Watching at the Paddock Club, Parabolica and podium at Monza

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Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Monza, 2011

Three F1 Fanatics share their experiences of watching Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

Italian reader Gabriele Russo made his first visit to a Grand Prix in the Paddock Club, George Boyter stood with the fans at the Parabolica, and Nic Redhead joined in the crowd at the iconic podium celebration.

Read on to learn more about their experiences at the track.

Gabriele Russo

I’ve been following F1 from the age of seven and had never been to a race.

So when my friend Claudio invited me to Monza this year in the Paddock Club, I was almost crying for joy. Believe me, it was an amazing weekend.

The hotel and the drivers

I stayed at the Hotel de la Ville, which many drivers and team staff choose for the Monza weekend. Mark Webber, Jarno Trulli and many more where there and I managed to take a picture and have a few words with most of them.

Christian Horner, Tony Fernandes, Patrick Head and Ron Dennis were also there.

Felipe Massa was also there and was really nice, as were Martin Whitmarsh and Martin Brundle. Pedro de la Rosa even thanked me for the picture.

I also talked with Bruno Senna on Sunday evening after the race, he is a nice and cool guy and said he just went for it at the first corner with Buemi to take ninth place, very brave move indeed.

But the one I really had a hard time with was my F1 hero, Michael Schumacher. He was at the hotel as well, but as you may know he’s very elusive and doesn’t like to have people around him.

I tried four times to get a picture with him on Sunday morning. Finally I cornered him outside the breakfast room when he was about to leave with his bicycle for the Autodromo. After this picture, I’m the happiest man on earth.

Friday: The Paddock Club

Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber, Monza, 2011

On Friday I had the opportunity to see the free practice from the Paddock Club lounge with three friends. It’s an amazing experience, especially if you’re not used to first class service.

Just after you pass the gates, a waiter offers you a drink or a glass of champagne – and that continues all day long.

The general Paddock Club is just above the second part of the pit lane – the first part is for the guests of the top teams.

You can follow the action both on the upper floor, which is open and you need earplugs because of the noise the F1 cars make, and down the lower floor, which has a soundproof glass and gives you the opportunity to see the drivers and the pit stops happening only a couple of metres below.

This was the very first time I had the chance to see real F1 cars in action and it was fantastic, I loved how the cars behaved and sounded and seeing pit stops in front of you is so cool.

I like being able to appreciate how different the handling of the cars was and we could see how much the fuel increased the sector times on the live timing.

Before second practice we had a very tasty lunch – I was suprised most waiters and cooks were English and not Italian – and then back to watch the drivers.

We were impressed by McLaren and Red Bull and at the end of the day we all agreed that Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton were probably going to be on the front row.

With our pass we could also have a pit walk. It was great fun – obviously the Ferrari box was the one everybody targeted and there was little chance of getting a good photograph.

We managed to take a picture with Bernd Maylander and hold a Renault steering wheel in our hands.

We also entered the support paddock which hosts the GP2, GP3 and Porsche crews and cars. The difference with the F1 paddock is huge but it was great nonetheless and we met Jules Bianchi, Luca Filippi, Romain Grosjean and the other GP2 drivers coming back after their free practice session.

Saturday, Vettel owns everyone

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Monza, 2011

The following day was pretty tiring as it was hot and we were in the grandstands.

We arrived at the circuit late because of the traffic so we missed most of the final practice session.

For the qualifying and race we had four seats in the Tribuna Alta Velocita, the one towards the end of the main straight just before the Rettifilio. We soon discovered the place was perfect as you can see the drivers approaching the first corner and heading to Biassono.

Unlike Friday, there was a lot of people and the crowd at the shops and stands was huge. Qualifying was good, we were happy when Senna managed to get into Q3 with his last lap.

Then Vettel simply destroyed everyone else with a tremendous last run. I was a bit disappointed when Button came back to the pits on his final attempt – and I didn’t like Schumacher’s last run either.

Sunday, what a race

The grandstands were full. In addition to the home fans we saw many were British supporters plus some Spanish, German and Finnish. We were treated to one of the best Italian Grands Prix I’ve ever seen.

I screamed for joy as Schumacher took fourth on the opening lap. The safety car came out and we had the chance to see our beloved Bernd in action.

Unfortunately the tifosi soon fell silent when Vettel showed how superior his car was, but his pass on Alonso was nothing compared to the fight between Schumacher and Hamilton.

It was priceless, pure talents battling like Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost used to.

Another driver who had a very good race was Bruno Senna, with a pass on Buemi at the first corner in front of us that, for me, was worth the price of entry alone.

the end of the race we chose not to go for the podium because it was going to take too much time from our place, so we watched the trucks coming back with the cars of Nico Rosberg, Vitaly Petrov and Vitantonio Liuzzi.

It was an incredible weekend in Monza, watching a sensational race with your favorite driver making a great performance.

Having the chance to be in the Paddock Club and meeting personally the drivers and the managers was the icing on the cake. It was my first F1 race, but now I’m sure it will not be the last.

George Boyter

Bruno Senna, Renault, Monza, 2011

What made the Italian Grand Prix ‘great’?

A great start from Alonso got the tifosi on their feet. Great duelling between Schumacher and Hamilton divided opinions. Great overtaking from Jenson Button (as usual) had aficionados purring.

But what truly makes F1 great is the fans. Their unstinting loyalty and devotion goes unrewarded and unrecognised.

This is my first Italian Grand Prix and it’s a no-frills effort. Solo biglietto ingresso – single ticket entry. That’s it. No rucksack, no drinks and no hat because I’ve forgotten to bring one.

By two o’clock the sun is beating down. I’ve staked my claim on a piece of concrete up against the fence at the inner clipping point of the Parabolica with the truly, madly, deeply brigade.

Many are taking a last chance to expose their summer tan. The dress code has gone out of the window. I’m surrounded by tattoos, pot bellies, paunches and bum cracks.

Others feel the need to cover up. McLaren fans sport grey, silver, black and fluorescent red, depending on year. Sponsors logos are neatly laid out but the team name is virtually indistinguishable.

On the other had there are a thousand different Ferrari tees in three shades. Vintage blood red, scarlet and the less satisfying Marlboro near-orange of a few years ago.

Williams don’t figure, nor do Red Bull who haven’t cracked the merchandise market here so far.

Many Finns sport Lotus regalia in honour of Heikki Kovalainen, others continue to show allegiance to the absent Kimi Raikkonen.

Bravo Fernando as he charges down the inside at the start to lead the first lap. But it’s only a matter of time before Vettel gets by and strokes off into the distance – which he does.

The Schumacher-Hamilton battle is all hammer and tongs – just what we came to see. It’s brave, brilliant driving – and then Button audaciously breezes past the pair of them.

The race runs its course. Vettel deservedly wins because, even with an obvious car advantage, he doesn’t put a foot wrong. Button is best of the rest and Alonso ensures the red of Maranello is on the podium.

As I walk out through the Parco Reale, hot, sweaty, burned and hungry I drink the best beer in the world – partly because it’s cold and also because it’s the first one I’ve had all day.

Nic Redhead

The MP4-12C blag

We caught a train from Garibaldi which took around 20 minutes to get to Monza. From there we had to take a local bus service to the circuit as the dedicated buses for the weekend did not start until Friday.

The poor locals must not have been impressed as there were enough fans to fill several buses when one finally did turn up!

We made our way to the circuit and arrived just in time to see Nico Rosberg heading out onto the track for a run and he was kind enough to return our cheers of “Nico!” with a quick wave.

Adrian Sutil, Force India, Monza, 2011

The pit walk was very busy as expected and the large crowds with warm weather made the going pretty tough. Last year at Spa I spent the whole time waiting to get autographs from the McLaren drivers and came away with nothing, so this time I decided to just take my time to explore the whole length of the pit lane. This yielded autographs from both Sauber drivers and some good pictures of the Force India and HRT drivers too.

That evening McLaren tweeted that from the opening night of a new showroom for their MP4-12C road car. We decided to head over to see what was happening. To our surprise, after striking up a conversation with a few of the McLaren employees in the smoking area, they agreed to let us in so we could take a few pictures.

We were not expecting this at all and had a great time checking out not only the roadcar (which they let us sit in) but also the world championship winning MP4-5 and one of Jenson Button’s helmets. Many thanks to the guys at McLaren for making an early highlight of the trip possible.

Exploring Monza

Jenson Button, McLaren, Monza, 2011

Although the transport links are pretty much as good as they reasonably could be it is still quite a jaunt to get to and from the circuit each day, and as a result we missed the start of first practice.

For Friday, most of the grandstands are available to all including those with general admission tickets such as ourselves. We caught what we could of the first session from the stands along the start/finish and those near the first chicane.

After that session we did a bit more exploring and tried to access the banking, but unsurprisingly there was a decent official presence to stop you from doing that. After quickly scoping out the Ascari chicane we headed over to the della Roggia for second practice and got ourselves into position in the grandstand with a good view of the cars approaching head on from Curva Grande.

We managed to get some good photos from here by shooting through the fence, and also using a small gap in the fence for the TV camera. Schumacher stood out as a driver who was consistently attacking the kerbs.

After a while we headed back over to Ascari, going via the bridge where the banking crosses the straight leading to that chicane. This was a very impressive place to watch, and mostly hear the cars as they blasted through the short tunnel. It is breathtaking just how close to the cars you can get. We finished the session in a grandstand at Ascari.

For the following support race sessions we made our way down to Parabolica where we were going to aim for on Saturday, and were fortunate enough to catch some action when several GP3 drivers went off into the gravel.

Snapping spinning Maldonado

We were able to get into the circuit a bit early than the previous day and made our way to the General Admission seating area past the by the exit of Parabolica and just before the cars pull over to enter the pits. With the wide line they take out of Parabolica we could get unobstructed views of the cars over the fence which appeared to be one of the few GA areas where this was possible.

Qualifying was great though we were significantly aided by the excellent Fanvision TV. I would strongly recommend hiring one of these to anyone attending a race, even if you are going to be sat in view of a large screen.

We were pretty much level with where Maldonado spun in Q1 and I was able to get a couple of blurry photos of his car getting ever more sideways.

Under the podium

On Sunday we made sure we got up early enough to take the first service from Centrale to the special stop by the Lesmo corners which eliminated the the long walk from the free bus drop off point.

We made a beeline for Ascari in the hope of getting in the GA seating area, expecting the DRS zone to provide some action. Unfortunately, the stand was already full, seemingly with people who had camped there overnight, so we headed back to our previous vantage point at Parabolica.

The atmosphere was amazing, especially when Alonso took the lead. Things did fall a bit flat when Vettel resumed his normal service but there were still great battles down the field.

We were very much in the minority, cheering when Button passed Alonso for second, and although from a personal viewpoint I would have loved the race to be slightly longer so Hamilton could have a shot at the podium too it was great to see a Ferrari driver up there at Monza.

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Monza, 2011

With a few laps to go we had our belongings packed up, ready to sprint onto the track once the marshals allowed us to run to the podium. The only way to describe the atmosphere was one of pure celebration and I can’t imagine what it would have been like had Alonso been a couple of steps higher.

James battled his way to get Jackie Stewart’s autograph.

After that we took the opportunity to tour the track. After three long days of walking and standing in the baking sun we were all exhuasted, but still buzzing after what was a brilliant weekend.

I think for a return visit I would make the effort to save up for a grandstand seat by one of the chicanes to see more of the action during Saturday and Sunday, and also look to stay nearer the circuit in Monza itself to try and minimise time spent travelling to and from the circuit.

But the atmosphere was tremendous. The Italian fans are passionate about the whole of F1 – not just Ferrari. There were also many committed fans from around the world. It really is a must for F1 Fanatic to visit.

Thanks to Nic for supplying some of his pictures from the race for this article.

If you’re going to a race this year, find other F1 fans who are here:

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Author information

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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13 comments on “Watching at the Paddock Club, Parabolica and podium at Monza”

  1. I really love reading these experiences of you guys. Its really nice to read each of you have a great time but each in its own way.

    Lovely pictures as well.

    1. Thanks! Those are just a few of the photos I took over the weekend and I’m slowly in the process of uploading them all to my flickr account here:

      Thanks also to Keith for using the pics and my rambling words about our adventures!

      1. Some of those pics are real jewels!

      2. Yep, some great pics indeed. Pretty tricky to pan an F1 car as its going past, the ones of Rubens & Lewis are my favourites

    2. Rading how the fans enjoyed the race makes me think back to it and enjoy it even more!

  2. Three very distinctive but equally insightful accounts of experiences at a Monza race weekend.

    George Boyter’s write-up makes for particularly evocative reading.

  3. Fantastic. Really love these articles! I’m extremely envious of the trio of you, but glad you had such amazing experiences.

    1. Ditto.

      Jealous,but you clearlyhad a great time. A proper track for proper fans of a proper team ;)

  4. Excellent articles, well done!

    I remember my visit to Monza vividly. It was 2003. Somewhat bravely we drove overnight from the west coast of France all the way to Milan in a mk 1 Toyota MR2! I was dead to the world when we got to the track around 9AM, but the sound of F1 engines made me feel as alive as can be.

  5. It was my first GP weekend at Monza – and I loved almost every second of it.

    There were only a couple of downsides for me. Trying to get to the circuit on Saturday morning was atrocious – there was no info available at Milano Centrale so it was packed with confused fans (most wearing Mclaren shirts and hats). Fortunately we had spent a few days in Italy already, so knew some of the intricacies of their transport system and were able to get out of Milan before the crowds realised that there weren’t any direct trains to Monza until later in the morning. There was meant to be a free bus from Monza to the circuit, but we never saw any sign of it despite waiting with about one hundred other fans at the bus stop for at least 45 minutes – it was a good laugh though watching those that jumped on the sporadic local buses that did appear despite protestations from the drivers that they were going nowhere the autodromo. We eventually decided to start walking, and then managed to find a packed local bus around the corner that was going there. To put the icing on the cake of truly awful morning, we got off about a mile up the road from the main entrance where we had to collect our tickets. Trudging along that road in the unbelievable heat, with first practice loudly taking place just a few hundred yards away, was easily one of the most frustrating moments in my life! After persuading my girlfriend to get up at 6.30am in the middle of our holiday to get there in time for the GP3/GP2 qualifying, I was pretty distraught to only get into the circuit at midday. Fortunately the free train direct to Biassono on the Sunday made it much easier (getting on the train back was a long, hard experience though).

    The only other downside was the heat – my god, the heat! I’m not great with excessive temperatures, and this was almost too much for me. We spent most of Saturday in various shady places, but decided to go for the very end of the straight before the Parabolica for Sunday. No shade whatsoever, relentless sunshine, no breeze whatsoever – it was pretty hellish to be honest. All the refreshment stands around us had ran out of water before the race had even begun on Sunday.

    Apart from that, it was wonderful.

    The fans were entertaining and friendly throughout – expect all the good spots to be taken by barbecuing Italians and camping Germans. Our favourites were the Bavarians we discovered at the Ascari on Saturday, all clad in sweaty lederhosen despite the extraordinary heat – half were still guzzling beer, the rest had collapsed under the general admission grandstand. There was some great banter across the racetrack between some Brazilians and Argentinians.

    General admission was great, good excuse to see a lot of the circuit. It’s actually a really nice little area to walk around, between the sessions amidst the trees you could easily forget your even in the middle of a racetrack. The old banking is pretty easy to access – if you don’t mind being shouted at by the stewards after a few minutes and getting a bit scratched up trying to get through the fence and bushes.

    The actual on-track action was amazing – I could spend all day describing it. There’s a huge difference between watching it televised and watching it live. It’s almost like experiencing analog and digital – watching it on TV it can seem almost like a video game; people either make the corner or don’t, they catch the oversteer or they don’t. It’s easy to forget that there’s a real person driving the amazing machine on the television. Live, it’s totally different. You can people see making small mistakes, small differences in each lap and racing line. You can experience more of what each driver experiences – the changes in heat, sunlight, wind and things like the amount of smoke and dusk thrown up by someone locking up or going off line. Incredible.

    The sound too is amazing – the off-throttle Lotus Renault in particular sounds more like a chainsaw or a machine gun than a car. If your road car was making anything like the sound one of these F1 cars you’d immediately head for the mechanics.

    There’s also much more mystery, which can be frustrating and exciting in equal measure. Even if you’re opposite a television screen at the track, it’s much harder to keep up with everything. We saw Webber go straight on at the last corner right in front of us, but I didn’t know he had his front wing under him until I read about it afterwards. Likewise Kobayashi, who stopped directly in front of us – he gave everyone a wave and the car sounded wrong all the way up the straight, but it was a shame not knowing what had happened. Qualifying was much better live than on TV – we saw Hamilton screw up into the second chicane on his last lap right in front of us (he’d skipped it completely earlier in qualifying) before it looked like Button was well up on his lap, everyone was urging him on and there was a lot of dismay when he peeled into the pits.

    In all, a great weekend even if it was hard work. I’ve learned plenty of lessons and can’t wait to apply them next time!

    1. Excellent account there.

      I particularly relate to the idea that it is easy to think of the cars on the TV as being on auto-pilot somehow. When I first went to a GP, all the way back in 1987 at Silverstone, I too had the same feeling that suddenly I realized there was a real person driving the car.

  6. Its a shame I couldn’t get an article ready in time for you guys. I’ll do something on the discussion page :)

    Reading these back was almost like being there again myself, brilliant reading!

    Personally I would highly recommend a visit to Monza, the trip was a breeze and they really look after the fans.

  7. Was a great circuit to be at, I really enjoyed the whole weekend and glad to see everyone else that went did too. Andrew’s correct in saying the fans are well looked after at the circuit, though I cant help but feel that the free buses from Monza town to the Autodromo could have got a bit closer to the circuit – the walk was excruciating in the heat! Would still thoroughly recommend the Italian GP weekend to everyone who hasn’t done it though :)

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