14 September 2014
I was fortunate to attend the Italian Grand Prix at Monza last weekend. It was an incredible experience. Inspirational even.
I had a seat in the Tribuna Vedano grandstand on the exit of the Parabolica and opposite the pit lane entry. We saw the beginning of many great slip-streaming overtakes on the main straight as faster drivers relentlessly harried their competitors in front. The cars sounded great too. As did the excitable Italian commentator. My Italian was not good enough to understand much (!), but the tone, rhythm and style of commentary blew away anything you get at Silverstone.
In spite of the narrative around low attendance due to ticket prices and Ferrari’s slump in form, the Tribuna Vedano was packed on race day – not a free seat in the house. True, the stand opposite was two-thirds full, but the stand next to that was packed. There was an audible groan around us when Alonso retired from the race, but the diverse audience ensured cheers (and boos) for other non-Ferrari drivers. Understandably, however, the tifosi were a little subdued.
Immediately after the final lap, I joined the throngs on the track underneath the podium, getting within 50 feet of the ceremony above. That was a first for me at an F1 event and it was incredible. Being so close to the action was a unique experience and a welcome one given the difficulty of getting up close to F1 during a race weekend. In spite of the absence of a (current) Ferrari driver on the podium, the atmosphere was fantastic. I was surprised by the strength of the boos for Rosberg following his antics in Spa two weeks’ earlier and I don’t think the booing came from just British/Hamilton fans.
The vibrancy of the fans at Monza is intoxicating. That’s a testament to the tifosi in particular. However, the Italian Grand Prix also attracted French, Germans, Swedes, Danes, Finns, Spanish and of course English fans. A real melting pot of Europe. Collectively, they add so much to the Monza experience. At Silverstone, the crowd is also fantastic, but the atmosphere at Monza has a different, special feel to it.
Walking the circuit post-race is a must at Monza. You can really feel the history and heritage of the place everywhere you step. The most obvious reminder of the past is the old banking, which turns away from the current track at the end of the start/finish straight. It’s amazing to think that F1 cars actually raced on this not that long ago. That surely took bravery and skill! Walking part of the way round the banking it became clear that the original surface had been covered by a new modern surface for some reason. It was a shame not to be able to walk on the old surface that so many F1 greats of the 1960s raced on.
Like the old banking, the Juan Manuel Fangio/Mercedes stature near the paddock and the street names around Monza, such as Piazzale Vittorio Brambilla, evoke memories of past glories. Some 63 Grands Prix of past glories in fact. So, it was a bit disappointing to learn that Monza does not have a museum curating its history. Surely a missed opportunity given that the circuit has so many stories to tell.
On our walk round the current circuit we made it as far as the Variante Della Roggio before turning off. Watching on TV you just don’t get an accurate sense of the height of the kerbs at this chicane. Taking too much kerb is surely risky given that these kerbs would likely damage an F1 car travelling at speed over them.
Travelling to/from Monza on 5-7 September, it was noticeable in the town and in Milan that there was the complete lack of advertising or promotion of the event. The promoter might argue that marketing wasn’t necessary as there was good attendance despite the home team not being in the fight for victory. But that misses the point. When a circus arrives in town you know about it from all the flyers and posters in public spaces and the calls of ‘roll up, roll up for the circus’. The promotion and marketing of F1 is simply abysmal. While some teams and drivers are trying to engage with fans, there is no centrally organised or directed promotion of F1. A continuation of this policy risks only the creation of a shrinking and ageing audience as well as the perception of a sport that is aloof and disconnected from the world.
The day after the Grand Prix we took a trip to Maranello and Modena. We paid a visit to the Ferrari Museum, which was a big disappointment, and then wandered round the famous factory. Little did we know what was going inside the compound that day. It was a post-race post-mortem that would ultimately render the momentous resignation of long-standing Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo. A seismic shift in the power dynamics in F1 given the Italian’s political influence.
Ristorante Cavallino, immediately opposite the gates of the Ferrari factory in Via Abetone, showed up the official Ferrari museum. It is a shrine to the Scuderia with memorabilia on every wall, including some rare autographs such as that of the legend Gilles Villeneuve.
However, what totally blew away anything we encountered in Maranello was the Enzo Ferrari museum in Modena. It is a fantastic place and one of the best museums I’ve been to in a long whole. It’s full of richly researched history and great audio visuals that surround some beautiful Ferraris and Maseratis. Highly recommended.
All in all, a great experience!