During these times of change in Formula One, some of it necessary, other not really, we find ourselves back at Monza, the last remaining place where one can feel the soul of the sport. Forget the chaos, we have always expressed how much we love coming here, we would never miss coming here for anything in the world.
Following a busy Thursday morning, covering the presentation of the new 2018 F2 Dallara car, we headed down the Pit Lane to feel the atmosphere head during the fan walk. After many years hearing about the decreasing F1 television audiences in Italy, and every year seeing drop-downing attendance for Monza, it was a great surprise to find ourselves amongst the biggest crowd of people I have ever seen at a pit lane fan walk. Anywhere.
The venue was jam packed just like a concert, trying to make our way into the place, we could not move any further and we eventually got trapped just in front of Renault garage. With a crowd of people never ceasing to come in, having captured the moment, it was about time to leave the scene. Once we escaped from this human melee, we headed out the Pit Lane Exit, onto the main straight and off to walk a lap around Monza.
Holy ground for many, these turns with names engraved in our memories, have seen just about every giant in the sport. As we exited the Parabolica and stepped onto the main finish line straight, a step higher this year, we noticed this sector of legendary tarmac had just been resurfaced. However, everything around still remains the same since 1922, including the Tribuna Centrale overlooking the starting line. Standing there, looking at the straight into the sunset, you can feel the ghosts.
Friday morning being a free day to move around, and sit anywhere around the circuit, first morning practice we decided to watch from the grandstand looking into the first chicane. If Monza is known as the temple of speed, I still question the need for this tight stop and go chicane; why don’t we go flat out from the Parabolica into the Curva Grande? In any case, this is a great spot to see and compare racing lines, and specially who’s latest braking into turn 1. Smoking wheels late into the apex, one could clearly see Lewis Hamilton was testing time after time how late he could dive into the turn. Nothing new. As we expected, the Mercedes would have the upper hand on Ferrari all weekend long.
Dark clouds and torrential rain welcomed Saturday morning, and having a river flowing around the tarmac, track activity remained delayed until late afternoon. After reaching the F2/GP3 hospitality before the heavy downpour began, it was good opportunity to find a driver and hear his impressions. There we sat down and spoke with Roberto Merhi, driving his second F2 event for Rapax, trying to find his way back into F1. The Spanish driver, who replaced countryman Sergio Canamasas since Belgium, is convinced the ladder system, from F3 to F1 via F2 should be the only way.
Once the rain seemed to ease off, we reached the inner side of the back straight, the nearest and closest point to the Support Paddock, finding an impatient crowd hanging on to their umbrellas, and questioning the need to delay F1 qualifying so much because of the wet track conditions. At long last, Qualifying took place and Hamilton stormed his way to clinch his 69th pole position.
Same as last year, Saturday’s Feature F2 race produced a spectacular show, with local hero Antonio Fuoco taking victory after Luca Ghiotto, and second place Nobu Matsushita, were given a five-second penalty after cutting the chicane.
Speaking again of almost 70th Hamilton pole, Monza being home race to Ferrari, and as part of celebration of the marque’s 70th birthday, adjacent to the Support Category Paddock, the Scuderia organized a party around a jaw dropping display of the most significant road cars ever produced in Maranello. Heading into the weekend ahead, and with Ferrari still leading the championship, we were surprised seeing Mercedes F1 Team boss Toto Wolff walking into the red party.
On Sunday morning, the sun was shining hard again over the Autodromo, and Luca Ghiotto drove a perfect F2 sprint race, containing all his frustration after Saturday’s penalization, to claim a dominant victory over Sergio Sette Câmara and Antonio Fuoco. After an intense weekend in Italy, the top of the F2 championship table remains the same, with Charles Leclerc still leading over Oliver Rowland. Next round will take place in Jerez, October 6th – 8th.
Due to Saturday’s torrential conditions, the sole GP3 race happened Sunday morning, with George Russell heading an ART 1 – 2 – 3, ahead of team-mates Jack Aitken and Anthoine Hubert. Making a perfect photo finish, celebrating the team’s seventh title in eight seasons. However, the star of race was Tatiana Calderón, who drove a brilliant race from dead last to claim 7th position. And claiming her first points of the season. By the way, doesn’t this 7th position grant her pole position during the next round in Jerez? Should be!
The bright sun continued to shine all day, and following the always spectacular tricolore air force display, the race produced no surprises, with Hamilton leading a mile ahead from lap one. The Briton left Monza at the top the drivers’ standings for the first time this season, spoiling Ferrari’s 70th anniversary bash at home soil. However, with Vettel standing on the third place, the traditional post-race track invasion remained intense as ever!