Preview: 2008 Santander Italian Grand Prix


or.. ‘Formula 1 Gran Premio Santander d’Italia 2008‘ – as the official F1 website has it.

This is yet another race sponsored by Santander, yet another unique trophy replaced by corporate tat. The trophies for this race will be identical to those given in Britain and at least one other race, maybe two. Was it Germany? Their corporate logo. Pfft. Every race should have a unique pot.

Let’s not dwell on that though. We’re at our second classic venue in as many weeks, the historic Monza, just outside Milan.

Autodromo Nationale di Monza.

Just reading the full name gives me goosebumps. This is the home track of Ferrari, if you don’t count Imola and most don’t any more since Imola stopped holding GPs. I’m not a fan of Ferrari but I respect the history of the team. Ferrari is the oldest F1 team by quite some margin, formed in the 40s and having roots in the Alfa Romeo teams of the 1930s. What blows the mind is this: Monza is older than that – it was built in 1922. That was ages ago! It isn’t as old as Indianpolis, it does have as much history. Indycars even raced at Monza in the 1950s on the oval, so in some ways the USGP at Indy was completing the circle. I love this stuff.

The cliche about Monza is that you can feel the history at Monza, sense it in the air. That cliche is actually true. There is just something about the place which you can’t help but soak up when you are there. Okay it doesn’t have the spectator facilities of a modern circuit, and it can be a bitch to find. It is worth it. It isn’t like any other track I’ve visited and I’ve now been to several. I’d like to go to an F1 race there.

The other, maybe bigger cliche: Monza is the Temple of Speed. The fastest F1 circuit on the calendar, both in average lap speeds and I believe in top speeds as well. They run wings specifically designed for Monza and remove many of the little aero devices, winglets, etc. The GP2 cars even run with oval-style rear wings! That makes GP2 races at Monza unmissable.

I went to Monza in May 2003 as a warm-up before going to the Monaco Grand Prix. The Ferrari Challenge was there for a test day, which meant access was basically unrestricted, the only place we couldn’t go was the track itself.

I was with a group and we got into the pitlane, climbed on the pitwall, leaned through the gaps in the fence to see the cars come by. The drivers even waved at us as they left pitlane! We watched turn one from a grandstand with the old banking below us. We visited the second chicane and saw smoking tyres and the killer gravel trap which has now been replaced by asphalt.
We also found a way on to the banking, got our car on to it – I can say I have driven on the old Monza banking. It was a rental people carrier but that doesn’t matter. We got out, walked around, tried to climb to the top – very difficult, it is near-vertical. I didn’t manage it but others did.

This was taken from the very end of the pitwall during the Ferrari Challenge test. From 2003 Monza

Many of my photos from that day are on my Picasa page. If you get the chance you should go and visit Monza on a day where you can walk around anywhere, preferably when there are cars of some sort on-track. I imagine the place can be quite restricted at Grand Prix time.

Take a look at the Picasa link and bear with it while it loads each picture. Go to the official F1 website map and follow the drop-down menus to their history write-up. If you are not familiar with Monza, and I have no idea how you couldn’t be, but if you aren’t just go and take a look at those two links before this weekend’s race. Like another historic venue, Indianapolis, you have to ‘get’ Monza before you watch any race held there.

Speaking of Indy, the MotoGP crowd has landed there, hopefully causing a buzz with the locals. I can’t wait to see what they’ve done with the place, and what the MotoGP people make of Indy. It’ll be a good race, make sure you watch it on Sunday some time after the Italian GP is over.
If you are in the UK it will NOT be live on BBC2 as per usual according to the RadioTimes.com listings, they are showing it delayed at 10:45pm (it might be available via ‘red button’ or on the BBC Sport website). Check BBC2 at 7pm and 8pm anyway. Eurosport will air it live from 7:15pm, as well as the 125s and 250s earlier on. I don’t have Eurosport so will either watch online or hang on avoiding the internet for the delayed showing (in which case my F1 notes will appear Monday). I think one of the big networks is showing it in the USA? I hope so.

I nearly decided to go to Silverstone for the 1000km Le Mans Series race but with a double-header this good, no way, I’m staying right here in front of the TV.

Okay, enjoy the weekend’s racing!

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