backyard it looked like win number 12 was in the bag. There was a chance of a double podium for the F1/87-88Cs when Alain Prost’s Honda engine let go, but nothing prepared the home crowd for what happened with two laps to go. Senna tripped over the backmarking Williams of F1 debutant Jean-Louis Schlesser and beached the McLaren on a kerb. Cue a frenzy in the stands as the tifosi witnessed the first Ferrari one-two at Monza for nine years.
Double world champion Michael Schumacher had joined an on-the-ropes Ferrari, which had won just two races in five seasons, for 1996, taking his first win for the Scuderia in Spain and doubling up in Belgium. Could the German horse whisperer deliver a home win at Monza in year one? That’s what would really certify his position within the hallowed halls of Maranello. He qualified the F310 third behind the dominant Williams-Renaults of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve and had to give best to Hill and Jean Alesi, the man with whom he’d done a Benetton/Ferrari swap, for 30 laps. After outwitting the Frenchman on pitstop strategy, Schumacher got in front and reeled off the remaining 22 laps to seal an historic win. And he’d win four more times at Monza in a red car, his status assured forever.
Those who witnessed 21-year-old Sebastian Vettel’s performance for Red Bull junior team Scuderia Toro Rosso at a rain-lashed Monza in 2008 aren’t in the least bit surprised that the German became a four-time World Champion once he’d got his hands on a senior-team car. Vettel secured pole in the wet, took off at the front after a safety-car start and, bar four laps during the pitstop cycle, led every lap to become the youngest winner of a Grand Prix – a record he took from Fernando Alonso and only lost this year to Max Verstappen. It was an early demonstration of the class of one of the sport’s very best.
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