Songs without words

From Mendelssohn to Monza


The first track was built from May to July 1922 by 3,500 workers, financed by the Milan Automobile Club – which created the Società Incremento Automobilismo e Sport (SISA) to run the track. The initial form was a 3.4 km2 (1.3 sq mi) site with 10 km (6.2 mi) of macadamized road – comprising a 4.5 km (2.8 mi) loop track and a 5.5 km (3.4 mi) road track. The track was officially opened on 3 September 1922 with the second Italian Grand Prix held on 10 September 1922.

In 1928, the most serious Italian racing accident to date ended in the death of driver Emilio Materassi and 27 spectators at that year’s Grand Prix. Until 1932, further Grand Prix races were confined to the high-speed loop. The 1933 race was marked by the deaths of three drivers and the Grand Prix layout was changed with two chicanes added and the longer straights removed.
The Florio circuit, used from 1935 to 1937.

There was major rebuilding in 1938–39, constructing new stands and entrances, resurfacing the track, moving portions of the track and adding two new bends. The resulting layout gave a Grand Prix lap of 6.3 km (3.9 mi), in use until 1954. Because of the war, racing at the track was suspended until 1948 and much of the circuit degraded due to lack of attention. It was renovated over two months and held a Grand Prix on 17 October 1948.

In 1955 work began to entirely revamp the circuit, resulting in a 5.75 km (3.57 mi) course and a new 4.25 km (2.64 mi) high-speed oval with banked sopraelevata curves. The two circuits could be combined to create a 10 km long circuit, with cars running parallel on the main straight. The infrastructure was also improved.

The Automobile Club of Italy held 500-mile (800 km) Race of Two Worlds exhibition competitions on the oval in 1957 and 1958, with three 63 lap heat races each year, races which colloquially became known as the Monzanapolis series. The club’s initial intention had been to pit United States Auto Club Championship Cars against European Formula One and sports cars. However, concerns were raised among the European drivers that flat-out racing on the banking would be too dangerous, so ultimately only Ecurie Ecosse and Maserati represented European racing at the first running. The American teams had brought special Firestone tyres with them, reinforced to withstand high-speed running on the bumpy Monza surface, but the Maseratis’ steering was badly affected by the larger-than-usual tyre size and so the Modena team withdrew. Ecurie Ecosse’s three Jaguar D-type sports cars used their Le Mans-specification tyres with no ill-effects, but were completely out paced. Two heats in 1957 were won by Jimmy Bryan in his Kuzma-Offenhauser Dean Van Lines Special, and the last by Troy Ruttman in the Watson-Offy John Zink Special. In 1958, works Jaguar, Ferrari and Maserati teams appeared alongside the Indy roadsters, but once again the USA cars dominated and Jim Rathmann swept all three races.

Grand Prix returned to this high speed track in 1955, 1956, 1960 and 1961. This last race had another serious accident, with Wolfgang von Trips and fourteen spectators dying near the Parabolica. Despite the fact that the bankings were not involved in that accident, the F1 never raced on the oval again (except in the film Grand Prix made in 1966). New safety walls, rails and fences were quickly added and the refuelling area was moved further from the track. Run-off areas were added to the curves in 1965 after a fatality in the 1000km Monza race, the track layout was not changed until Grand Prix returned in 1966 with new chicanes at the banked curves. The 1000km Monza staged the last event on the banking in 1969. While the banking at the AVUS in Berlin was already destroyed in 1967, the Pista di Alta Velocità is still there, but in a very bad shape. A petition can be signed to keep it from decay or even destruction.

Both car and Grand Prix motorcycle racing were regular attractions at Monza from 1966, but with increasing speeds the track was "slowed" in 1972 with two more chicanes. Grand Prix motorcycles continued to use the un-slowed road track until two races resulted in five deaths in 1973, including Renzo Pasolini and Jarno Saarinen. Motorcycle racing did not return to Monza until 1981. The 1972 chicanes were soon seen to be ineffective at slowing cars and one was remade in 1974, the other in 1976, and a third also added in 1976, with extended run-off areas. The Grand Prix lap was now 5.8 km long.

With technology still improving vehicle speeds the track was again changed in 1979, with added kerbs, run-off areas extended and tyre-barriers improved, the infrastructure was also upgraded. These changes encouraged world championship motorcycling to return in 1981, but further safety work was undertaken through the 1980s. Also in the 1980s the podium, paddock and pits complex, stands, and campsite were either rebuilt or improved. In the safety conscious years following the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994 (albeit at a different track), the three main long curves were "squeezed" in order to install larger gravel traps, shortening the lap to 5.77 km (3.59 mi). In 1997 the stands were reworked to expand capacity to 115,000.

In 2000 the chicane on the main straight was altered, changing from a double left-right chicane to a single right-left chicane, in an attempt to reduce the frequent accidents at the starts due to the conformation of the braking area, although it is still deemed unsafe in terms of motorcycle racing. The second chicane was also reprofiled. In the Formula 1 Grand Prix of the same year, the first to use these new chicanes, a marshal, Paolo Ghislimberti, was killed by flying debris after a big pileup in the second chicane.

In 2007, the run off area at the second chicane was changed from gravel to asphalt. The length of the track in its current configuration is 5.793 km (3.600 mi).

On 12 May 2007, Noriyuki Haga made the new lap record for motorcycles 1’44.941 in Superpole on that day. He was riding a Yamaha.

Monza consists of very long straights and tight chicanes, putting a premium on good braking stability and traction. The circuit is very hard on gearboxes, with many gear changes per lap. Engines are at full throttle for nearly 80% of the lap, with engine failures common, notably Fernando Alonso in the 2006 Italian Grand Prix.

The cars are set up with mimimal wing angle, to ensure the lowest level of drag on the straights. There are only 3 proper corners at Monza, the two Lesmos and the Parabolica, so cars are set up with maximum performance on the straights.

Overtaking at Monza is extremely difficult, due to the poor behaviour of the cars under heavy braking. The long Parabolica corner is difficult for cars to follow closely.

The cars approach the first corner at 220 mph (350 km/h) in seventh gear and brake at about 120 m (390 ft) into the first chicane at 45 mph (72 km/h) in first gear. This is the scene of many first lap accidents. It is important to have good handling over the very high kerbs.

It is important to accelerate out of the first chicane as straight as possible and with mimimal wheelspin as a lot of time will be lost through the Curva Grande down to the Roggia chicane in 7th gear, at 200mph. The braking point is just under the bridge. The kerbs are very vicious and it is very easy for a car to spin as Kimi Raikkonen did in 2005. This chicane is probably the best overtaking chance on the lap, as it is the only one with the "slow corner, long straight, slow corner", one of the characteristics of the modern circuits.
Aerial photo of the Autodoromo of Monza, with the village of Villasanta in the upper part. City of Monza is southwards, off the right side of the photo.

The Lesmos are two corners that are not as fast as they used to be, but are still challenging corners. The first is blind, 4th gear and has a slight banking. The second is 3rd gear and very important and all the kerb is used. A mistake at one of these corners will either result in a spin into the gravel or an overtaking move into the Ascari chicane.
The downhill straight down to the Ascari chicane is very bumpy under the bridge.
The Ascari chicane is a very tricky corner and is key to the lap time.
The final challenge is the Parabolica corner, approching at 205 mph (330 km/h), cars quickly dance around the corner in fourth gear, slowing down to approximately 130 mph (210 km/h) , before quickly accelerating onto the main straight. A good exit and slipstream off a fellow driver along the main straight could produce an overtaking opportunity under heavy braking into the Rettifilio chicane.