|The Nostalgia Column|
|Looking back at the history of the Italian GP||by Marcel Schot, The Netherlands;
images provided by Rainer Nyberg
Every year when Monza comes around, Italy makes up for a very special event. The track's long history is closely tied with that of the most prestigious Italian team Ferrari. The team of the prancing horse has always had a little extra power at its home Grand Prix, scoring nearly three times the number of podium finishes as rival McLaren.
Monza has hosted 48 Grands Prix since the first Formula One World Championship season in 1950, only missing the 1980 race, which was held at Imola. In that race Gilles Villeneuve barely escaped a total disaster after his tyre exploded, crashing the Ferrari at high speed. The Fearless Canadian suffered afterwards from only a headache, caused by a flying wheel that hit is helmet.
The Italian Grand Prix has one of the most dramatic histories in all of Formula One. Throughout the years triumph and tragedy have overtaken each other on many occasions. The Grand Prix has hosted some of the most exciting and closest finishes of racing, but on the other hand it took the lives of great drivers.
In 1961 Wolfgang von Trips, on his way to become the first German World Champion, lost his life in the famous Parabolica corner, after he touched wheels with Lotus driver Jim Clark. Over ten spectators were killed when von Trips flew off the track in his Ferrari.
Nine years later, the same corner again took the life of a man on his way to the world title. In qualifying, Austrian Jochen Rindt went into the corner, when his car suddenly broke out and headed for the barriers. The front of the car was completely ripped off. The difference between Rindt in 1970 and von Trips in 1961, is that Rindt became World Champion after all. Rindt still is the only driver to be crowned champion posthumously, while von Trips was passed by his teammate Phil Hill, who won the race at Monza.
Eight years after Rindt's death, another talented Lotus driver was killed and again it was a driver on his way to the title. In 1978, Ronnie Peterson was killed at the track where he was at his best. Peterson had won at Monza three times, a feat only accomplished by the truly great drivers.
However, as mentioned, Monza isn't only a place of tragedy. It's also a place of close battles, as displayed, for example, by Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio and Giuseppe Farina in 1953. Going into the last corner, Ferrari driver Ascari was leading his teammate Farina and Maserati pilot Fangio by a small margin. But Ascari spun and Farina had to take the grass to avoid him. Fangio was the lucky third, coming out of the corner faster than Farina, beating the Ferrari driver to the finish by just over one second to score his only win of the season.
When speaking of close battles, two seasons immediately spring to mind. First - 1969, when Jackie Stewart barely made it over Jochen Rindt (Lotus), his Matra teammate Jean Pierre Beltoise and Bruce McLaren. Just 0.2 seconds were between Stewart and McLaren. The other season is 1971. In this legendary finish, which is still recorded in the history books as the closest gap between numbers one and two, winner Peter Gethin pushed his BRM across the line just 0.01 seconds in front of March driver Ronnie Peterson. After these two, Tyrrell pilot Francois Cevert, Surtees driver Mike Hailwood and Gethin's teammate Howden Ganley also finished within 0.6 seconds.
With an average speed of 242 kmph in 1971, the organisation decided the speed has become too high and modified the track in two places. Before the entrance to the Curva Grande the Rettifilio chicane was built and the Curva Ascari was remodelled to become the Variante Ascari. This gave the track the characteristics it has today.
In recent years, we've seen a return to power for Ferrari. After it hadn't won it's home Grand Prix since 1988, Michael Schumacher put the prancing horse back on top with victories in 1996 and 1998. Last year specifically was a special win, since it was achieved in Ferrari's 600th Grand Prix. Helped by David Coulthard's blown up engine and Mika Hakkinen who slid off on his McLaren teammate's oil and later on spun because of a brake failure, Schumacher cruised to victory, making it a one-two for Ferrari.
The original 14 kilometre circuit was shortened to 10 kilometres, planning permission was received at the end of April and work re-started on May 15 with a target completion date three months later of August 15. This was to be achieved with the help of 3500 labourers, 200 wagons, 30 lorries and a five kilometre narrow gauge railway which had 80 trucks and two engines.
The circuit, complete with one main grandstand holding 3000 spectators, and a further six holding 1000 each, was opened on September 3rd, 1922. A 'voiturette' race was held to mark the opening and five days later, the Grand Prix des Nations for motorcycles was held, won by a Harley-Davidson. And just two days after that, they ran the second Italian Grand Prix for cars, three race meetings in seven days! Since then, there have been a remarkable 13 changes in circuit layout.
|1998 Race Results|
|1.||Michael Schumacher||Ferrari||1h 17:09.672 s|
|2.||Eddie Irvine||Ferrari||+ 37.977s|
|3.||Ralf Schumacher||Jordan-Mugen Honda||+ 41.152s|
|4.||Mika Hakkinen||McLaren-Mercedes||+ 55.671s|
|5.||Jean Alesi||Sauber-Petronas||+ 1:01.872s|
|6.||Damon Hill||Jordan-Mugen Honda||+ 1:06.688s|
|Pole Position:||Michael Schumacher||Ferrari||1:25.289s|
|Fastest Lap (45):||Mika Hakkinen||McLaren-Mercedes||1:25.139|
|Marcel Schot||© 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.|
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Images are kindly provided by Rainer Nyberg