- The Inside Line
La pista magicaKate Walker September 5, 2014
Monza is a magical place, a true temple of motorsport hidden away in a glorious stretch of Italian parkland.
Like the best of F1's circuits, the names of the corners here are evocative: Parabolica, Lesmo, and Variante Ascari bring to mind epic battles in both colour and black and white, days when the McLaren F1 team were asked by organisers to paint their cars red after qualifying so that there would be cars of the right colour on the front row, of slipstreaming and fans squatting in the trees like a collection of motorsport-obsessed magpies…
But for those of us lucky enough to have been at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza when the F1 circus comes into town in early September, the parkland itself is as evocative as the circuit it surrounds.
As my F1 career has evolved, so too has my knowledge of where to stay at every race. And while the top secret Monza digs are too perfect to ever leave, the one thing I do miss about my early Italian races is the early morning walk through the park.
Italy is a glorious country at any time of year, and while Lombardy may lack the more obvious charms of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, autumn in Monza is special. Long after sunrise the morning skies are infused with a pinkish glow, and the early mists rolling back through the trees as you pass the Villa Reale give the long ramble from shuttle to paddock a picture postcard quality.
And make no mistake - for any fan hoping to use the free shuttle service from Monza station to the Autodromo, you do get dropped off inside the park. Technically. But you are about three kilometres from anywhere you might want to be. It almost feels as though the race organisers are forcing fans to appreciate the beauty of the setting whether they like it or not…
Wandering through crowds of red-shirted fans with the roar of the support races in the background is a fundamental part of the Italian Grand Prix experience, as integral to a Monza weekend as the first sighting of the giant Ferrari flag on the main grandstand, or the scent of fresh coffee mingled with cigarette smoke and motor oil.
Entering the paddock is a far from simple experience, with hoards of tifosi crowding as close as they can get to the gates, desperate for a moment with one of their red-suited heroes. Anyone wearing the wrong colour may as well be invisible, and it's elbows out to try and squeeze through the throng.
Challenging as the paddock can be to enter, it can be somewhat terrifying to leave. Several years ago I miss-timed my departure and followed Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso out through the gates. From my vantage point it looked like Beatle-mania, with fans tearing at the drivers' shirts and hats, so desperate were they to grab a piece of the action. One brave soul even attempted to grab a chunk of Alonso's hair as he passed.
Scary, beautiful, passionate, and pregnant with history, Monza is the uhr-circuit on the F1 calendar, the perfect encapsulation of all that makes Formula One special, the model that all future races should do their best to emulate.