A unique atmosphere: Going to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza

From the Stands

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The 2016 Italian Grand Prix is the last of Monza’s current contract with Formula One Management amid doubt over whether they can afford to keep holding the race.

Could the 2016 season really see F1’s last visit to the ‘temple of speed’? It’s one race all grand prix fans should try to see, and Girts Strazds made sure he didn’t miss it last year. Here’s his report from the race.

Even without its nine decades of history and the unique passion of the Ferrari-mad Tifosi, Monza would still feel special. Situated in a huge old park north of Monza, the surrounding roads were buzzing with locals making use of the park: jogging, cycling and dodging this midday heat beneath its vast trees.

I had ordered my Italian Grand Prix tickets six months earlier using the race’s official website. Although it initially told me to expect my electronic tickets in June they did not appear until August, but apart from that the process went smoothly.

While many fans make Milan their base for the race and others holiday in nearby lake Como, I chose to stay in the picturesque Swiss city of Lugano around 80km north of the track. I did not go to Monza on Friday and used that day for a short trip to Ascona, another popular tourist destination at Lake Maggiore. I spent the evenings in Lugano’s old town where there are several nice places to walk around or have a meal.

Staying in Switzerland is probably not something that many Monza visitors consider. However, Swiss border town Chiasso where I left the rental car on Saturday and Sunday is only a 30-minute train ride away from Monza railway station. The only downside is the somewhat higher prices because of the strong Swiss Franc.

Getting to the circuit and back was pleasingly straightforward experience. The trains were not overcrowded and the buses from Monza railway station to the circuit and vice versa went without a break. When a bus was full with spectators, it left the station and the next one immediately arrived. The only time I had to queue was to get on the bus was right after the race on Sunday.

Though I have been to F1 races before, this was my first chance to experience the noise of the starting grid as I had reserved a seat in the Tribuna Centrale. Aside from a lack of fresh air in the grandstands I was satisfied with my choice. The view was great and there were enough toilets as well as many food and merchandise stands at the main straight. A sandwich and a can of beer cost €10.

As with many races in 2015 the action was not the most riveting Monza has ever seen. Even the GP2 support races were short on action – the drivers’ answers at the F1 Village on Saturday was the most entertaining part of their weekend as far as I was concerned.

The F1 race at least delivered a couple of memorable moments. Kimi Raikkonen’s disastrous getaway – from the front row to last in less time than it takes to read this sentence – left me genuinely concerned someone was going to hit him from behind.

Later I saw several passes on the main straight but the DRS made them all rather predictable. Nonetheless the crowd acknowledged the progress of Raikkonen’s Ferrari with applause and cheers. And the noise increased when a smoky Mercedes came to a stop with a few laps to go – though it soon turned out not to be race leader Lewis Hamilton, but team mate Nico Rosberg.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the weekend was the podium ceremony. Mexico may have since upped the stakes in this regard, but Monza’s may still be the ultimate when it comes to fan interaction. Even though my seat was not far away, I still had to run to get anywhere close to the celebration as there were thousands of other fans, who also sprinted to get underneath the podium.

Many fans were already waiting at the security fence many laps before the chequered flag. After some polite pushing and a short dash I got there just in time. Some in the crowd booed Hamilton, which was rather ironic given that new Ferrari hero Sebastian Vettel was treated the same way two years ago. It did little to dampen the atmosphere and it wasn’t just the drivers popping champagne corks – some of the fans brought their own as well and weren’t shy about sharing it!

Monza is much like other historic F1 tracks in that its facilities could be better and visitors would benefit from more off-track entertainment. But its atmosphere adds something unique to the F1 calendar and I can see why so many people care deeply that it should stay.

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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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6 comments on “A unique atmosphere: Going to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza”

  1. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
    3rd January 2016, 14:45

    The meandering suburban roads make it almost impossible to find the track. On race day the Carabinieri actually seem to be deliberately trying to increase congestion to the track. At the track, there is very little to eat (apart from some greasy paninis). Spectator seating is ancient and uncomfortable. And I just didn’t care.

    As someone who has done Grands Prix on both sides of the corporate divide, I will say that Monza is the best spectator experience by far. The public areas are under the dappled light of a leafy Italian royal park, and the circuit is a stone’s throw from Milan – a city that can feed you and your friends no matter what your budget or palette.

    And then there is the circuit itself. It has a charisma that neither Spa nor Suzuka can match. Those circuits might be better at showing off the dynamic capabilities of a F1 car, but Monza simply feels more special. The sound rebounds off the grandstands on the main straight, a straight that hosts the most passionate and invigorating celebration of motorsport once the race is over. The tifosi, the podium and circuit itself are an unbeatable combination.

    I attend on an annual basis. As a Brit, driving there is a great experience, since you can take in some Swiss mountain passes on the way there, and even take a detour to see Lake Como. Get yourself a tourist guide of Milan, grab some friends, brush up on some basic Italian phases and get yourself there.

    If you’ve never been you must promise me you will go, it is a completely mandatory experience for all petrolheads.

  2. I visited the Abu Dhabi GP and the British GP this year. Contract couldn’t be bigger. Yes the grand stands might be full at both but one is full of fans and the other full of ‘look where I was, one selfie, what sport is this again’-fans.

  3. If Monza goes after this year, it will be a shame but if the Italian GP is no more after this year, that will be appalling. Quite honestly I think if the Italian GP moved somewhere else in Italy like Imola or Mugello then you would get a similar atmosphere at those circuits, but without the wealth of history that Monza has. They should at least alternate the venues if the Monza deal doesn’t work out.

    1. Accidental Mick
      4th January 2016, 11:05

      I was kucky enough to go to there in 2013 and found it a wonderful experience. We had seats in the grandstand overlooking the first corner and I would recommend this to anyone. We were surrounded by Italians who were much more open minded than I had been led to expect. They would applaud good driving whoever the driver and whatever the team. (Ferrari did get bigger cheers but that is understandable.)

      Just a small point to bear in mind, most Italians have a big, family lunch at lunchtime on Sundays so most restaurants are closed Sunday evenings. There are some open but you might have to look harder for them.

  4. I refuse to believe that Monza is not going to be in the F1 calendar. It’s such an amazing place and one of the few tracks on the calendar that is completely different than anything else.
    I have been there for the 2015 GP. It was my first full GP experience and it was great. I recommend to go on Friday as well, because you can explore the whole track and all the grandstands you want. You have to walk a lot, but it’s definitely worth it.
    On Saturday and Sunday I was at Parabolica and it was great! The tickets are fairly cheap and the action may not be the best, but it was ok. I saw a few overtakes, so I can’t complain. The only problem for those grandstands was the lack of toilets. There are only a few around, so you waste a lot of time in line. I almost missed the driver’s parade because of it.

  5. I hate to dampen spirits here but quite honestly I think you would get this kind of atmosphere at any racing venue in Italy. Even if the Italian F1 GP were held at Imola or Mugello you would still get the same atmosphere there as you would get at Monza. Sure, Monza is special because it’s a lot different a circuit than any of the others and because of all GP’s that have been held there, even ones before WWII but it’s the loss of the Italian GP that would be the ultimate tragedy, not so much the loss of the Monza venue. Not having the German GP was bad enough- but not having the Italian GP would be beyond belief, IMO. The most important of the European rounds are of course Monaco, Britain and Italy, and then Germany, Belgium and France. Although the Monaco GP is effectively the defacto French GP it is still sad F1 does not have a GP on French soil. I hope Ricard or even in my wildest dreams a revamped Montlhery (w/o the use of the concrete banking) hosting a French GP would be nice.

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