SEP 07th 2015

Henry Hope‑Frost – Madness at Monza

Funny how Formula 1 routinely courts controversy at the drop of a hat. Must be something to do with the heady cocktail of ego, brains and cash.

What did we have at Monza yesterday? A backlash over the Mercedes cars’ tyre pressures that led to a will-he-lose-his-win-or-not period of uncertainty following Lewis Hamilton’s third victory at the historic Italian Grand Prix venue.

And that sensitivity was brought into sharper focus when you realised that a Ferrari had finished second on home soil.

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Fortunately, sense prevailed and the stewards chose to take no further action. The World Championship leader’s 40th career win – his seventh of the season – was safe, much to the probable private chagrin of his team-mate Nico Rosberg, whose engine failure yesterday put a massive dent in his own title aspirations.

I really didn’t fancy fielding texts and calls from partially interested friends, for whom F1 is an easy target, about disqualifications.

‘Why’s Lewis been DSQd?’

‘Oh, well, he didn’t have quite enough air in his tyres.’

‘What the…?’

That hot air, however much there was – or wasn’t – has wafted away, although there’s a much bigger problem that’s been brewing for a while: the threat to the super-fast, super-fever, super-famous Autodromo Nazionale di Monza’s status as Italian GP host.

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This legendary venue has hosted more World Championship Grands Prix since they first came to pass in 1950 than any other circuit. On 65 occasions (every year except one), including yesterday, Formula 1 has worshipped at one of the oldest and finest temples of speed in the whole of motorsport. That’s three, 16 and 17 times respectively more than next-best Monaco, Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps.

And yet it appears the sport’s ringmaster, Bernie Ecclestone, is in negotiation deadlock with the circuit’s owners over race-hosting fees and how many noughts should appear in the price.

I’ve expressed concern about the European heart of F1 slowly being ripped out in this column before; now, the thought of Monza losing its place on the calendar because it can’t afford it is an unutterably terrible one for fans everywhere, in particular the passionate Italian ‘tifosi’.

You only had to see how they flocked in their thousands onto the track to herald Sebastian Vettel’s second place for Ferrari. That sea of red, which has added to the magic of the place since day one, cannot be ignored.

The four-time World Champion added his voice to concerns in a most succinct way after the race, which he admitted brought him “the best second place I’ve ever had”.

The German, who broke his F1 duck with a Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso in the rain-lashed Italian GP of 2008, said:

“If we take this [Grand Prix] away from the calendar for any *****y money reasons, you are basically ripping our hearts out. The emotions here are incredible.”

And Hamilton backed him up: “This circuit is such a special one. When you stand on that podium you feel incredibly proud to be among all the greats that have stood up there. The sea of fans is unlike anything I’ve seen. It’s one of the best tracks in the world; this has to stay here for moral reasons.”

With any luck Ferrari, to whom Ecclestone is historically more inclined to acquiesce, will not let it happen, although of course Mercedes couldn’t save this year’s German GP.

In truth, if Monza gets dropped from the F1 calendar over money squabbles I shall probably give up…

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