Diego Merino lays down the law…
Parco di Monza. Even the name suits perfectly for the Temple of Speed. Without any question my favorite race of the year. I love the atmosphere created by that late summer mist hanging from the trees. This nostalgic atmosphere felt in the forest, sitting aging on concrete grandstands in the back straight, silent witnesses of time which have seen it all; Ascari, Fangio, Stewart, Regazzoni… all of them have raced on this same asphalt where today Lewis Hamilton tries different apex entries diving into the Parabolica. The whole thing of being there, seeing these cars reaching these speeds and feeling this next so close so close to the track, on which the cars record the highest speeds of the year, sends tingles down the spine.
The paddock gates are packed with passionate tifosi full of excitement, trying to get a glimpse of their stars. Some of them are still carrying an old Alain Prost photograph they have been trying to get signed for the past twenty five years. On the other side of electronic paddock turnstiles, I find another crowd of expectant people. This time it’s hungry F1 photographers and TV camera crews who are anxious to get that shot of Sergio Marchionne walking into F1 inner sanctum.
Being the last European race, everybody is here enjoying the late summer sun. The Paddock is very busy with VIPs, crowding around the flamboyant team motorhomes, which will not be displayed until next spring when the European season begins again in Barcelona. Past Ferrari heroes like John Surtees still feel the buzz and come here simply because “I love being here” – he says. Other past Monza heroes present include Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi and crowd favourite Jean Alesi.
As I walk upstairs into the Press Room I see other legends of journalism who would never miss an Italian GP at Monza. I come across and say “hi” to Nigel Roebuck always smoking a cigarette outside the Press Room entrance and happy to share his story about how Mario Andretti saved the day for Ferrari, claiming pole position in Monza 1982. A much needed morale boost for the team after the death of Gilles Villeneuve in Zolder and accident of Didier Pironi in Hockenheim.
My colleague Peter Windsor, among many other journalists is wearing a t-shirt which was given to Media which reads “Monza Forever”. This slogan has been the common theme all weekend. With the current FOM financial demands, and with traditional race promoters are unable to meet, this could well be the last Italian GP in some time. Unbelievably, now we do not have now a races in France, Germany and now Italy under threat.
After the day is over I drive together with Peter to Como, who will be guest speaker at a Grand Prix Tours dinner held in at the Palace Hotel. The elegant dinner is held every year for knowledgeable American F1 supporters. Peter, among some die hard American fans, is happy to share unique inside stories as we all enjoy a glass of Italian red wine.
Although in Monza anything can happen, Hamilton and Mercedes GP went on to dominate another raceday. During the last laps tifosi begin climbing the fences in order to invade the track and embrace the Podium ceremony. Love it or hate it, Monza is much more than a race, it’s about tradition and being in touch with the real soul of Formula One.