Monza Circuit or Autodromo Nazionale Monza - the history of racing to admire


June 9, 2015
Spotlight
Roy Wolfgang


  • Autodromo Nazionale Monza

In the world of racing circuits, Monza Circuit has a special place. Not only because Autodromo Nazionale Monza is one of oldest racing tracks (established in 1922), Monza has been the hub of racing in Italy and one of biggest venues in the area.

The Monza circuit is one of five still existing racing tracks which hosted Formula One races in its maiden world championship season in 1950. Since then, with only one exception in 1980, F1 Grand Prix races have been hosted in Monza every year.

Monza Circuit map layout

Monza Circuit map layout

Autodromo Nazionale Monza is the third oldest circuit in the world

Autodromo di Monza is the third oldest in the world, after Brooklands circuit in England and Indianapolis in the United States. Construction of the racing circuit near Milano was decided in January 1922 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Milan Automobile Club. The Italian car manufacturers also supported the building of a permanent track for racing and testing.

Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Italy, 1925, starting grid

Starting grid at Monza in 1925

The original circuit had two courses

The construction of the autodrome was completed in record time of 110 days and the track was officially opened on September 3rd, 1922. The circuit had a combination of a 5.5-km road track and 4.5-km high-speed oval, which featured two banked curves that made the top speed of 190 km/h possible. Two different parts of the circuit were linked by two straights, each 1,070 metres long.

The new circuit had separate areas for spectators. The central grandstand had a capacity of 3,000 seats and there were six side stands with 1,000 seats each.

The oval track was a part of the historic Autodromo Nazionale Monza

The oval track was a part of the historic Autodromo Nazionale Monza

Too many fatal accidents

In 1928, the track’s worst ever racing accident happened, resulting in the death of the driver Emilio Materassi and 27 spectators. After that, it was decided that Grand Prix races will only be held on the high-speed loop, but in 1932 that decision was reversed again. In 1933, the Grand Prix race was marked by the deaths of three drivers at the southern banked curve (Giuseppe Campari, Mario Umberto Borzacchini and Stanislas Czaykowski). This accident led to the adoption of some alternative layouts and artificial chicanes.

1938 Italian Grand Prix, Tazio Nuvolari, Auto Union Type D

Tazio Nuvolari in Auto Union Type D was the last pre-war winner of the Italian Grand Prix

The World War II stopped the racing activities

In 1938, the circuit was extensively modified. The road course was resurfaced, banked curves were redesigned, the new grandstand, pits and service buildings were constructed. The new track was 6,300 metres long.

Unfortunately, the war interrupted all sports activities until 1948. At the beginning of 1948, the Milan Automobile Club started the complete restoration of the circuit, and all the facilities from 1938 were finally put in function.

1950 Italian Grand Prix, Monza, Italy

Giuseppe Farina won the 1950 Italian Grand Prix

Nino Farina won the first F1 Grand Prix championship race

Formula One cars returned to the reborn Monza in 1948, and two years later, the circuit was the venue for the Formula One championship race. The winner of the 1950 Italian Grand Prix was Giuseppe Nino Farina, who became the first Formula One world champion. The next four years were all about Alberto Ascari and Juan Manuel Fangio, who were both victorious twice at Monza.

Major circuit reconstruction in 1954

In 1954, a major reconstruction began. The entire circuit was changed and that resulted with a 5.75 km road course and a new 4.25 km high-speed oval. The two big banked curves with a radius of 320 meters and 80% superelevation were calculated for top speeds of approximately 285 km/h. Same as before, the two circuits could be combined to create a 10 km long circuit. Parallel with the circuits, the track infrastructure was also updated and improved.

1961 Italian Grand Prix, Monza, Italy, Wolfgang von Trips, Ferrari

Ferrari driver Wolfgang von Trips was one of the fatal victims at Monza

Formula One left the high-speed oval after von Trips’ death

The circuit was used for the Italian Grand Prix races until 1961, with the 10 km layout used in 1955, 1956, 1960 and 1961. The winners of races were Stirling Moss (three times), Phil Hill (two times), Juan Manuel Fangio and Tony Brooks.

The tragic 1961 Italian Grand Prix, with the death of the Ferrari driver Wolfgang Von Trips and 15 spectators on the straight before one of the banked curves, marked the end for the high-speed track usage in the Formula One Grand Prix and other single-seater races.

1000 km of Monza 1969, Autodromo Nazionale Monza, 1969

The 1000 km of Monza in 1969 was the last race at the high-speed oval

The last race on the oval was held in 1969

The full track was further used for the 1000 km Monza race of sports cars, prototypes and GT cars. The last race on the longest Monza layout was held in 1969. After that, all races were removed to the 5.75 km road course. Although the high-speed bankings were retired, they are still standing there as a reminder to the glorious history of racing at Monza.

Even without the high-speed banking, the Monza circuit was still a very fast track. Because of the increasing performances of the cars and higher speeds, it became necessary to reconstruct the circuit, primarily to make racing safer.

Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Italy, 10 km lap layout

The map of combined circuit with road course and high-speed oval

Further reconstructions and new chicanes during the 1970s

Two chicanes were built in 1972 at the entrance to the fastest curves on the track – the Grande curve at the end of the grandstand straight and the Ascari curve. The chicanes were named Variante del Retifilo and Variante Ascari. They soon became ineffective and they were reconstructed in 1976, with one more chicane added before the Lesmo corner. The new layout of the track was 5800 meters long.

With technology improving and speeds still increasing, the track was modified again in 1979, with added kerbs, extended run-off areas, and tyre barriers improved. The infrastructure was also modernized. Further safety improvements followed during the 1980s. In 1980, the Italian Grand Prix was held in Imola, the only time outside Monza. In 1981, Formula One was back in Monza, together with other series and events such was the 1000 km of Monza and Formula 3000.

Video : Montoya setting the fastest lap ever at Monza

The current track layout since 2000

In 1989, a major renovation of pits complex began, with lots of new technologies used. A few years later, the next task was to increase safety standards, especially after Ayrton Senna’s death at Imola in 1994. All safety interventions shortened the track to 5770 meters. The final change of the configuration and track layout happened in 2000, when the redesign of some curves resulted with the current track length of 5793 meters.

Montoya made the fastest ever F1 lap at Monza

The record holder in the current configuration of the track, with the official best lap time 1n 21.046s, is Rubens Barrichello. He set the record lap time driving the Ferrari F2004 in the 2004 Italian Grand Prix. During the qualifying, Barrichello made a lap 1m 20.089s, but Juan Pablo Montoya was even faster in the first qualifying session, and he lapped Monza with an average speed of 262.242 km/h, the fastest ever qualifying lap in the history of Formula One.

Autodromo Nazionale Monza, built in 1922

The racing circuit in Monza was built in 1922, and the current layout was set in 2000

Special place for every driver

Monza’s unique feature is that this is a very fast circuit with high average speed, lots of straights and fast corners. It was conceived as a place where the cars and the drivers could reach their full potential and achieve maximum speed without much braking. That’s why racing in Monza is a special event for the driver himself and the audience, with the names of Parabolica, Variante Ascari or the Curva Grande widely known in the motorsport community.

52 drivers and 35 spectators killed at Monza

However, the high speed has one big downside – Monza is one of most dangerous tracks in the world. From 1922 until 2000, Monza took the lives of 52 drivers, 35 spectators, and one track marshal. The early years were especially deadly and there were moments when a few drivers lost their lives in one race. The most notable drivers who lost their lives at Monza were Alberto Ascari (1955), Wolfgang von Trips (1961), Jochen Rindt (1970) and Ronnie Peterson (1978).

Italian Grand Prix, Monza, Michael Schumacher, 2006

Michael Schumacher won five times at Monza, last time in 2006

An impressive list of winners

The list of drivers who scored victories at Monza is impressive and it gives us an overview of the history of motorsport. 51 drivers won the Italian Grand Prix between 1922 and 2015, with almost all world champions on the list, from first world champion Nino Farina to the current champion Lewis Hamilton<.

The record holder with five victories at Monza is Michael Schumacher, who won in 1996, 1998, 2009, 2003 and 2006. All five wins that he achieved were with Ferrari. The Italian manufacturer is the most successful brand with 19 Grand Prix victories at Monza. McLaren holds the second place with 10 wins, ahead of Alfa Romeo with eight victories.

Michael Schumacher and Nelson Piquet

On the drivers list, Nelson Piquet is next below Schumacher. The Brazilian driver won four times. Nine drivers achieved three victories on the famous circuit, two of them are still active and they have a chance to join Piquet or Schumacher on the top. Those nine are Tazio Nuvolari, Alberto Ascari, Juan Manual Fangio, Stirling Moss, Ronnie Peterson, Alain Prost, Rubens Barrichello, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.

Monza, World Sportscar Championship, Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass at the 1976 endurance race

In 1976, Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass won the endurance race at Monza driving the #3 Porsche 936

Famous endurance race since 1949

Autodromo Nazionale Monza is best known as the venue of Formula One races, but through its long history, many notable races from the other series were held there. The race with the longest tradition is the 1000 km of Monza, the endurance race which was a part of various competitions. The race called Coppa Inter-Europa was first held in 1949, on the 6.3-km circuit, and it was a 392 km long race. The race expanded to 1000 kilometers in 1954 and moved to the 10 km circuit in 1956.

Jacky Ickx was the three-time winner of the1000-km race

There were lots of variations in duration and longevity of the race, but it always remained the main endurance race in Italy. Same as in Formula One, many legendary drivers and cars ruled at the Monza circuit. Some of the famous winners were Mike Hawthorn, John Surtees, Pedro Rodriguez, Arturo Merzario, Mario Andretti, Jochen Mass, Derek Bell, and many others. Ten drivers were the multiple winners, but only one scored three wins – Jacky Ickx. The last 1000 km race was held in 2008 as a part of the Le Mans Series.


Adress: Via Vedano 5, 20900 Monza, Italy
Phone: +39 039/24821
Official website: monzanet.it


Photos: wikipedia.org, formulalibera.it.

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