Motorsport: The one and only Monza
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You drive down the Viale Cesare Battisti along an impressive boulevard leading to the huge Royal Villa of Monza and turn left at the historic and ornately luxurious Hotel de la Ville, on to the Viale Brianza.
Then you leave the chaotic Italian drivers behind, turning right into the beautiful Parco di Monza, a beautiful lung for the nearby city of Milan.
You see signs for Curva Parabolica and Curva di Lesmo and you can feel you have arrived at one of the most atmospheric, evocative racing circuits in the world: Monza.
The Grand Prix circuit, opened in 1922, regularly sees the highest speeds reached on the Formula 1 circuit with 330km/h considered normal on the long straights.
The tifosi — fans — are as legendary as the track and, for them, Ferrari is the only show in town. If Ferraris encounter problems mid-race, the true tifosa leaves the circuit, never mind that the race is continuing.
Modern Formula 1 has done its best to sanitise many of the “old” tracks and Monza is no different, but reminders remain.
The high, banked oval track was used during the 1950s and 60s by Indianapolis-style cars. It was last used for racing in 1969 and is now fenced off from the general public but is a popular spot for tourist photos. Old garages with cobbled parking in front, perhaps the finest motorsport bookshop in the world, old men on bicycles — the Italian way.
The pits complex is as modern as any but walk a couple of hundred metres outside and you are transported back to previous generations.
The Milanese people are different from other Italians and perhaps more passionate about Formula 1.
Buying a general pass is anathema. The essential equipment to gain entry is a handy pair of sidecutters to deal with any fence that may have the temerity to be in the way.
I witnessed the armed guard we employed to look after our securely fenced compound removing his gun and taking aim at a small crowd of young men cutting through the fence.
They continued cutting and walked straight past him, leaving him crouching, James Bond-like, aiming at the hole left behind.
Within the circuit and park are many good restaurants. The waiters have a way about them found nowhere else.
At a team dinner, the table was loaded with a copious quantity of unlabelled wine, good to drink but who knew what it actually was. The two bottles immediately in front of me looked as if they were short of a couple of glasses or more.
I complained and the horror on the waiter’s face was worthy of an Oscar. Dramatic apologies followed as he got all the other waiters together. With much hand-waving they collected all the bottles, took them to a nearby flowerbed and poured out at least two glasses from each.
Back to the table they came, proudly exclaiming that all the bottles were now the same!
Monza is a place of atmosphere, heritage, legend, the very soul of the sport and perhaps even a place of ghosts and a place where it seems that organised chaos is but a step away from the full-blown version.
It is also a place of great speed and great racing where the art of slipstreaming is learned and honed on a circuit that can never be replicated or replaced.
As with Monaco, Silverstone, Spa and Suzuka, Formula 1 would be all the poorer should politics or profit ever be the sole gauge of a track’s worth.