As Formula One returns home to the “Cathedral of Speed”, here I look back at some of the memorable races contested at the Italian soil.
1967: One of Formula 1’s greatest drivers Jim Clark produced a magical drive at the “Temple of Speed” in 1967. Driving for Lotus-Ford he had secured pole position and led the race comfortably but at half-way stage disaster struck in the form of tyre puncture. He lost crucial time on pits and rejoined in 16th with a lap down.
What he did next was beyond belief as he tore through the pack setting fastest times lap by lap. As the lap times plummeted, he was matching his own qualifying pace and in the penultimate lap he blasted past Jack Brabham and John Surtees to regain the lead much to the shock of the spectators and the entire paddock.
However, Clark couldn’t make it work till the end as a faulty fuel pump in the final lap made his car to lose engine power. Surtees and Brabham went past him and Clark coasted to take the chequered flag in third and delivered a heroic performance.
1971: The 1971 Italian Grand Prix featured the closest finish in Formula One history with Peter Gethin coming from 4th place to lead on the final lap with a stunning maneuver. The competition was intense as none of the top six points-scoring drivers had ever previously won a Grand Prix.
The New Zealander Chris Amon was on a surprise pole for Matra but it was Ferrari’s Clay Reggazoni who made a lightning getaway from fourth row and took the lead much to the delight of the home crowd. His lead didn’t last long as he suffered an engine failure before Jackie Stewart and Jacky Ickx retired from the front of similar issues.
On his Surtees debut, Mike Hailwood led from Francois Cevert, Ronnie Peterson and Jo Siffert as the race went down to the wire. Without chicanes, Monza was a near flat-out run in its old layout from the starting line and through the sweeping Curva Grande to the two Lesmos. With the unrestricted high-speed nature, fastest lap times were swapped on almost every lap.
From 11th on the grid, Gethin moved up the order and lunged down the inside of Cevert and Peterson as they rounded Parabolica for the last time. He took the chequered flag by just 0.01 seconds ahead of Ronnie Peterson, Francois Cevert, Mike Hailwood and Howden Ganley as the top five were separated by just 0.61 seconds. This race was the fastest Formula One race with a record average speed of 242.615 km/h (150.754 mph) for 32 years until Michael Schumacher broke it at the 2003 Italian Grand Prix.
1976: The 1976 race will forever be remembered not only for Ronnie Peterson’s third and final victory at Monza before perishing due to injuries sustained two years later at the same venue but also for the remarkable comeback made by Niki Lauda. Despite the Austrian’s concerns of the weather on the 22.8km (14.2m), 160-turn, grueling Nurburgring-Nordschleife track the race still went on for the ninth round of the championship.
On the second lap he crashed heavily and trapped in the 800 plus degree burning wreckage before being pulled out of the fire in unconscious condition. He returned to the track after six weeks in heroic fashion at Monza following the near-fatal crash and made the headlines. He finished fifth when Peterson dominated the proceedings for March’s final Grand Prix triumph ahead of Clay Regazonni and Jacques Laffite.
1982: It was another comeback story as Mario Andretti returned to the cockpit for an one-off drive with Ferrari. At 42 years old, the Italian-born American maestro conquered it all in the top-flight by winning the world championship in 1980 before retiring at the end of next season. But he couldn’t turn down the lure of driving a Ferrari at their home track when the “Old Man” Enzo Ferrari offered him a chance.
With no experience of driving a turbo Formula One car, a test was hastily arranged at Fiorano to get him back in grips with the Ferrari 126C2. He didn’t want to repeat the dismal one-off outing with Williams that raised questions over whether he could be in the mix with the best.
The veteran started slowly by finishing sixth in the first qualifying session. His final run was immaculate as he snatched pole from Nelson Piquet’s Brabham and sent the packed tifosi crowd in frenzy. At the race, however, he came home third for one of the best comebacks in Formula One history behind Rene Arnoux and Ferrari team-mate Patrick Tambay.
1988: In 1988, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost were the standout drivers on the field with the superior Honda-powered McLaren Mp4-4. Both of them qualified on the front row ahead of tifosi’s favourite Ferrari drivers Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto.
Prost’s winning aspirations vanished when his engine blew as the Ferrari duo inherited second and third behind Ayrton Senna’s commanding McLaren. Both Ferraris closed the gap to just over five seconds with just two laps remaining as Senna was forced to save fuel.
Senna attempted to lap the Williams of Schlesser at the Rettifilo Chicane and was t-boned in the right rear causing broken rear suspension for the McLaren. The Brazilian spun onto the exit kerb and stuck on the gravel. As the luck smiled on Gerhanrd Berger and Michele Alboreto, they took an emotional first Ferrari 1-2 at the team’s heartland after the legendary Enzo Ferrari’s death.
2001: Monza has always been a special place for Juan Pablo Montoya where he secured his first Formula One win in 2001. From pole the Colombian led Barrichello, who was on a two-stop strategy in order to fight the Williams, into the first corner with Michael Schumacher moving himself up to third.
Barrichello passed the Colombian on lap eight and started to open up a gap to make his strategy work. But his first stop was a disaster due to a problem in the fuel hose allowing Montoya to grab the lead with Ralf Schumacher in second.
Montoya fended off the recovery driver from Barrichello and took home his first Grand Prix win while Ralf Schumacher rounded out the podium. He also holds the record for the highest ever average lap speed in the first part of qualifying for the 2004 Italian Grand Prix behind the wheel of Williams FW26 at a whopping 262.2kph (162.9mph).
The Colombian registered a speed of 372.6kph (231.5mph) during the 2005 Italian Grand Prix driving for McLaren. It stands as the highest speed every recorded on a Formula One race weekend.
1999: The 1999 Italian Grand Prix saw rare display of emotions from the eventual champion Mika Hakkinen of McLaren as he burst into tears at the side of the track. As the championship got to its final leg, the Finn took a commanding lead from the outset after securing pole position on Saturday.
On lap 30, he spun into the chicane at Turn 1 due to wrong selection of gears and beached his McLaren. The aftermath of the incident was pure anger on himself as Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine took a solitary point and leveled him in the drivers’ standings.
Taking advantage of the situation, Jordan’s Heinz-Harald Frentzen inherited the lead and scored his third and final win in Formula One ahead of Ralf Schumacher and the other Ferrari of Mika Salo.
2006: The 2006 Italian Grand Prix was an heart-breaking race weekend for any Formula One addict as the great Michael Schumacher announced his first retirement from motor racing after clinching his penultimate career victory.
On quest for his first win at Monza, Mclaren’s Kimi Raikkonen was on pole ahead of Michael Schumacher, Nick Heidfeld and Felipe Massa. The seven times world champion eased ahead of Raikkonen after the midway point and held on to the lead to win for a record fifth time and ended his final bow for tifosi in Ferrari colours in a sublime style.
2008: The young Sebastian Vettel’s endowment behind the wheel was obvious when he burst on to the scenes in Formula One as a teenager with BMW Sauber back in 2006. After becoming the youngest points scorer in history in 2006 and a fourth place finish in China the same year with Toro Rosso, his breakthrough moment came when the Italian team recruited him for a full-season drive in 2008.
The unpredictable yet savagely fast Monza was the destination where Vettel heralded that he is a force to be reckoned with for the future. Vettel became the youngest polesitter by dominating in wet conditions ahead of Heikki Kovaleinen’s Mclaren and the Red Bull of Mark Webber. Vettel led the way in the mixed weather and went on to take a memorable win by a margin of over ten seconds for the Faenza-based squad who have yet to taste champagne on top of the podium since then.
2010: The newly signed Ferrari ace Fernando Alonso was on a relentless pursuit for the title when F1 returned to its annual race meeting at Monza in 2010. Off the back of the team order fiasco in Germany, Alonso took pole from Jenson Button and Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa.
Button’s brilliant start gave him the lead before Alonso making quick grounds to snatch it back during the course of the race. In the end, Alonso ended Ferrari’s drought of four years without a Ferrari victory at Monza en route to a fabulous second half of the season before ultimately losing the drivers’ championship to Vettel at the title-deciding race in Abu Dhabi.