Changing tracks: Monza

Changing tracks

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Monza may be the grand-daddy of the F1 calendar but it can still show those young Hermann Tilke whippersnappers a thing or two. It isn’t called the cathedral of speed for nothing.

The layout used today is very similar to that which Giuseppe Farina won the first world championship on 60 years ago. But even with three slow chicanes installed today’s cars will lap it at an average of 250kph (155mph) – 75kph quicker than they did in Farina’s time.

Autodromo Nazionale Monza, 1950

Length: 6.3km (3.9 miles)

Built by the Automobile Club of Milan in 1922, Monza held the Italian Grand Prix years before the world championship came into existence.

The first world championship race in 1950 was the last round of the season. It was won by an Italian driving an Italian car – Giuseppe Farina at the wheel of an Alfa-Romeo, Farina clinching the championship too.

The basic outline of the track was the much same as it is today, only without the chicanes. The cars headed from the start/finish line straight to the right-handed Curva Grande, then around Lesmo, back towards the pits and the right-hand corner which was then called Vialone.

In 1950 the final turn was not the same as the Parabolica used today, but a squarer pair of right handers.

The current Parabolica was created for the 1955 race – when the circuit also incorporated the famous oval. That boosted the lap length to 10km and made it one of few F1 circuits to include a crossover (see diagram here).

For a few years the organisers switched between configurations for the Grand Prix. The road-and-oval track was last used after the fateful 1961 race, when 15 spectators and Ferrari driver Wolfgang von Trips were killed.

A version of the track incorporating the road course plus the new Parabolica was first used in 1957 and remained until 1971. Peter Gethin won that year’s race for BRM at an average speed of 242kph (150mph) – not far off what the cars do on the modern circuit now.

Gethin was chased across the line by four more cars and all five were within six tenths of a second of each other. But the end of this era of classic Monza “slipstreamer” races was at hand.

Escalating speeds forced the organisers to slow the circuit down with two chicanes. These were built at the start/finish line and at Vialone, which was renamed after Alberto Ascari, who crashed and died there in 1955. Four years later a third chicane was added before Lesmo.

Autodromo Nazionale Monza, 2010

Length: 5.793km (3.6 miles)

The Rettifilio chicane was overhauled in 2000, replacing the former double-chicane with a single, very slow chicane.

The problem of corner-cutting has forced the organisers to make several changes to the kerbs. The new ‘combination kerbs’ built last year have been revised again this year for safety reasons.

The old oval is still there, and although it hasn’t been raced on for decades the cars pass under it every lap as they race towards Ascari at up to 200mph.

Monza in pictures

How F1 tracks have changed

Images © Alfa Romeo, Pirelli, Mercedes, Honda, Honda, Ford, BMW ag, Toyota F1 World, Renault/LAT, Red Bull/GEPA

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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24 comments on “Changing tracks: Monza”

  1. Some nice pics you’ve got there!

  2. Small typo but I’m just being fussy
    “It was was by an Italian driving an Italian car” Do you mean “won”? :)

    I love these articles and I;ve been waiting impatiently for Monza to hurry up and arrive to read this edition.

    I adore this track and not because I’m a Ferrari fan (although it makes it extra special). It is just flat out pure speed. We have Monaco wannabes like Singapore and Valencia but nothing can come close to this track. It’s what F1 is about- just raw speed. Ok, it has chicanes but Ascari is so flowing that I think it is one of the best corners in F1 and the first chicane is mental; on the first lap.

    I also loved on the other article with the video of Webber that he said “through here you can small barbeques” or something to that effect where the Tifosi cook their food. It just adds to the sense of masses of fans waiting just to see the cars and the euphoria surrounding the place.

    Sorry for the ramble but I lvoe this track!

    1. Fixed, thanks.

      It’s a terrific circuit – not just for its configuration, but the history, the enthusiastic crowd, it’s just great.

      Still I wish there were other tracks on the calendar where they use the low-downforce kit, like they used to at the old Hockenheim.

      Maybe one day someone will try to build a quicker circuit. The cars are certainly capable of it.

      1. Who knows, maybe they will have the courage to try the Bahrain outer circuit for a change!

        I agree this is something special. The speeds, the park and the atmosphere with all those cheering fans.

      2. What would even more incredible would be if they resurfaced the oval and beefed up the barriers and runoffs to make it safer, then run the old crossover circuit. That would truly be something special!

  3. You missed the redesign of the two Lesmo corners.

    1. I also didn’t mention all the alterations to the Rettifilio and della Roggia chicanes. I didn’t say this was an exhaustive list of every change made to the track.

      1. But the change at Lesmo 2 was quite a big one.

  4. just what i was thinking, looking back at your history of tracks, the old Spa could surely be reintroduced, though there is nothing wrong at all with the new one. The superfast kink you mention would probably be flat out now but it still looks fearsome.

    Why is it we cant build tracks to scare drivers anymore? The cars are bullet proof by and large so a big angry scary corner with negative camber, bumps and blind crests would test these boys more than bloody hairpins

    1. It’s safer, but not impossible to die/be injured.

    2. Wouldn’t they have to knock some people’s houses down to get the run-off in?

      1. Hahahaha, they’d love it though!

  5. One of the fav circuits for any racing fan. The Oval was also used in the 1966 film “Grand Prix”, although not used in the actual GP of that year, but is the best way to see what it looked like back in the day.

    How tempting must is be to race Monza without the chicanes there, or atleast removed 1/2 of them. agghh the thrill of speed.

    Fitting also that its 40years since Rindts death that we’re racing there this weekend (although just a week off the actual date), as you wonderfully pointed out in the week Keith, im hoping the BBC does a feature on him.

  6. I love Monza. I lived for many years not too far from the circuit, so I had the chance to see F1, SBK and other races and free tests. First time I went to Monza was in 1992: F1 free practice in august, before the race, I still remember Senna countersteering out of the Ascari!

    The sad thing is that a lot of people in Italy is talking about substituting Monza with a race in Rome… Sometimes I think in Italy we’re very stupid: we have one of the oldest and most important tracks in the world and we want to waste public money for a citizen race.

    Do you know why the Lemso 2 was changed? Because of safety issue after Imola’94 , yes. But they had to modify one of the best corners in F1 because the ground outside the track is used by the golf club and they did’t let the “autodromo” use it for a run-off area… So they had to slow down the corner and remove the stand…

    1. Paolo, I would love to go to Italy to see the track, the race would be a bonus.
      I went to see Brooklands a couple of years ago and was so disappointed at it’s state of disrepair.
      It is fantastic that the original oval is still intact- truly a classic track.

  7. Ah, Monza. Shame we can’t have the oval.

    Also, I find it very weird to see those 1955 cars! They look nothing like any other F1 car.

  8. I can’t for the life of me work out how the lap worked when they used the oval…anyone know how it worked?

  9. If you take a look at the pit straight you see it´s very wide. when they came out of the Parabolica they were on the inside line and went into the oval. Coming out of the oval they were on the outside line and went into the Curva Grande.

  10. Can someone explain this to me please. So when they used the combination of the road course and the oval the main straight was used for two different parts of the race track.

    Didn’t this ever cause confussion with drivers taking the wrong turn or people crashing into each other as they had to take a differnt turn?

    1. No, there was line with some “kerbs” splitting the straight, look at the picture for 1955 above.

      Also look here:

      Coming out of the oval they used the left side going into the road course; at the end of the road course, the “parabolica” was on the right side so at the end of the straight there was the oval.
      Anyway, pretty dangerous…

  11. Beautiful circuit, probably with Spa the most picturesque on the F1 calender and as with Spa, a great history associated with it. Funny that it has the old banked oval because it would be great to see the F1 cars having a Grand Prix on an oval circuit such as Indianapolis or even at a place like EuroSpeedway Lausitz or even Rockingham in England but I doubt that would happen anytime soon. Bernie would probably not see it as something he could cash in on which is a pity.

    You’re right Keith, the Formula One cars are capable of racing on an oval track and it would be interesting to see what the designers would come up with, within the F1 rules that is.

  12. Have to say further to my comment that EuroSpeedway & Rockingham aren’t the only oval tracks outside of North America. South Africa has a 1.5 mile long tri-oval track at Phakisa Freeway in Welkom. We know about the 1.5 mile long oval track at Twin Ring Motegi and of course, the first ever NASCAR style speedway outside of North America, the 1.1 mile long Thunderdome at Calder Park Raceway in Melbourne, Australia which opened in 1987.

    So its not like there aren’t any places where cars can race on oval tracks. Its just that they aren’t even thought of as grand prix tracks by those that make the decisions on where races take place (by those who decide I mean Bernie).

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