Monza – The Fastest Track in F1

Monza is the fastest track on the F1 calendar, and drivers regularly spend 3/4s of the race at full throttle. Autodromo Nazionale di Monza was the third purpose-built race track in the world after Indy and Brooklands in Surrey. Monza has been the site of the Italian Grand Prix every year since 1921 minus 1929-1930, a hiatus for World War II, and 1980 where the race switched to Imola due to renovations at Monza. It’s the most held Grand Prix in Formula 1 and alongside the British Grand Prix as the only other race ran every year since the championship began in 1950.

The original Monza track layout
The original Monza track layout
the old Monza circuit with the new Monza circtui
The old Monza circuit with the new in the background –

Pic by User:Emanueleandrea

Monza in the 1920s

Alfredo Rosselli designed Monza in just 111 days as a circuit to support the Milan Automobile Club. The original course was wild, featuring a 5.5km street circuit combined with a 4.5km high-speed banked oval. Both parts of the track actually connected via an overpass. The original layout ran from 1922-1933 and was incredibly dangerous. Thirty-six people lost their lives in the 1920s, including 27 spectators in 1928, resulting in a hiatus of racing at Monza until 1931. Italian driver Emilio Materassi lost control on lap 17 running at over 200kph on the main straight crashing into the stands, killing 27 spectators. Louis Chiron went on to win that race from 14th on the grid.

Emilio Materassi dies at Monza
Emilio Materassi dies at Monza 1928

Monza Changes in the 1930s and 1940s

After the highly-fatal 1928 event, racing returned to Monza in 1931. Luigi Arcangeli died during practice that year. 1933 marked the end of the original circuit after three drivers died in two separate incidents in the high-speed banked oval. After another round of fatalities, something had to change. Enter Vincenzo Florio, organizer of the famous Targa Florio, who introduced the slowed layout of Monza in the name of safety. Luckily this lame layout only lasted three years before a modernization effort, and World War II put racing on hold until 1947. Alberto Ascari closed out the 1940s with Ferrari’s first win at Monza in 1949, echoing his father Antonio’s victory in 1924.

Going Back to the Original Layout in the 1950s

Fangio and Ascari battle at Monza 1954
Ascari chases Fangio at Monza 1954

The 1950s saw three different track layouts, including a return to the original 10 km design. 1950 also marked the first season of the modern Formula 1 championship. Just three drivers dominated the 1950s with Alberto Ascari grabbing two more wins, Fangio getting three in a row, and Stirling Moss winning three of the final four races of the decade. There were two fatalities in the 1950s, including motorcycle racer Rupert Hollaus and star driver Alberto Ascari who died during a private test just days after crashing into the bay at Monaco.

More Change at Monza in the 1960s

Wolfgang von Trips dies in 1961
Wolfgang von Trips dies at Monza 1961

The 1960s opened with a first in Formula 1, a victory by an American racing driver. Phill Hill opened the decade with a win for Ferrari at Monza, making him the first American driver to rack up a win in Formula 1. He would repeat in 1961 in yet another tragic race. During that race, pole-sitter and Phill Hill’s teammate Wolfgang von Trips lost control on the second lap heading into the Parabolica. He careened into the stands killing himself and 15 fans. It would be the last time that the Italian Grand Prix would run on the old Monza layout. From now on, Monza would use the road race layout only, removing the banked high-speed oval. Unfortunately, there were still two more tragedies in 1965.

The 1970s and the Addition of Chicanes

The "SuperSwede" catches fire in the 1978 Italian Grand Prix
The “SuperSwede” catches fire in the 1978 Italian Grand Prix

Monza added more chicanes in the 1970s to slow cars down. There were eight deaths in the 1970s, including five deaths in motorcycle racing. Some notable winners of the 1970s include Emerson Fittipaldi (1972), Ronnie “SuperSwede” Peterson (1973-74, 1976), Mario Andretti (1977), and Niki Lauda (1978). Death struck again in 1978 when “SuperSwede” Peterson crashed on lap 1, catching fire and dying in the hospital the next day. Racing driver James Hunt suffered mild burns pulling Peterson from his burning wreck. The track closed again for safety additions in 1980, and the Italian Grand Prix moved to Imola.

Increased Safety at Monza in the 80s and 90s

Prost at Monza 1981
Prost at Monza 1981

Safety measures finally resulted in a reduction in fatalities at Monza. There was only one death over the next two decades, Belgian motorcycle racer Michael Paquay in 1998. Two drivers dominated Monza in the 1980s, Prost (1981, 1985, 1989), and Piquet (1983, 1986-87). The most exciting race of the 1980s was likely the 1988 Italian Grand Prix. Enzo Ferrari died that year, and Ferrari wanted a 1-2 finish at Monza. Unfortunately, McLaren had won all 11 races that year, so chances were slim. Austrian driver Gerhart Berger made up a 26-second gap on Senna to take the win for Ferrari, followed by teammate Italian Michele Alboreto.

Schumacher taking his first Monza win for Ferrari in 1996
Schumacher taking his first Monza win for Ferrari in 1996

Senna, Schumacher, and Damon Hill collected two wins each in the 1990s. Ayrton Senna opened the decade at Monza with a Grand Slam taking pole position, leading every lap, and taking fastest lap. Ferrari collected their first win at Monza in the decade behind the driving of Michael Schumacher in 1996. Despite crashing into a tire barrier in the final part of the race, Schumacher still won by nearly 20 seconds. Ferrari again captured a 1-2 at Monza in 1998, ten years after their last 1-2 finish. Schumacher took the win with teammate Eddie Irvine finishing 2nd.

Ferrari Dominates the 2000s 

The current track layout
The current track layout at Monza

The year 2000 marked the last layout change at Monza. Despite the safety changes, Monza is still the fastest track on the F1 Circuit. The current layout utilizes the original road circuit, albeit drastically improved.

The race starts with a quick clock-wise run down the front straight into the tight 1-2 kink (Variante del Rettifilo). Turn three (Curva Biassano) is an extended right-hand turn that leads into the 4-5 (Variante della Roggia) kink. Next up is the famous double right-hand Lesmo corners at 6 and 7. It’s a fast rundown from Lesmo to the Ascari curves, site of Albert Ascari’s death in the 1950s. Drivers exit Ascari with a long straight to the challenging Parabolica Curve entering at well over 205 miles per hour. The Parabolica is a fast curve with drivers exiting at over 175 miles per hour. Drivers hit the end of the first straight at over 225 miles per hour.

The final death at Monza occurred when a piece of debris struck a track marshall during the first lap of the 2000 Italian Grand Prix. Ferrari dominated the turn of the millennium racking up five home wins, including three 1-2 finishes. It was Ferrari’s best decade at their home race. Their success would not continue. 

Lewis Hamilton Dominates Monza

Fernando Alonso opened the decade strong for Ferrari winning their home race in 2010. Lewis Hamilton would go on an absolute tear, winning five of the next eight races at Monza, tying Michael Schumacher for the most wins at Monza. Charle Leclerc finally snatched another home win for Ferrari in 2019, matching their longest stretch between home wins at nine (1979-1988).

Conclusion

Charles Leclerc wins at Monza for Ferrari Pic by Sandrino 14
Charles Leclerc wins at Monza for Ferrari Pic by Sandrino 14

Monza has a storied history as one of the oldest and toughest races in the world. Despite numerous safety changes, it’s still the fastest track on the current F1 calendar. It’s tied for the second longest-running race on the F1 calendar with Silverstone. The original layout featured a road course attached to a high-speed oval but proved too deadly to continue. In all, 88 people died here including 34 before they switched to just the road course in 1961. Fittingly, no one can touch Ferrari at their home circuit. They’ve racked up 20 wins at home with McLaren coming in a distant 2nd with 10. Charles Leclerc is a promising young Ferrari drive and looks poised to add another few home wins to Ferrari’s total.

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