Everything you need to know about the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, home of the Italian Grand Prix.
Circuit Guide: Autodromo Nazionale di Monza
Location: Monza, Lombardy
Known for: F1, GT, Endurance, Superbikes
Type: Permanent Circuit
Monza is a great old dinosaur of speed and walls. It’s a throwback to an earlier age of motor racing, and no matter how often it makes a desperate attempt to modernise, it never quite manages to shed its skin. And that is a very good thing.
Monza’s road course has been in use since the Formula One World Championship began. Over the years it’s had its teeth pulled with the inclusion of the chicanes, and by having the flat-out sections tightened to allow gravel traps to be built around the outside. Lately gravel has given way to asphalt run-offs in a couple of places – but it’s still a far cry from the modern idea of responsible circuit design, and still a circuit subject to the ire of the drivers’ union from time to time – usually about the Roggia chicane.
The temple of ultra-high speed.
Since the redesign of Hockenheim, Monza has stood alone on the F1 calendar (and many other racing schedules) as the temple of ultra-high speed. It’s right out at the flattened edges of the bell curve and is so far outside the normal parameters of a modern circuit that it demands a unique aero package. The ‘Monza-spec’ is an ultra-low drag, skinny-winged beast that sees cars hit their highest speeds of the year. The low-drag cars don’t have as much downforce, so they’re not so clever around the corners – but Monza only has six of those so the compromise between good speed through the turns and being fast on the straights is different to how it would usually be.
The circuit sits within the park of the Royal Villa. It’s a vast, sprawling place and, depending on which gate you come in and where the road marshals misdirect you on any given day there’s plenty to see. There’s a golf course, an international school, impossibly ornate villas, a very exclusive restaurant and a working dairy farm. There’s also the famous old Monza high-speed circuit crumbling away in the woods for those who care to wander out to see it.
Milan to the south and Lake Como to the north provide very different atmospheres for anyone visiting the area, but most race people tend to stay in Monza itself or the surrounding suburbs. The town (actually a city, though it doesn’t feel like it) has an odd relationship with its most famous feature. It is perhaps a little too genteel for the regular invasions of petrolheads to which it is subjected – and has launched legal complaints about noise before now – but it does provide plenty of opportunities to eat well and sit outside bars watching the world go by.
The residents do have a point about the noise: Monza is a power circuit and a lot of the lap is spent at full throttle. It holds most of F1’s speed records – but being the fastest does have its drawbacks. With F1 races measuring 300-ish kilometres it’s usually the shortest race of the year, with the record being 2003’s Italian Grand Prix which went the distance in a time of 1h14m19.838s. Considering the Singapore Grand Prix gets close to the maximum two-hour mark, spectators at Monza don’t get much of a bang for their buck. But they do get to go to Monza, which makes it all worthwhile.
Of course for anyone who isn’t a Ferrari fan, Monza can be a pretty lonely place. Red is definitely the colour, and nowhere more so than in the Parabolica grandstands, which are more like a football stadium than a race track.
Monza has a fine record as a venue for endurance racing, with sportscars and GTs both coming here. It also hosts a round of the WTCC championship. From the 1920s when the circuit was constructed it’s been a home to bikes and cars, though for many years it fell out of favour with the two-wheeled community, considered just too dangerous, but with new asphalt run-offs in place it’s attracted the World Superbikes. Max Biaggi’s superpole and double win for Aprilia in 2010, on his way to the WSB title, was pretty popular. In junior open-wheel racing, Monza sometimes hosts the final races of the season. Lewis Hamilton clinched the GP2 title here in 2006, before going on to bigger things…
Did you know?
Rally cars still occasionally visit Monza’s famous high-speed banking sections but it hasn’t been used for racing in decades. Phil Hill in 1961, fittingly driving for Ferrari, was the winner of the final F1 race to run on the full Monza track. Interesting the banking did appear in John Frankenheimer’s 1966 Grand Prix, with most of the F1 field driving disguised F3 cars around it. Phil Hill was a busy man, playing the part of Tim Randolph (most drivers played themselves), team-mate of James Garner’s character, and also driving the camera car and acting as the film’s racing advisor.